SSOE Group is proud to announce Vince DiPofi, PE, as its next President and CEO effective December 4, 2019. Vince will replace Bob Howell, who announced his plans to retire earlier this year. While it will be tough to see Bob go after 5 successful years as CEO and a total of 36 years with the firm, having Vince at the helm is something to be excited about! Throughout his more than 35-year AEC industry career, 19 of which were at SSOE, Vince has demonstrated his leadership with a get-things-done mindset. If his accomplishments at SSOE are any indication of what is to come, we have a bright and prosperous future ahead of us.
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transcriptions for each question.
What attributes from Bob Howell’s management style will you try to emulate moving forward?
“One of Bob’s strengths was that he’s a very approachable person. It’s easy to bring the CEO good news, but you also have to be able to bring the CEO bad news. Bob’s approachability made people comfortable telling him things. That’s an area that I definitely want to focus on early and often. As I become CEO, especially during the transition period, I want to make sure that people can feel comfortable telling me, “I think this is going smoothly, I don’t think that’s going smoothly”, and make sure that they can give me the feedback that I need.
The other thing that Bob brought to SSOE during his tenure was the focus on collaborative culture. I saw a major impact to the company, certainly internally, if not externally, on how that affected how people work together better, how people shared ideas. We saw a lot of growth in our company because of that. I want to take that and evolve it to the next step and really say how do we use that collaborative culture to drive more value for our clients? I think that opportunity is there. What we’re seeing is our client’s cultures are moving towards a more collaborative nature as well. I think, if we keep evolving that collaboration, that will help us build on what we want to do with our lean process and incorporating technology into our systems.”
How will your previous career experience guide you in your role as CEO?
“Almost throughout my entire career, I’ve always been in what we would call client facing positions; whether it was when I was an engineer (I was working directly with clients), a project manager, later on in my career when I got into business development, and even in management. I can’t think of a time in my career where I didn’t have some sort of client relationship. My focus, even as CEO, will be to continue to focus on clients. I’m going to be continuing to work with the clients I have now, but also want everyone in the company to be thinking about how do I work with a client? How do I add value to the client? Because my experience in that is everything we do, the clients recognize as adding value or not adding value to what we do for them. I want everyone thinking about when I do my job, how am I adding value to my client? My past, in working directly with clients, is going to be a major influence in how I impart my philosophy throughout the rest of the company.”
What makes you look forward to waking up and coming into work every day?
“It’s the same thing that has made me look forward to coming into work literally the last 38 years, and that’s the variety of this business. When I was in college, I interned with a couple different firms. But the minute I walked into an A / E firm, I knew right away this was the career for me. It really is because of the variety. Every single day there’s something new. The clients are different. The market has changed. There’s always something new coming on. I’ve always really been enthused about that because it’s never the same. We always have different clients. That’s why I got into this business. That’s what I’ve spent literally my entire career in this business.”
Where and with what services do you see SSOE’s growth stemming from?
“Let’s talk about “where” first. Over the past 10 years, the Asian market was very hot for us, but that’s really been cooling off. We’re not seeing the growth in there. On the flip side, Mexico has been a significant growth area for us. Mexico has tripled in size over the last two years and we’re anticipating even more growth. From a geographical perspective, we feel like those are the areas. Interestingly, in the last year, we’ve seen more growth in Europe, which we have not seen much activity in Europe at all over really the past 10 years. But we’re seeing a lot of migration from manufacturing from Western Europe to Eastern Europe. We’re just seeing a lot of expansion there. We actually are looking at opportunities in Ireland, Germany, and France right now, which is more than we’ve done in Europe in quite a while. There’s been a very interesting dynamic over the past several years in geography.
In terms of the services that we provide, we’re still seeing a lot of growth in our construction management business. In fact, our construction management business and our projections for 2020 is going to be the highest growth projection of any business that we have. In fact, it’s going to nearly double from what it did last year. That’s something that we’ve been investing in strategically to grow as a value-added service to our engineering and architecture and design. We’re starting to see the fruits of that investment now.
The other area, finally, where I’ll say from a market perspective that we’re seeing is that we’re seeing a crossover of markets. As automotive gets into electric cars and some of these things, we’re seeing a crossover between our technical high technology areas such as semiconductor and the automotive business, especially when you’re thinking about battery plants and battery manufacturing. Those are areas that we’re seeing come together. Those are really almost emerging markets that we haven’t seen, but at the same time, it’s kind of the coalescence of several markets that are coming together.
I talked a little bit about outside the United States, what’s been happening. What’s interesting is in the current economy, the United States has become a hotbed for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into the United States, particularly in the southeast United States. We’ve seen a lot of countries, particularly China and Germany, are investing and building operations in the United States. We’re seeing a lot of growth in that area as well.”
