CEC co-founders Ken Miller, Jim Nairn, Greg Quatchak and Jim Roberts
CEC’s four founders—Ken Miller, Jim Nairn, Greg Quatchak, and Jim Roberts—discussed their careers, CEC’s growth, and insights into entrepreneurship.
What other career could you have imagined for yourself and why?
JR: I got into civil engineering because I like “yellow iron.” So maybe I would have owned a construction company? Seeing a construction site for the first time and the equipment lifting, pushing, moving, shoving, digging—I thought it was just fascinating. I was a lieutenant in the Army Corps of Engineers and a platoon leader in Vietnam. We had a construction division, so I had dump trucks, dozers, a front-end loader and drills. Running a dozer looks so easy when you’re good at it, but you can literally dig yourself into a hole rather quickly.
Share an example of what you consider to be a great CEC moment.
GQ: Every year when we hold our annual strategic planning meeting, I see the talent we have in our organization—the unique skills of all these folks—and it really gives me a feeling of pride. I always reflect on all that we’ve accomplished, and having more than 650 employees and offices in so many cities. I had no doubts that we would succeed and be a dominant firm in Pittsburgh, but I couldn’t have imagined it would get this big. It’s a great feeling.
Why did it require the four of you to start CEC?
KM: It didn’t require four, but four made it better. I think the reason why four worked is because everybody brought a little something different: a bit of a different administrative focus, a different client base, different capabilities. I can’t tell you exactly what everyone brought, however, because then the secret would be out! For me, I really just wanted to create a workplace I enjoyed going to every day.
What was one of the more difficult challenges CEC faced?
JN: Early on, one client was occupying a significant portion of our workforce as we helped them to get out of a bad situation and find a way to continue to operate. We were still small and only had a few leaders in the company, and those leaders had to be in two places at one time: running the company and also in the field making high-level decisions. CEC and the client came through with flying colors.
What advice would you give a young person or young entrepreneur?
KM: Every problem is different and there’s no one philosophy that works every day. Just be willing to work harder than everybody else. If you are bright and you work hard, you will come out on top. If you actually start thinking “Boy, this is tough,” you’re going to get too caught up in “Boy, this is tough.” Stay focused on the job, solve problems and continue; it’s just what you’re supposed to do.
JN: My advice is hard work. If you want to be successful, it’s not something that you’re going to be able to do in an eight-hour day. You must keep up with regulations, trends and best practices and identify changes that are in store to take advantage of the opportunities. But while you do need to take your job seriously, please don’t take yourself too seriously.
GQ: For a young person entering college or leaving high school, I would encourage him or her to give strong consideration to STEM education. The possibilities for your career will be limitless. Embrace your technical knowledge, but don’t forget about the interpersonal skills. It’s still a people-oriented business. Go beyond the smartphone and all of the technology that will be available at your fingertips and stay engaged with people.
JR: To a young entrepreneur, I would say think about it long and hard, think about what it will take, and make sure your family is on board with this decision because it is a significant commitment of time and energy. Think about building the right team because the challenges are difficult. Think about your strengths and weaknesses and build a team that addresses your weaknesses.