Last week, I visited with Tyler Mathews, president of England-Thims & Miller (ETM), the highly respected Florida-based, ENR Top 500 engineering and planning firm that consults to infrastructure and land development clients.
Tyler is the real deal and a balanced leader. He’s collaborative yet decisive, socially engaging yet direct, and spirited yet measured. And he happens to be a Millennial.
I talked with Tyler about what it’s like being a Millennial leader in today’s AE industry.
Tyler, thank you for contributing to Word on the Street!
First of all, what’s it like being the Millennial president of a firm in the AE industry? What are some of the advantages and challenges?
I took the role in December of last year. It has been a fun and wild ride over these past seven months. On the advantage side, a large percentage lot of our workforce is Millennial and Gen Z, so I can very much relate to a huge tranche of our existing workforce—and I know what appeals to the workforce we are trying to hire. We run a robust intern and talent development program, and I am focused on continuing to make ETM the best place for our current interns and new hires to build their entire career and life. On the other hand, the age discrepancy with my older colleagues can be perceived as a challenge. I have a lot of colleagues who are 10-30 years my senior, and I have a great deal of respect for their character, life experiences, and commitment to the longevity of our firm. I try not to apologize for my age, but I have to recognize that, at times it’s the elephant in the room. My approach is to address it when needed, be polite and respectful, and move forward with leading the organization with our core team that has a vision for where we are headed.
What are you learning?
First and foremost, I am learning how much I don’t know—that’s for sure. But I also continue to learn—and reemphasize within the firm—how much of a team sport this profession really is. Successful companies in our industry are living, breathing organisms that entail so much specialized expertise in so many areas that one person simply can’t cover it all. Rather, collaborative teams of people who excel in their specific lanes are required to do the work of our firm. Have the right people in the right seat on the right bus. Also, we’re willing to get outside experts plugged in as appropriate. As an example of the right outside experts, I am very thankful for the work Morrissey Goodale does as a consultant to our leadership team.
Thank you, Tyler! The check’s in the mail! Now then, how did you prepare for the role of ETM’s president?
We try to have a culture where people run the job to a degree before they get the title, and that’s true at every level of our company. The same thing is true for my position as president. For the last few years, I have been growing more into a leadership role and given more leash to run and perform for my partners and clients. This began as a project manager, having access to help pitch the next year business plan to our Executive Leadership Team. That quickly evolved into serving in a leadership capacity in our Land Development business unit and being invited to join the Executive Leadership Team. From there, I was given the opportunity to be in the room for all kinds of new discussions, assessments, and decisions. I very much appreciate that my promotion to president was at a point where we have the current and past CEO still in the building as opposed to waiting for them to be out the door prior to a new appointment by the board. Like so many roles in our profession, you learn this job by doing it, so overlapping with partners who have been leading ETM for 40+ years is invaluable.
What role were you in before you became president?
I was on the core team of partners that ran our 70-person land development business unit. This opportunity created a very natural path to firm-wide leadership since that business unit is so ingrained in a significant portion of what we do as a firm. Also worth mentioning is that as I assumed the title of president, we also appointed a new EVP and VP of land development, and brought in eight more equity partners. I have great partners, and together we lead this business. It’s a team sport.
What aspects of the role, if any, turned out the way you expected?
I had been told to expect to feel the weight of the organization, and if anything, I still underestimated it a bit. There is something about becoming the official steward that brings the reality of success and failure into sharp focus. We have hundreds of people that expect to have a job and a rewarding career, and as leaders, we owe that to them. We also have dozens of clients who are trusting us to deliver excellence for them. It’s a lot of weight, and that weight lived up to the expectations. I am so thankful we didn’t wait another five years to make the transition. If I didn’t have the backup of the current and past CEO still in the building, that weight might have been too much to bear.
What surprised you?
I didn’t expect the full magnitude of the transition. I have been around ETM a long time, but assuming the new role was more of a transition than I was expecting. The new role has brought into focus the reality of how difficult it can be to determine what should get my attention and what shouldn’t. It is so easy to allow the circumstances to determine my schedule and priorities. At times, the urgent item is the right thing to focus on. Other times, catering to circumstances is just allowing the urgent to overwhelm the important.
What are your most important responsibilities as president of ETM?
This question has had an evolving answer for ETM. About 40 years ago we were 20 people and 4 partners, and 100% focused on private land development clients. Today, we are over 280 people and 33 partners with a broad reaching set of services and clients. The role of president had different priorities in our past than today, and will of course be different in 10 years. Today, everything I am focused on really fits into two camps; working with our team to maintain the delivery of excellent service to clients and making sure that ETM is the best place for our 280 colleagues to build their career and their life. These responsibilities materialize into a lot of initiatives, but everything is about making sure ETM is the best place possible for our clients and our colleagues. We have a tag line of ‘Trusted Advisors, Creating Community’. This defines both the role we fulfill for our clients and the ultimate purpose of our work.
Looking ahead, what are you excited about? What are you concerned about?
We have a powerful combination of gray-haired wisdom with deep knowledge and relationships, but we also have a lot of 18-40 year-olds. Those groups married together mean so much for us and our clients—and we are well-positioned to leverage that. As for concerns, the economy is always there, especially sitting here mid-2022. We keep a keen eye on how our clients are weathering the economy and try to focus on things we can control.
What changes are happening right before our eyes in the AE industry?
In some ways, our business serves the same needs it did when it was founded in 1977—helping clients in the infrastructure or land development arena eliminate risk and deliver a best-in-class product. And while the methods of executing our business and building the culture of what our talent expects have definitely evolved, I see them as opportunities to continue to live out our core mission of being Trusted Advisors, Creating Community.