Feeling a sense of satisfaction and success in your job isn’t always up to you. There are many factors that result in that rewarding combination, and many are still searching for that perfect match. What allows technologists to thrive in the engineering world?
We answer that question in a recent episode of Beyond Engineering, a podcast by RTM Engineering Consultants, as David Piluski, mechanical engineer and Principal, sits down with fellow Principal Kathryn Duytschaever at RTM’s offices in Davenport, Iowa, where she is a business unit leader. Dave, who was profiled himself earlier on the podcast asks Kathryn how her unique path from college recruit to executive leadership has been nurtured by RTM’s culture of personal growth and professional development – and how she now guides every new hire in her group down a similar path.
Here is an edited transcript of the discussion:
Dave Piluski: Tell us about your role as Principal at RTM. What does it mean and what do you do daily?
Kat Duytschaever: Principal is a leadership and a shareholder position at RTM. Anyone who has been given the “Principal” title is expected to hold up RTM’s CORE values and act as an example for the rest of the company in terms of how they conduct themselves. But every Principal at RTM has different roles and responsibilities. Some of them are office leaders, some are in marketing – they don’t need to be a licensed engineer. It has more to do with showing proper leadership skills.
Dave: The first time you had contact with our CEO, Tony Mirchandani, it was not a typical job interview. Why don’t you tell us that story?
Kat: It was not a typical job interview. I had a surprise phone call from Tony Mirchandani while I was on the campus bus in between classes. We did a phone interview, and he liked what he heard. So, he invited me to visit the office. I was at Iowa State University, and I traveled to Chicago to interview in person. That interview day was great. I met multiple people at RTM, but no one could take me out to lunch, so they gave me $20 to go feed myself and I brought back the receipt and the change. I think that honesty of bringing back the change was what sealed the deal. I was putting in effort, and they were putting effort back into me. I left the interview feeling really positive. Soon after I received an offer and I accepted it.
Dave: Can you tell us a little bit about your time at headquarters when you were first hired? At the time RTM was a single office location. Tell us about your growth during that period.
Kat: When I joined RTM, we were 18 people, one office and Tony had a lot of expectations for growth that he wanted to execute with the company. Unfortunately, the recession happened in 2008 and 2009. That delayed growth for a little bit, but it gave me a lot of opportunity as a young engineer to get one-on-one time with some of the older engineers and really develop my foundation and help solidify the technical aspects that I had learned in school. I also attended meetings and was able to learn how I could help manage a project and manage clients. I was given a lot of responsibility and options for different roles at RTM. I found what I liked and what I didn’t like. That experience was wonderful and, in my opinion, really skyrocketed my career. It helped put me on my career pathway.
After six years at headquarters, I told Tony that I wanted to move back to the Davenport area. My husband and I are both from the area and we wanted to move back. Because RTM believes that people are our top priority, and how much they had already invested in me, and how much I had invested in them, Tony said: “Let’s open an office.”
I took my experience from headquarters and transitioned it to Davenport. We have an open office area because we want collaboration to happen between engineers. We want open dialogue and the team to be seen as one team that is equal and respectful. You’re able to have conversations between an entry-level engineer and someone with 30 years of experience. We’ve built up our clientele and are continuing to hire here in the Iowa market.
Dave: Give us some perspective on that growth, how it happened and how it’s very similar to the overall growth we’ve seen at RTM.
Kat: To put it in perspective, I was employee #18 – we’re now over 200. We’ve grown tenfold just in employees. If you look at billings, we’re at 30-fold increase. That’s very similar to the Iowa office. I started that office myself and eight years later we have 12 people – and we’re actively hiring. We are continuing to develop our clientele in the Iowa market, but some of our clients have national reaches. My relationship with a local client has brought me to work on projects at a national level.
Dave: From the very beginning with that unconventional bus-ride interview, through your tenure at headquarters and very humble beginnings running the Davenport office, it seems as though you were definitely put in a position to direct and manage your own growth here. Would you agree?
Kat: Yes, we set people up for success. We want people to be mentored and grow their technical expertise. That makes them more valuable for themselves as well as to RTM, so it’s two-fold. People and knowledge are our commodities.
If somebody comes in and wants to take on more roles and responsibilities and eventually open an office, that’s an opportunity we want to funnel into, because our plan is to continue to grow. We are planning on being at 1,000 employees in 2025. Engineering comes with the degree, and we trust they know how to do the technical [tasks], but we want them to grow in their personal skills as well.
Dave: As Principals, I think we can agree that we’re looking to elevate our team members to grow their careers. With that comes compensation and leadership and becoming subject-matter experts on the engineering side. That brings us to our core values. CORE is foundational at RTM. C stands for collaborative communication, O is overall unity, R is respect and trust, and E is excellence in engineering. It’s interesting that excellence in engineering is the last core value, but it can’t stand alone. What are your thoughts on how that relates to how we move and function within the firm?
Kat: As a company we work beyond just engineering. When you come to work at RTM with an engineering degree, we see that you have that foundation, and you want to be an excellent engineer. But what we want to see and what we need to see is that collaboration in communication. We want engineers to be reaching out, managing projects, talking with clientele and having those internal conversations. You’re part of a team, you’re part of something bigger than yourself here. We believe in that overall unity.
We’ve set ourselves up with studios that have a tight knit group in each. There are studios within each office, and then offices within BURGs (business unit running great). That means a business unit at RTM is a grouping of multiple offices. Even though there are smaller groupings to make you feel as though you have a more intimate group, you are still part of a much bigger group that keeps getting bigger.
Beyond that is the respect we have for each other. Respect is a huge aspect. We believe in diversity and inclusion at RTM. We hire people from all over the world in any discipline. We want good engineers that are here to help and work toward a greater good. And then it comes down to engineering. We believe you’re going to be a good engineer. We have that faith, and we’re going to continue to mentor you and train you and teach you.
Dave: Even though excellence in engineering is the fourth pillar in our CORE values, it’s not to be taken lightly. It forms the foundation of what we do. It’s our strength and our product – but it can’t stand alone without the communication, the unity or the respect.
Kat: Correct. Every engineer has been working hard to get their degree. Engineers are problem solvers. When we hire an engineer, we know they know how to execute the excellence in engineering. But we look for something else that makes us stand apart from our competitors. We look for that communication, that sense of unity in a group and respect. That’s what sets us apart. We want to work on the C, O and R components of our CORE values.
Dave: Summarize what you look for in an ideal candidate.
Kat: I’d be looking for somebody who is a great collaborative communicator, someone who can express themselves and have confidence to talk to others. I’d want someone who is flexible and open to taking on additional roles. We are a fast-growing company, and we want people to be on board with us in that growth pattern. I’d want somebody who is constantly moving forward, looking for new clients, looking at new industries, growing in technology and knowledge and able to react to client needs that are ever changing. And we want people that respect diversity and inclusion. Obviously, we’re looking for an engineering degree too, but if they can uphold the other [pillars] communication, flexibility and respect – that’s an ideal candidate.
Listen to this entire conversation and find future podcasts here.
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Beyond Engineering is a podcast from RTM Engineering Consultants, an MEP and Civil engineering firm that goes beyond a typical consulting role. Listen as RTM technologists share stories about innovative design, collaborative development and exacting execution that help buildings, businesses and the people working inside them, work better.