Time-Tested Business Tips from GAI’s Gary DeJidas: Risk Equals Reward!

Over the course of a 50-year career with GAI, company Chairman and CEO Gary DeJidas, PE, MBA has served at the forefront of the firm’s growth from a small single office in Pittsburgh, PA to offices around the U.S. staffed by more than 700 highly skilled professionals.

Gary DeJidasIn this series, Gary shares some of the most valuable lessons he’s learned on his long journey toward building a thriving, multidiscipline, resource-rich company that provides industry-leading transportation, energy, power, environmental, and planning expertise to a range of public and private clients.

The Value of Risk

Calculated risk can be key to achieving personal career goals and taking a business to new levels of success. I believe that a willingness to take calculated risks is extremely helpful to moving a business forward. I would go so far as to suggest that, in any business, great leaders are the ones who are willing to take risks.

Now, not everybody is a risk taker—and it’s important to identify early on whether you’re the type of person who is willing to take risks to achieve your goals. I am certainly a risk taker, there is no question—however, I do think of myself as someone who carefully evaluates possible outcomes and tries to take only those risks that have a reasonable chance of success. Such was the case early on in my GAI career when I was presented with a risk that had the promise to advance both the company and my career.

An Opportunity to Grow

I began working with the firm in 1972 when the company was called General Analytics, Inc. At that time, the company was made up of about 70 employees working out of a single office in Pittsburgh, PA. The company primarily provided geotechnical, environmental, and civil engineering services. By 1975, the company changed its name to GAI Consultants, Inc. (GAI) and had grown to about 100 employees.

In 1980, GAI’s senior leadership started considering expanding outside of western Pennsylvania. After evaluating growth opportunities in the southeast, southwest, and northwest U.S., a decision was made to open an office in Florida. I expressed an interest and was selected to lead the office.

To Risk or Not to Risk?

I was early in my engineering career at the time, and the chance to lead a new Florida office was clearly an opportunity for me to advance in the company—but part of the risk for me, of course, lay in relocating my young family to Orlando. That in itself was a big undertaking, and something that people who aren’t risk takers would likely pass up. I needed to consider leaving Pittsburgh where my family and I had grown up, letting go of the comfortable life that we had become attached to and starting from scratch somewhere new.

I thought of it as an opportunity, and I came to believe that the risk’s positive outcome depended on my ability to grow the new operation. I felt comfortable in my abilities and was willing to take that risk, and, after a long, thoughtful discussion, my wife agreed. And while I would take the risk all over again, if you asked 10 different people I would be surprised if you found two who would make the same decision.

Striking Out for New Territory

GAI acquired a small structural engineering firm in the area, which became our Orlando base of operations. We started with designing and permitting small land development projects; in the mid-1980s, we were selected by the City of Orlando to lead the redevelopment of downtown Orlando with numerous roadway/utility upgrades and streetscape projects, including the LYMMO transit project, utilizing staff from both the Orlando and Pittsburgh offices. Our work for the City of Orlando soon led to diversification into FDOT highway and bridge projects, planning and landscape architecture, eminent domain, and larger land-development projects. The risk was starting to pay off!

Building on Success

As our client base grew, there were more opportunities to expand in Florida and utilize staff expertise from our other offices. Through a combination of luck and hard work, the Orlando office continued to grow, build a reputation, and get more and more work—this gave us a basis in the state to open Florida offices in Jacksonville, Tampa, and Palm Beach Gardens. And beyond growing our Florida operations, this success gave GAI the practical experience and resources we needed to act on opportunities to expand into other locations around the U.S. Along the way, there were additional GAI people who were willing to follow my initial example—taking the personal risk of relocating in order to make those expansions happen.

So, the way I see it, much of our success in growing GAI to the company that we are today stems directly from that initial risk of venturing outside of western Pennsylvania.

If you have the confidence, ability, and the backing, go for it—you’ll never find out if you can achieve great things unless you take the plunge!

Are YOU a Risk Taker?

To those who consider taking a calculated risk to advance their career or business, I would say that one of the most important things to assess is your confidence that you can succeed in the venture you’re considering. If you don’t have confidence in your ability, you are better off leaving the risk to someone else. It can take plenty of hard work and persistence to successfully pull off a risky move, and without confidence and support from others in your life it’s possible that you might not be able to commit the effort necessary. If you have the confidence, ability, and the backing, go for it—you’ll never find out if you can achieve great things unless you take the plunge!

GAI offers comprehensive transportation, planning, energy, and environmental engineering consulting services from locations throughout the U.S.—message GAI online and start the conversation about how our multidiscipline professionals can meet your unique project needs.

Gary DeJidasOver more than 5 decades with GAI, Chairman and CEO Gary DeJidas, PE, MBA has led the firm to continuous growth, geographic expansion, and financial success. GAI’s Chairman and CEO since 2003, Gary began his GAI career as a civil engineer in the firm’s single Pittsburgh office, and soon embarked on a path toward personal and company growth by establishing GAI’s first branch office in Orlando, Florida. That initial expansion set the company on an ongoing upward trajectory that today sees Gary helming a firm with dozens of offices around the U.S. staffed by hundreds of multidiscipline transportation, energy, planning, and environmental professionals.

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