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L. Joe Boyer

North America

Joe served as chief executive officer of the company’s North America region from 2013 to 2016. In that role, he provided oversight across the firm’s infrastructure service offerings, and directed the regional strategy addressing the growing pressures placed on North America’s infrastructure. Before joining Atkins, Joe was president of Shaw Environmental & Infrastructure’s Federal division. While leading that business, he was responsible for some of the largest and most important environmental and infrastructure projects in the US, including emergency response and recovery following hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. Joe has a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering from The University of Texas at Austin, and a Masters of Business Administration from Pepperdine University’s George L. Graziadio School of Business and Management.

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MOST RECENT

There have been many headlines over recent months about our nation’s infrastructure crisis. A generation of roads, bridges, airports, and water and sewer pipes built more than a half a century ago is nearing the end of its useful life. Some of the staggering numbers included in the headlines include:

  • 16th: Where the World Economic Forum ranks US infrastructure in a global context
  • 3.6 trillion: Estimated cost to fix the US infrastructure problem
  • 70,000: The number of bridges in the US deemed structurally deficient
  • 1947: The last time infrastructure spending in the US was this low

There is no doubt the current lack in investment in infrastructure is a big problem, but what are the solutions? Some of the ideas proposed to bridge the funding gap have included more empowerment of state and local governments to enable greater flexibility in the ways federal funding is spent. Increases to the gas tax that helps fund the maintenance of our roads and bridges are also being considered by congress, but are unpopular with taxpayers despite the necessity.

But Federal funds alone are not likely to bridge the gap . Back in 2013, President Obama outlined his “partnership to rebuild America”, proposing to revamp ailing public projects with private financing. While traditional public resources may be insufficient to foot the bill, investors from home and abroad are willing to invest in infrastructure projects that provide stable, long-term returns, through public-private partnerships (PPPs) and other innovative investment models.

As engineers, we can play a role in attracting funding for these important projects by taking a proactive approach to inform and advise investors. But how can we influence the “supply” side to overcome barriers to investment, and how can engineers help clients prioritize projects and determine the best way to deliver?

Domain knowledge is key. This knowledge, held by engineers and gleaned through due diligence, should be the subject of closer consultation and engagement with fund managers in order to better analyze and manage financial risk. Ultimately, a more proactive conversation between engineers and the financial community will help fuel investment.

We can add value for our clients by taking an “advisor-friend” role—building capacity and ensuring an integrated and holistic approach to strategy development is followed through in project implementation.

Investor risk can be mitigated though appropriate structuring. This requires greater certainty around revenue projections and project input costs—which reflects the complexities of design, construction, and engineering delivery risk.

By better applying critical domain knowledge, we can help investors understand the risk and stimulate investor appetites. Working alongside our clients, engineers can carefully profile potential projects before bringing them to market. This kind of due diligence is not new, but if carried out in a thorough and independent manner it would help investors focus and prioritize the most “deliverable” projects.

As spring arrives, a new batch of grads are eager to enter the next phase of their lives and begin navigating their careers. It can be an intimidating time, with a whole new set of rules in play. The behaviors and skills that may have helped you be a standout in school may not necessarily make you a leader at work. For what it may be worth to you, I am sharing what I feel to be critical bits of life experiences I gained over the last 28 years, which I simply feel may be beneficial in the infancy of your career.

 

  1. Keep your ego in check. The leaders I’ve come to admire have been humble and work hard to manage their egos. They are down to earth and rub elbows with everyone. Egos are short-lived, fragile, and often get in the way. Learn to check your ego at the door and learn approachable openness.
  2. For as many times as you state your opinion, ask twice as many questions. Now is the time to ask questions and listen to what others have to say. Go broad and deep for sources of those answers and learn to filter the responses.
  3. Be bold—you can afford early mistakes. Youthful energy is a valuable tool. Go for what you think may be impossible and you’ll likely surprise yourself. If you fall short, take some time to reflect on what lessons you can take away—then shake it off and press forward. You have time to your advantage.
  4. Cherish your client relationships. Nothing may be more valuable in your career as the client relationships you develop. Nourish your business development skills and use them daily. And don’t ever let those clients go, ever!
  1. Watch the balance in your life. This will likely not be what you want to hear, but early on, imbalance may be necessary to become established in your career. Just be sure to level out once you get established. I’ve found that balance wins out over burnout.
  2. Realize you are in competition with your peers. Know that you are being compared to your peers. Pick out your absolute best peer, and go outwork them. It’s a great way to stretch your abilities. But remember to always compete with class!
  3. Grab onto a mentor or two. Don’t underestimate the need for someone to help pull you along in your career, push you towards opportunities, help clear political barriers, and give you a fair chance to get out from under the “hardened upper crust.” It’s much easier to learn from someone else’s experience than to repeat their mistakes. And don’t be timid to ask, it’s actually quite charming when a humble young associate requests sincere guidance.
  4. Be brave enough to collaborate. In my experience this is a skill set few are born with, but is one of the most overlooked elements of success. You don’t need to have all the answers—foster the ability to lead a team in search of those answers. Develop this skill and do it early.
  5. Seriously consider your image and don’t overlook its impact. Take some time to consider every facet of your image—your fashion, promptness, language, office appearance, social life, reliability, etc. Groom and protect your image carefully, and understand that everything you put your name on is a direct reflection of you.
  6. Focus on what you like to do, but remember the things you hate to do. Follow your passions—that is likely where your natural strengths are. Of equal importance is to remember what you hate to do—those are likely the things you are not good at (and may just be your unraveling).
  1. Don’t be afraid to take on a difficult job. Taking the job nobody else wants may be an opportunity to make a name for yourself as the “go-to” person. By taking on a difficult job, you’ll gather new skills out of necessity and will likely outpace those in “safe” jobs. This is also the time to travel—jump at those opportunities early.
  2. Know who you are and what you stand for. Take a good look in the mirror and figure out what your personal values are. Then, draw a line in the sand and make a stand for those values without fail. This will help bring clarity in difficult situations and prevent you from compromising yourself.
  3. Lastly, PERFECT YOUR PEOPLE SKILLS. Business is all about relationships, and always will be. Clients, peers, and supervisors want to work with people they enjoy interacting with. Don’t be afraid to show them gentleness and kindness. Also, embrace diversity in your inner circle—expand your understanding of a wide variety of people, cultures, and differing viewpoints.

