Over the course of his 47-year career with GAI Consultants Inc., Chairman and CEO Gary DeJidas has set an example. When the engineering, planning and environmental consulting firm started an MBA program in 2009, he was part of the first class.
“I’d been out of school for over 40 years and going back and having to do homework, take tests and all of that was traumatic,” he says.
DeJidas had already been CEO for six years, so his wife’s first question was, “Are you thinking you’re going to get a promotion out of this?”
“I did it because it’s my style,” DeJidas says. “I had others that I wanted to do this, and I wasn’t going to make them do it if I wasn’t willing to do it. It’s just my way of doing things, and no, there was no promotion in it for me, just two years of hard work.”
Today, DeJidas is, again, leading by example as he focuses on developing leadership and employee engagement within the 1,000-person, $160 million company.
When DeJidas was selected to be the new leader of GAI — as the original founding principals retired and the firm’s employee stock ownership plan bought their shares back — his predecessor said, “Good luck” and left.
“I’m not going to do that; I am trying to mentor and coach and help my next generation of leadership,” he says. “I’m slowing down, but I’m still going to stay here until I feel satisfied that everybody’s in place to carry it forward, because why would you give up all that — walk away and say good luck. There’s lots of people that depend on us to run a healthy business.”
As DeJidas and other key people approach retirement, he’s moving other staff into key positions, trying to let others make decisions. He’ll tell what them he thinks but tries not to tell them what to do, so they can develop for the future.
DeJidas also promoted two employees to president and executive vice president to deal with day-in and day-out operations. His role involves strategic objectives, growth, managing talent and making sure GAI’s clients are satisfied.
It hasn’t been easy letting go, as DeJidas has been with the company since he graduated from college in 1972.
“I’m focused on it,” he says. “I love the company and I love what we’ve accomplished over that whole period of time, but for any company to sustain itself, you’ve got to bring new people in, younger people.”
When the going gets tough, DeJidas thinks of the peer reviews he’s done on other companies for the last decade, where he’s given advice and seen the impact of developing, or not developing, the next group of leaders.
“I had to accept the fact that it was my turn,” he says. “It’s always easier when you’re talking to somebody else, and it’s not hitting you personally.”
DeJidas says one of the most difficult things is accepting that until you put people into a position of power and authority, you don’t always know who can handle that and who cannot.
GAI uses analysis to look at personality types and also tries to identify someone who can relate well to others, because individuals who want to dominate everybody, tell people what to do and don’t like questions no longer work well as business leaders, DeJidas says.