Time-Tested Business Tips from GAI’s Gary DeJidas: Always Keep Learning

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 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.

In this installment, Gary discusses how being a lifelong leaner offers the savvy professional a means to continuously develop their career, business acumen, and personal knowledge base.

Open Your Mind and Advance with the Times

Over the course of my career, I’ve found that keeping myself open to incoming information, considering a range of different opinions, and actively seeking out learning opportunities have been key to developing and advancing as a leader and taking GAI to new levels of success. It’s important to realize that you never really complete the learning process, and that you will benefit by being open to learning continuously. No matter what personal success we may have already achieved, the world constantly is changing, and so it is vital to embrace and understand those changes in order to advance both personally and in business.

Gathering New Ideas at Seminars and Conferences

Professional conferences and seminars offer extremely beneficial learning opportunities by providing a range of perspectives and insights from industry peers and experts in emerging technologies and business practices.

I’ve probably attended and participated in more than 125 professional conferences and seminars over my career, sometimes as many as five such events a year. Covering a range of topics including AEC industry trends, leadership skills, mergers and acquisitions, sustainability, diversity, global economics, and more, conferences and seminars have given me the chance both to expand my technical and business management knowledge and to share my own insights with other business and technical leaders. These two-way interactions keep your mind nimble and ever-expanding, and I can say that these opportunities have armed me with information that has proved useful in helping GAI to grow and succeed as well as making me an all-around better, more knowledgeable leader.

Regardless of one’s particular discipline, interests, or corporate level, professional conferences hold value by offering input from reputable sources outside of your own sphere and giving you the opportunity to establish valuable personal connections with knowledgeable people who can provide ongoing advice and support.

No matter what personal success we may have already achieved, the world constantly is changing, and so it is vital to embrace and understand those changes in order to advance both personally and in business.

Building Self Awareness Through Peer Review

Peer review of a company is a learning experience that helps present an unbiased view of what works well and what needs improvement, offering a tremendous lessons-learned opportunity. One of the most eye-opening lessons I’ve learned over the years through both receiving and performing peer reviews is the fact that there is very little that is unique about the issues and problems that we believe we may face as a company—such concerns exist in some form at many, many companies, and it’s amazing to find out how many other companies share the same issues.

I was recently honored to be named to the Geoprofessional Business Association (GBA) Council of Fellows. Through my association with professional support organization GBA, I’ve had the opportunity to take part in peer reviews of a number of firms, and GAI has also benefited from having peer reviews of our company performed through the GBA Peer Review program.

In performing peer reviews for others, it’s been interesting for me to experience how interviewing just a small group of a company’s employees—even in a large firm—can quickly offer a real sense of what is going on in that company. It’s a matter of comparing what people are saying, and then drawing parallels between their observations to discover the trends. It’s truly revealing, as is the fact that many of the companies that I’ve peer reviewed are often already well aware of the issues I’ve identified and the actions I’m going to suggest—they’ve just been hesitant to take sometimes difficult or risky actions without outside reinforcement. I’ve actually received letters from CEOs of firms I’ve peer reviewed thanking me for being honest and straightforward, and helping move them to act. This again works both ways: GAI has in the past taken positive action based on the outside observations or reinforcement that we’ve received from trusted peer reviewers. Considering how other qualified peers view you is an invaluable way to objectively learn about your company and yourself as a leader.

Going Back to School—For Real!

I have always felt that it is not enough to consider your formal learning over simply because, like me, you may have begun your career more than 50 years ago! Regardless of your title, none of us know it all. Each of us stands to benefit from being open to learning more through a structured program that really challenges you to go back to the books, hear new perspectives, and grow your knowledge base.

GAI’s MBA program was launched in 2009. The program is designed to further develop business-minded staff who as part of their career development are interested in learning how to help GAI grow and profit from a business-focused perspective. The company covers half the cost of our employees’ tuition for this 12-class, 36-credit course, which is presented in cooperation with Point Park University. Professors from Point Park teach classes exclusively to our employees at GAI’s Pittsburgh location one night a week with classes shared online with participating employees around the company.

I joined the first GAI MBA graduating class, and it was a unique opportunity for me to experience a learning program beyond day-to-day GAI business operations. It was also a special time to interact with the other GAI class members to share ideas and perspectives while being faced with exams and class projects during our busy work schedules. It’s not for everyone, and I’ll admit to being truly challenged at times—in fact, I started to call class day “Black Tuesday!” But anyone here at GAI will tell you that I’m the type of leader who will not ask anybody to do something that I’m not willing to do myself, and I continue to encourage GAI staff to follow my lead.

GAI’s MBA program has made us a better company by growing our internal knowledge base of sound business principles and practices, and it’s proven very popular with our staff. Our sixth MBA class is about to graduate, which will bring the total number of GAI MBA graduates to 70 over a 14-year period. I’m very proud of that and of all the GAI employees who, like myself, recognize the ongoing rewards of being a lifelong learner.

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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