 

Do you have some great career advice to add to the list? I’d love to hear it. Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

North America,

For years, it’s been widely acknowledged that America has an infrastructure problem. From our roads and bridges, to our water and wastewater systems, to our power plants and electrical grids, and our ports that ship and receive goods around the world—the proper functioning of our infrastructure is critical to our health as a nation and should be on every American’s radar. In fact, 60 Minutes recently aired a segment titled Falling apart: America’s neglected infrastructure, which presented a sobering look at our nation’s infrastructure, hopefully increasing public awareness of this topic. Most people probably don’t know that the US has fallen to 16th in infrastructure as ranked by the World Economic Forum, or that almost one-third of our roadways are in disrepair and deemed dangerous by former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.

As a nation, our attention to this looming crisis is long overdue. Perhaps the sheer size of our infrastructure problem and the cost to fix it (an estimated $3.6 trillion) prevents us from facing it head-on. Or perhaps, even in a delicate time of economic recovery, we don’t fully understand the high correlation between the health of our infrastructure and the economics of the country. But however we choose to look at it, or not look at it, the fact remains that our aging infrastructure is primed to be one of the biggest challenges we’ll face in this generation—and one of the most important to the future prosperity of our nation.

"The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’
One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity.
In a crisis, be aware of the danger—but recognize the opportunity."
~John F. Kennedy

Yes, there is clear danger—the cost of paralysis is too great and the risk of catastrophe is too high. In 2013, the ASCE gave the low grade of D+ to the nation’s public infrastructure, stating the “condition and capacity are of significant concern with strong risk of failure”. Not exactly something you want to think about as you travel across a bridge, but a reminder that this issue is real and isn’t going to resolve itself. This challenge, which is truly a crisis, is also an opportunity—an opportunity for a great “Renaissance in American Infrastructure.” It’s an opportunity to rise to the occasion, and put new tools, technology, processes, and ideas to work. It’s an opportunity to create cities that function even better than before and benefit all who work and live in them.

Applying temporary fixes and patches—just enough to get by—is not sustainable and will not solve the problem. This will not create the prosperous future we all want for our children and future generations. Instead of limiting our creativity to the confines of the problem, we must lean on American ingenuity and innovation, putting our best designers, planners, and engineers to the task, while collaborating with our communities and elected officials.

Through Atkins’ Future Proofing Cities initiative, instead of evaluating infrastructure in separate silos (transportation, water infrastructure, energy, etc.), we look at our cities and their infrastructure as a symbiotic system—with each component working in harmony with each other, the environment, and its inhabitants. We also take a broad view, considering the policies, planning, and community participation needed to create cities that are resilient to changing climates, growing populations, and future needs. The opportunity is clear. Never before have we had access to the technology we now employ, giving us the ability to capture and analyze data to explore new possibilities and solve old problems in new ways. And our modern design and construction processes allow our investments to go further—from project concept through completion and beyond.

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to participate on a panel at the 6th Annual North American Infrastructure Leadership Forum in Washington, DC. We discussed the findings of the Making the Grade Report – A National Six-Point Plan to Regain America’s Infrastructure Leadership. I was encouraged by and support this practical and elegantly crafted plan, which contains recommendations from experts in the infrastructure industry, local governments, professional organizations, think tanks, financial advisors, academic institutions, and others.

Indeed, there are hurdles that must be crossed—we must find new ways to finance infrastructure projects, and remove outdated, prohibitive regulations and policies that stifle innovation and collaboration. But with the awareness and involvement of our communities, America will make this a priority for our elected officials and demand this issue be resolved in our generation. The time for America’s Infrastructure Renaissance is now, and we’re proud to be a part of the solution.

How can you help bring awareness of both the danger and the opportunities to your circle of influence? It is a choice—either get involved or get comfortable sitting in traffic. Let’s choose to start a real conversation today.

North America,