Under the Hood: A Candid Q&A with Our First-Ever Culture Board

It’s been over a year since we launched our Culture Board at Woolpert. Why do this? Who’s on it? Where does a shiny red sports car fit in? Read on …

Woolpert created its first-ever Culture Board back in late 2019. The goal? CEO Scott Cattran wanted to ensure that as the company continued to grow at record pace the culture would be protected—even enhanced. So, he wanted a non-corporate perspective to drive this growth. The Culture Board would consist of a small team of employees that excelled in one of our six core values. Then, once assembled, they would leverage their insights and opinions to help shape corporate-wide initiatives.

So, we launched a Core Value Award nomination process to begin our search for the right candidates. We thought what better way to determine this board than by rewarding those who excel in the very values that help shape our culture: Supportive, Balanced, Focused, Progressive, High Performing and Industry Leading.

The nomination process to seek out these value-leaders was invigorating. Hands down, there was more excitement about nominating vs. being nominated. Seeing these accolades pour in only solidified why we have these enduring values. It was a high point for the nomination committee. And yes, it was painful to whittle to six. But we did. And here they are:

Hala Abdelaziz, Project Architect, Fairview Heights (Ill.), Balanced
Nick Isenberg, Regional Development Director, Indianapolis, Industry Leading
Jen Kouns, Market Director, Strategic Consulting, Telecommuter, Focused
Tom Less, Team Leader, Bridge/Structural Engineer, Columbus, Progressive
Jake Schierloh, HR Business Partner, Cincinnati, Supportive
Vince Sclafani, Geospatial Support Services Practice Leader, Pensacola, High Performing

Throughout the year, the team met formally with the executive members of the Culture Board to discuss items like flexible hybrid/remote working, our new Innovation Challenge, and ongoing inclusion and diversity initiatives. As the group melded however, one-off discussions sparked and continued throughout the year on topics specific to a sector, project or role.

Hala Abdelaziz (foreground) is an architect in Woolpert’s Fairview Heights, Ill., office. Hala used her time with the Corvette to drum up donations from Woolpert employees for Joshua’s Great Things, a foundation dedicated to fighting childhood brain cancer.

Then there was the ‘Vette. As a way to celebrate and reward this team for serving on this board, we awarded this board the opportunity to drive one of the most progressive new vehicles of 2020: the mid-engine 2020 Corvette. Each member received the car for a month as a way to bring energy and camaraderie to their regional offices. And, quite frankly, to have some fun. Members would end their month by driving the car to the next-in-line’s hometown. This offered bonding time and riding experiences. But more importantly, it was an opportunity to meet and discuss common work challenges—or to see how an initiative was going in their respective areas.

Hala Abdelaziz chose to celebrate her month by contributing to the annual Joshua’s Great Things fundraiser in the Fairview Heights, Ill., office. The foundation is near and dear to Woolpert staff locally and internationally. She collected over $500 for the foundation by charging employees for rides and even “feel the wheel” time. (Thank you, generous Fairview Heights employees.)

The charitable benefit of the car will culminate in a few years when we plan to raffle the Corvette to one of Woolpert’s designated community partners. Until then, the driving round-robin will continue with the next few Culture Board classes. We will also continue to showcase the car for special events that bring client engagement, office rapport and community giving to the forefront.

OK, on to the good stuff. I sat down with each member to recap their experiences from Day 1 until now:

Q: What did you think when you heard Woolpert was going to start up a Culture Board?
Nick: I definitely wanted/hoped I could somehow be a part of that. It aligns with what I’m trying to do in the Indy office.
Tom: What a great idea to help keep the C-suite connected to people that would help represent broader voices. 
Vince: I immediately thought, now who am I going to nominate?

Q: What did you think when you were nominated?
Jen: Thankful. Didn’t know I was even nominated until Eric (Dillinger), my supervisor, told me. Knowing that your hard work is recognized is a great feeling.
Hala: Shocked. Honored. We’re a big firm, and I thought of myself as just a worker bee.
Jake: Wow, what a surprise. The thought that the firm was nominating me for a particular core value. Felt an instant level of responsibility.
Nick: Excited to be a part of the growth of our staff. Helping mold that and contribute to decision-making with the C-suite is rewarding.
Vince: Scott called and said, “You won, congratulations!” I said, “Thank you. Now what did I win?” I had no idea I was nominated.

