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ReEngineering the Engineer: Fostering Personal and Corporate ‘Sustainability’

Douglas Fitzpatrick on May 10, 2021 - in Articles, Column

When I started my firm in 2004, I had a decent idea of the corporate inner workings. I had been a partner at my previous firm for more than 15 years, but I had not started a company from scratch. Dealing with the engineering registrations was an obvious first task, but I also needed to set up a company and, most of all, a bank account.

The logical first choice for banking was to approach the bank I had been using for my personal account. After all, I had been a customer there for 20-plus years.

Most of my past transactions with my bank were handled at the ATM, so I didn’t really have a “personal” contact at the bank, let alone this particular branch. When I entered the branch, I was greeted with a smile by someone who quickly invited me to their desk and asked how they could help. I gave a brief summary of where I was, and then asked what I needed to do to get an account set up. Honestly, I don’t remember the minutiae of the conversation, but I left without a checking account and still confused about what I needed to get going.

The Good

Coincidentally, within a day or two, a different bank in the area cold-called (of all things) to see if there was an opportunity for me to switch banks. I explained my dilemma.

She said she could help, told me exactly what I needed and said to ask for her when I got to the branch. I explained it would have to be the next day because my car was in the shop for service. She asked where our office was. When she found out it was half a mile away, she got in her car, drove to our office and went through the paperwork at my desk.

Problem solved, and she made a friend for life. I still bank with them and have a line of credit there. For years, I made it a point to recount my story of how this one person had gone the extra mile for me.

The Bad

From time to time, I get other cold-calls at the office. I generally don’t make it a habit to take those, particularly if they aren’t engineering related, but every now and then I do. Sometimes you’re surprised what you learn, good or bad.

One particular visit went OK, but I didn’t take them up on their offer. Years passed, and a similar-sounding cold-call was made. I generally don’t keep score of the people I talk to, but, as the conversation continued, it sounded more and more familiar. I wasn’t planning to take advantage of their offer either, and I recounted a particularly bad outcome I had for a similar service from a different company.

As the conversation was drawing to a close, the salesperson pulled the last-ditch “let me check with my manager” trick. While she was on the phone, I started cruising through my contacts. Sure enough, this same company had been in my office before. Just as I discover this, I overhear her “manager” on her cellphone say: “You mean to tell me he’s worried about something that happened several years ago,” in a rather disgusted, condescending voice. Meeting adjourned.

The Advice

Several weeks ago, I overheard our older daughter talking about work with her colleagues. The young staff was taking turns running Zoom receptionist duty from home, which I thought was pretty clever. One of the male customers who came in was very friendly. It took some time to determine what he needed, but the receptionist was able to help him.

Toward the end of the call, he made a comment about how pretty her smile was and that she should smile more often. I guess the young receptionist was a little too focused on the business at hand and forgot to act like it was fun helping their clients. The customer got their question answered and departed. Unfortunately, the discussion between the colleagues then took a turn sideways and centered on how “creepy” this guy’s comment was. I stopped listening … they totally missed the point.

Like it or not, the vast majority of us are in a service industry. Although our knowledge certainly is a prerequisite and an asset, we have to deal with people every day: clients, owners, consultants, construction folks, etc. You can be the smartest engineer on the planet, but if you don’t have any social skills, your knowledge will only carry you so far. Clients have a choice. There’s a balance between working with the smart guy and the jerk.

Everything we do reflects on us personally … and corporately. They are intertwined, and both need to be cultivated. The extra mile the banker went, on her own, made a client for life. For life! There were two parts to that. One, she had to have the initiative to do something out of the ordinary; to help a client with a problem. Not because there was a direct reward associated with it, but because it was the right thing to do. And, two, the company she worked for needed to promote such behavior and let staff know it was OK to go the extra mile.

The second cold-call mentioned in this column was not the same. Although the person in my office was polite, she had zero backing from the main office. The main office viewed her potential client as just a number. Close the deal and move on to the next potential client, and it showed.

Finally, we are not perfect. We all have shortcomings. But when someone is willing to gently offer some advice on how we can do better, be a better person and be more successful; we need to recognize it for what it is and try to implement it best we can. That street also goes both ways. It’s never a bad thing to offer advice to someone in a kind way. And, no, it’s not creepy.

About Douglas Fitzpatrick

Douglas G. Fitzpatrick, P.E., is the founder, president and practicing engineer of Fitzpatrick Engineering Group, a 14-year-old structural engineering firm specializing in commercial and healthcare building design.

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