Sandy Doyle-Ahern and a healthier EMH&T rise up to meet new challenges on the other side of the recession

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At the same time, the firm is very careful about who it hires as it re-builds the team.

“As much as it’s difficult to find people, we also want to find the right people,” she says. “We want to be a good fit for them, and we want them to be a good fit for us, because we want them to stay.

“We’ve really refined how we look at candidates, and sometimes we have positions open for several months because it is difficult to find the right person — partly because of the reduced numbers of potential candidates and also partly because we are being particular, which I think is important for us to do.”

Doyle-Ahern says it’s not a matter of a long, detailed interview process. It’s more about taking the time to get to know people personally and allow them to understand how the firm operates.

EMH&T wants candidates to see the workspace, meet current employees and understand how the company functions with a strong team environment and little isolation.

“When you come right out of school with a technical degree of some kind, they don’t teach you this in college,” Doyle-Ahern says. “They teach you how to calculate. They teach you how to engineer or survey or whatever the case may be. But a lot of times, it’s our responsibility to broaden their experience into understanding why we do what we do.”

She believes companies have an obligation to help younger candidates learn that in the world of consulting, it’s all about problem-solving.

“It’s not like I can sit someone down in an eight-hour training course and teach them that. You can explain it. You can give them the basics, but they are really going to learn that through watching their peers and being in situations where they are able to contribute to the conversation,” Doyle-Ahern says.

“I think it is something that’s pretty critical for us, and it’s just something that I believe we bear the responsibility to do.”

 

Takeaways:

  • Focus your energy on what you do well.
  • Understand the “why” behind client needs.
  • It’s worth the effort to find the right people and train them.

 

The Doyle-Ahern File:

Name: Sandy Doyle-Ahern
Title: President
Company: EMH&T Inc.

Born: Toronto, Canada. I came to the U.S. at age 2 and became a U.S. citizen after college.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Delaware, master’s degree in environmental science and water resources from Miami University.

What was your first job and what did you learn from it? My first job was cleaning animal cages when I was 13 at an animal sanctuary. You learn hard work when you do something like that.

For my first real “job,” I started in consulting engineering when I was 17. I worked for a company in Pennsylvania — that’s where I grew up. I worked there every summer and every break all through college.

I got the opportunity to do fieldwork, learn how to write reports and do data analysis. I traveled to different sites and locations across the country. It was a fantastic learning opportunity, and I’ve never left the field.

What is the best business advice you ever received? This may sound a little odd, but the best advice I’ve probably received is that the ability to communicate with people and read their concerns is just as important as the technical knowledge.

Sometimes in business I’m not sure we are always taught that understanding how to run a business also includes understanding people, and that needs to permeate throughout the organization.

If you could go back to when you started at EMH&T, what would you tell yourself? I’ve loved my job at EMH&T no matter what it’s been. I’ve always enjoyed being in this world of solving problems and working with clients, but it is very male-dominated.

A few years ago, I joined the board of YWCA Columbus because I have a personal interest in women’s leadership and challenges facing women, particularly homelessness. When I first walked into that room of amazing women I was stunned by the energy. I never realized until that moment I was missing something. It was a real aha moment because I was so focused on my job and the world that that was in.

So, I’d go back and tell that younger self you shouldn’t lose track of your personal passions. You can give to your professional passions, but if there’s a part of you that has a personal passion — and it could be different for every person — you can do both and you should have both. And you can do all that with a family, and dedicate the time you need to each of those things.

It has made me a more whole person today than I was a few years ago.