Q: Why is the value you’re representing so important to you?
Jake: (Supportive) I’m in a supportive role within the firm. So, I’m a piece of the larger vessel. I work hard to find ways to circumvent, and solve, problems throughout the day. Helping my sector work through obstacles drives me.
Tom: (Progressive) Finding new ways to do things is something I love. But it’s how I like to lead my team, too. The proverbial “we’ve been doing it this way forever” can’t cut it. I try to help those that aren’t as comfortable with change work through that.
Vince: (High Performing) It’s simple: I have to keep my employees busy. Sales are what drive the firm. I keep my eye on that prize every day.

Q: How did getting to know each other benefit the output?
Tom: I talked to Nick at length about our inclusion and diversity progress and how we do subconsultant arrangements. I talked to Hala on phase management projects. That was a definite benefit to get to know each other. 
Nick: Yes, I hung out with Jen in Baltimore and we had a really meaningful discussion. Then I hung out with Hala over lunch and gave her a tour of the Indy office when she drove down to pass the car off to me. I got to hear about her passion for the Fairview Heights office, learn more about her religion and take in the experiences she had encountered while driving it.

Q: Was the car faster than you expected?
Jen: I wouldn’t know. I don’t drive fast. OK, one day I did time myself on how fast I could jump on the highway.
Jake: Fast enough to drive to the neighborhood Graeter’s for some ice cream with my 5-year-old, while listening to Disney showtunes.

Q: Where did you park it?
Hala: I live in the city and don’t have a garage. So, I took it to my nearby parents’ house and moved my dad’s car out of their garage to get the car in. They were out of town for the summer and didn’t know I did that. They still don’t. (Well, maybe they will now.) That was all great until a hailstorm came one evening. Dad’s car survived. Disaster averted.

Runners and walkers from the annual Joshua’s Great Things 5K and Fun Run purchased rides in the Corvette as another way to support the foundation.

Q: Best moment with the car?
Vince: I met with someone from the Blue Angels Foundation about ways we might give back through the car. Also, having my 78-year-old dad visit and take it for a ride. He’s part-owner of a dealership that sells Corvettes. But he had never driven one!
Hala: Besides the Joshua’s Great Things fundraiser, Discipline Leader Melissa Meade and I went out in it when she was in town. After dropping her off at her hotel, we came upon an 8-year-old boy and his grandma standing out front. This kid knew everything about this car. We let him sit in it and took pictures. He asked me what I did for a job. He was so inquisitive. “So, if I’m good in school and become an architect, you mean I could have this kind of car?” he asked. I said “Yes, absolutely.” His grandma was smiling the whole time.
Nick: Seeing my young kids’ reactions. My 5-year-old really thought I was keeping the car forever. Tell Scott thanks a lot for breaking his heart. That, plus people took a lot of pics. My photos are probably floating all over Indy.

Q: What advice do you have for the 2022 Culture Board?
Jen: Take it to the next level. Have even more interactions, not just as a whole group, but one-offs.
Jake: Meet offline more, even without the Executive Culture Board. That might allow common themes to surface that we would then take to the executive discussions.
Tom: Don’t be afraid to reach out to meet; be it as a group or one-on-ones. Also, leverage those connections you make in the group. Then carry them forward.

A new Woolpert Culture Board will be formed in early ’22. We look forward to another uplifting nomination process. On behalf of the Executive Culture Board, thanks to Nick, Tom, Hala, Jen, Vince and Jake for serving this inaugural year. We appreciate your input and core value excellence.

P.S. Scott, please send Nick’s son a matchbox Corvette. That’s the least you can do.

Jennifer Brinkman

Woolpert Chief Marketing Officer Jennifer Brinkman directs marketing communications and proposals for the firm, as well as oversees corporate and acquisition branding. She works out of Woolpert’s Dayton headquarters.