Do you have a personal mission statement?
“If you sit in my office, you’ll see on a wall I have this somewhat tattered, 8 ½ x 11 piece of paper. On it, it has three things. It says #1 Be on Time, #2 Do What You Say You Will, and #3 If There’s a Problem, Fix It. I have found, both in project engineering and in life, those are three pretty good rules to live by. I try and follow those all the time.”
How would you describe your leadership style?
“I would say this, anyone who has worked with me over any time, they would probably describe my leadership style as “direct”. I’m a person that likes to get to the point. I’m action-oriented. I like to get things done. But I’ve also found, as I’ve moved into more senior leadership positions, more subtlety, more focus on collaboration. Letting the answers come, and let people grow through a collaborative discussion provides many great solutions. In my heart, I’m still an action-oriented person. But in working with the team, I find that if I allow the team to be collaborative, we can really come up with a great solution and that allows me really to put great action into place.”
You will be at the helm during SSOE’s 75th anniversary, how has this helped shape your vision for the company?
“It was interesting to me because I found it, at the same time, both humbling and inspirational. Humbling from the standpoint that I would be CEO of a company that’s been in business for 75 years. I don’t think that’s something to be taken lightly. A company that’s been a strong performer that long, it’s quite an honor. At the same time, I found it to be very inspirational because I looked at that as a real benchmark in the company’s history. What could we do? What could we drive to make the company great at 75 years? I also found inspiration from an unexpected source. Along with being the CEO at the 75th anniversary, I also found that I would be the first CEO in the company’s history not to have worked with the founder, Al Samborn. There have been eight CEOs prior to me, and all of them had worked with Al Samborn.
I actually did some research on him because I didn’t want to lose that connection. I felt that the DNA of the founder must have been very strong for the company to be around 75 years. I read up on him and I found that many of the things he said still apply today. I incorporated some of his writings and some of his speeches, actually, into my plan. My plan was really about how do we honor the past and respect that, but also how do we build for the future. The vision I have for the company is very straightforward; Designing and building the future for our clients, colleagues, and communities. I think that really covers what I researched from all our CEOs, that our clients are number one. We are not in business without our clients. In order to serve our clients, our colleagues have to be developed. They have to be the best people, the best talent.
Finally, as we develop and make projects for our clients, we want to put those into our communities and create strong communities, which brings a cycle of creating strong people. It’s really a vision that I feel everybody can really, truly get up out of bed every day and say, “Am I designing and building the future for my clients, colleagues, and communities” when they do their daily work.
Along with that, one of the hallmarks of SSOE has been what I call the billion dollar mission. Our mission is making our clients successful by saving them time, trouble, and money. We literally, since we’ve implemented that 10 years ago, we have saved our clients over a billion dollars in money from the projects; the way we’ve approached the projects and look for savings for them. I felt that the billion dollar mission should stay exactly the same.”
Your plan speaks heavily about value creation. What do you see driving SSOE forward to create value for clients?
“How are we going to incorporate “creating value for our clients” into our business? That’s a really important aspect of the plan that I put together. I feel like, as I mentioned earlier, everything we do, even if you’re not interfacing directly with the client, if it’s not adding value to the client’s project, the client won’t recognize that as value and that’s unnecessary costs. We really have to think strongly in everything we do. Whether it’s how we hire a person, or how we put a proposal together, or how we write our invoices, even, of course, how we execute our projects. Does that add value to the clients? The way we’re thinking about that is through Lean. Lean is a very popular term right now. A lot of companies are looking at that. It means a lot of different things to different people. To me, Lean is, it’s pretty black and white. Is this adding value to the client? Yes. If it’s not, then that’s probably that’s waste that the client doesn’t need, and we need to take out of the system. That’s the filter we’re going to use as we think about value creation for our clients.”
How do you see technology changing within SSOE over the next five years?
“I think of all the different things (whether it’s Lean process, how the markets are changing, the talent available, engineering) technology will have the single largest impact. Not just for SSOE, but in the AEC industry as a whole. I’ve talked with many of my peers. I’ve talked with a lot of the technology companies. The things that are being developed now, such as regenerative design are just unbelievable. The things that are going to happen, I’ve often said to college students, I wish I was 25 years younger just to see the things that are going to happen.
The plan that I’ve put together has a big emphasis on technology. We are going to really use technology, not only to drive the best project delivery, but also to drive our internal efficiency. In fact, I have set a goal, a very aggressive goal for the company, that the amount of work that it takes for us to execute a project, we’re going to cut that in half over the next five years. It’s an aggressive goal, but I think with the proper integration of our talented people, a Lean process, and the best technology, I think that is something that’s achievable. I think that’s something that’s going to deliver unparalleled value to our clients.”