Kurt Bergman builds a new level of engagement at Michael Baker International

“It’s about creating the relationships that start to drive people together so that you’re engaged in each other,” Bergman says. “And when you have a global company, when you have a company that’s so diversified in geography, if the people are not engaged in each other and don’t see each other and know each other as peers, as friends, you can never get that energy.”

Being present

Michael Baker International is also encouraging its people to not only participate in professional organizations or charity events, but to lead them.

“I call it being present,” Bergman says. “Be present in the organization. Don’t just go to the meeting. Be an officer in the organization, help lead a charity event, help lead something. Make sure that you’re out there and actively participating.”

As an example of this, Michael Baker International will be moving its corporate headquarters to downtown Pittsburgh, even though it will keep a presence in Moon Township.

“We went to a matrixed organization and nobody owned Pittsburgh anymore, which is kind of silly when we are a 75-year-old western Pennsylvania company with a huge presence and impact on the infrastructure of this city over the last 75 years,” he says. “And for us not to stay present and stay engaged in our community because of an organizational structure, I think, was a big mistake.”

That’s not to say that employees weren’t working in the city, but it was more behind the scenes, Bergman says.

“Our business derives from our relationships within our community,” he says.

“If all we’re seen as is a business entity that just wants to do business and projects, OK, that’s interesting and we’ll do well,” Bergman says. “But if we’re engaged in the community and if we participate in the community and we give back to the community that supports us, now we’ve created a better relationship that creates energy, a shared focus and a shared goal, which is the love for your city, the love for your region, the love for your community.”

 

Takeaways:

  • Local ownership creates a stronger, more balanced organization.
  • Organizational collaboration begins with relationships.
  • Be present in the community.

 

The Bergman File:

Name: Kurt Bergman
Title: President and CEO
Company: Michael Baker International

Born: Las Vegas
Education: Bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architecture from Tulane University in New Orleans

What was your first job and what did you learn from it? For my first meaningful job in high school, I ran trail management crews for the Youth Conservation Corps in the Sierra Nevada in California. I learned the importance of managing people and being able to work without guidance and supervision because we were in the far back country. It would have been easy to screw off but you still had a requirement to get things done, so it was maintaining a work ethic regardless if somebody was watching or not.

What is the best business advice you ever received? It was very simple: The paper speaks for you. And the reason I say that is when I was a young architect in the military I had a structural engineer mentor whom I delivered a set of drawings to one day for review. He pulled me aside and said, “Regardless of whatever you do in life, always understand that the quality of your work speaks to whom you are when you’re not there.”

If you aspire to quality in everything you do and that you make sure that it’s clean, coherent and concise, that’s the presence when you’re not there, and people will make a decision and a judgment on you based off of that.

If you weren’t a CEO, what is something you have always wanted to do? I love deep-sea fishing, so probably I’d be a captain on an offshore fishing boat.