Changing of the Guard
By Bryce Hubner (11/24/2010)

“O youth! The strength of it, the faith of it, the imagination of it!,” wrote Joseph Conrad in his seminal seafaring story, Youth.

At the criminal justice segments of Illinois design firm PSA-Dewberry and Florida-based construction company Moss & Associates, a generation of young leadership echoes precisely the kind of attitude Conrad described — and to captain a ship in the current industry climate, say their predecessors, such an attitude is not only helpful, but also necessary.

Change is in the air as longtime leaders in the correctional industry begins looking toward stepping back — eventually to retirement — and a new group of managers prepares to fill rather big shoes. At PSA-Dewberry, for example, Ron Budzinski, who is senior principal for criminal justice architecture and a 40-year industry veteran, is scaling back his hours to only 30 per week as his protégé, Gerry Guerrero — who was only three years old when Budzinski started his career — prepares to take over.

A similar passing of the torch is also underway at Moss & Associates where vice president Ted Adams is stepping away from the firm’s corrections efforts to focus on other projects. Adams has laid the groundwork for Mike Mazza, Moss’s 39-year-old vice president of operations and criminal justice, to take the reins.

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“The market is changing dramatically, and Gerry has the technical savvy, the mentality, and the personality required to negotiate that changing landscape,” says Budzinski, of his soon-to-be-successor, Guerrero.

“I come from a design, then bid, then build background — and quite frankly, Gerry is much better equipped to lead with all the design-build opportunities available now” Budzinski says, adding with a laugh that he is still mastering e-mail. “Gerry has the technology know-how and skills required to collaborate with other people on those high-tech projects.”

Having worked under Budzinski for the better part of 15 years, the 43-year-old Guerrero knows replacing Budzinski’s four decades of experience won’t be easy — which is why he’s happy Budzinski isn’t riding off into the sunset just yet.

“I obviously have very large shoes to fill,” Guerrero says. “At the same time, Ron’s not leaving, he’s still going to be here part-time and I fully plan on leaning on him for advice. We’re different people with different styles, so things will change. But I’m glad I’ll have him as a resource to fall back on when needed.”

“The official transition is set for the first of the year,” Budzinski adds. “I’ll start working about 30 hours a week to focus on a few specific projects and will spend less energy leading the market segment, which will become Gerry’s responsibility.”

“You too often hear about situations where someone takes over and they’re thrown into the fire two months later when the previous leader’s gone,” says Mazza of his new station. “Here, I’ve been put into the role of taking over and I’m already making those decisions, but I get the benefit of having Ted and his 30 years of experience just down the hall. You don’t always get that, and I think that’s the key to a successful transition. Not that you can’t learn by fire, but I think this is a much better way.”

Like Budzinski, Adams is excited about his new supporting role and seems earnest in his commitment to helping his successor thrive.

“From our Ocala office, I’ll oversee some of Moss’s regional pursuits outside corrections while I support Mike in his growing the criminal justice division nationally,” Adams says. “I’m focused on setting this transition up properly so that everybody will have excellent, long-term opportunities in front of them.”

Of course, the pitfalls of transitions, which include a lingering old guard have lead to complications in decision-making in other situations. but both Adams and Budzinski assert they’ll remain in the background.

 

Visonaries: Joe Haines, DLR; Andy Morgan, Vanir; Steve Carter, Carter Goble Lee; Lynn Arrington, Arrington/Watkins; Greg Offner, AECOM; Mike Retford, AECOM.

“You have to surrender control at a certain point,” Budzinski says. “You have to really trust — in any leadership change — that the person who’s stepping in will make the right decisions. Gerry is definitely that guy.”

Mentoring

Both Guerrero and Mazza have something other than their youth and considerable abilities in common: they’ve spent their entire careers ascending the corporate ladder under the tutelage of their predecessors.

In 1993, Mazza went to work for construction giant Centex fresh out of Michigan State University. Shortly into his time there he was assigned to a corrections project spearheaded by Adams, who would eventually convince Mazza to leave the company and join him at Moss & Associates, founded in 2004 by former Centex CEO Bob Moss.

“Back in the Centex days, Mike came on board shortly after Bob and I launched the company’s vertical market criminal justice division,” Adams says. “As we developed our staff for those projects, Mike was assigned to my group at a correctional facility that we were working on with [Corrections Corp. of America] in Panama City, Florida. That was Mike’s first job with me, and he quickly demonstrated his talents and leadership abilities and eventually became what’s essentially my right-hand man. We’ve been together so long now we can almost communicate without speaking.”

Mazza says he deeply appreciated the friendship Adams extended in those early days, days, describing his role as a “low on the totem pole” project engineer.

“Ted would come up to that job in Panama City to check on everything and stay overnight,” Mazza says. “It struck me that Ted always took the time to reach out and talk about work and life. He really helped me chart my course. It was the beginning of the mentoring, if you will, and it was exactly the kind of thing that made me want to stick with this group of people to build my career.”

Guerrero started with PSA-Dewberry in 1986 while he was still matriculated at Southern Illinois University, he says. It was a time when Budzinski had left the firm to pursue opportunities with other companies (Budzinski started at PSA-Dewberry in 1971, left in 1980, and returned 15 years later in 1995) and Guerrero cites the late architect Fred Rocker as his first mentor at Dewberry.

“Fred was incredible,” Guerrero says. “He was technically sound, a fantastic designer and he really knew the industry.”

Coincidentally, Budzinski also cites Rocker as a mentor, and the relationship between the three has helped PSA-Dewberry forge its current corrections identity.

“I sat next to Fred my whole career,” Guerrero says. “I remember Fred saying — before Ron returned — that if the firm was going to be successful in the correctional market, we needed to get Ron back on board. Well, we did and we wouldn’t be a national firm right now if Ron hadn’t come back. And, of course, I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for Ron.”

Mentors making way for their protégés isn’t a groundbreaking business practice, but both Adams and Budzinski say it’s paramount to hire leadership familiar with the idiosyncrasies of their firms in an already nuanced industry. That is, to some degree, it’s necessary nepotism.

“I’ve worked at a bunch of places over the years and I’ve always noticed that success comes to those who understand this best,” Budzinski says. “Gerry’s been with the firm more than 20 years, he truly knows the people and the culture of not only our firm but also of the corrections industry at large.”

Adams notes that the construction sector of corrections is particularly challenging, reaffirming the importance of hiring leadership that understands the dynamics of its culture and lifestyle.

“This can be a tough industry in our sector because the sites for projects are often out in the middle of nowhere, and they’re not necessarily desirable locations for work,” Adams says. “You also have to be separated from your family because you have to go all over the country where the work is. So it’s tough. It takes a special kind of person who enjoys the adventure and challenges.”

Mazza has adeptly managed and thrived in face of such challenges, Adams says, adding that Mazza essentially represents the fruit of a decades-long commitment to doing right by one’s employees.

“Mike is proof that if you stay with somebody and you work hard together to help that person develop and grow, you can put that person out there on his own and he will prove himself,” Adams says.

The Current Climate

 

Mazza and Guerrero are taking the helm in a tough economic climate, and chief among their immediate goals, both men say, is to both establish and maintain important relationships in an industry increasingly leaning toward the design-build paradigm.

“We’re really focused on the trend toward design-build and we’ve made it a high priority to reach out to design teams across the country with correctional expertise,” Mazza says. “In the past we’ve worked with those design teams but the nature of the relationships is changing. The focus used to be on the client — clients typically selected an architect and then a separate building team. Now, a lot of those selections are design-build options where you have to bring the full team to the table at once.”

In the design-build model, Mazza says, the magic is in the mix. “To be most effective, we’re focusing on identifying design teams that share a similar culture.”

Just as construction companies like Moss are reaching out to partner with designers, PSA-Dewberry’s architects are presently reaching out to builders and contractors.

“Definitely the biggest change in the industry from our side of things in the past five years is the design-build concept,” Guerrero says. “It’s a different way of doing things and to have contractors leading these projects now requires a different mindset from the design-bid-build approach. We’re doing everything we can to strategize about how to best align ourselves to work with these contractors and be successful at it.”

Independent of paradigm shifts, transitioning relationships in general seems to be most important to Adams and Budzinski.

“Of course, we’re always focused on the latest technologies and best practices for building the best quality facilities,” Adams says. “But the most important thing in our transition is to maintain relationships with the owners. When the economy improves and they start building again, they’re going to return to the people they trust and who have delivered in the past. We’re seeing a lot of uncertainty in our industry during this downturn, so it’s that much more important to sustain good relationships. They’re bonds we’ve built over 35 years. Now, we’re transitioning those relationships to Mike and he’s doing a tremendous job.”

Adams says Mazza’s leadership qualities were recently on display in Moss’s $250 million Palm Beach County Jail expansion project.

“It was the perfect opportunity for us to reverse our roles and let him assert himself,” Adams says. “I wanted our clients to see Mike as the man in the most senior ranking position, so I took a giant step back. Mike had a huge project team made up of more than 40 individuals — from consultants to architects, engineers to owners and agencies. We had some delays and because of the project’s scope you couldn’t really point to any one particular source or cost. It was a situation that could have gone south very quickly, and Mike prevented that from happening by negotiating acceptable resolutions with the owner, protecting the subs, and getting everything back on track.”

The Road Ahead

Perhaps Mazza and Guerrero have a modern skill-set they’re older counterparts don’t possess, but Budzinski and Adams have also inculcated business mentalities and values with staying power — touchstones their successors are determined to nurture and grow.

Budzinski has forged a reputation for advocating the idea that design alone can provide a dramatic service to people in corrections, from staff to inmates and beyond.

“Correctional architecture can either rehabilitate people in need or exacerbate their problems,” Budzinski says.

His protégé, Guerrero is similarly determined to espouse such values as he moves forward.

“I think that the industry is now more focused on certain aspects of rehabilitation than it has been in the past — alcoholism, addictions, etc. — and by designing things properly, we can make a real difference in the lives of these inmates by minding those things,” Guerrero says. “It all starts with design.”

Mazza seems keen to grow Adams’s tradition of establishing a company culture that takes a genuine interest in the well being of both employees and clients.

“We’re working hard to maintain the philosophy that Ted has established and made us so successful,” Mazza says. “It’s a belief that you always have to do the right thing for your client, even if it’s not the right thing for the company at the time. We also believe that if you do the right thing for your employees, you’ll have a successful company in the end. Because of this philosophy I think Moss is an easy place to imagine yourself working for many years out.”

And so the next generation of leaders set sail, informed by the old guard and armed with tools for the future.

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