Power Players: Engineering Success
Tim Lowe III knows the reputation engineers have. “Engineers aren’t considered the liveliest bunch,” he says. “The technical disciplines naturally attract people who tend toward introversion.”
That being the case, Lowe, 58-year-old managing partner and chairman of the board of Lowe Engineers, makes a point of seeking out talented engineers for his firm who are as comfortable going out for a beer with their colleagues as they are mapping Global Posi-tioning Satellite coordinates or cost surveying a construction project.
Lowe Engineers, LLC, founded by Lowe’s father in 1957, is an Atlanta-based firm providing civil engineering, transportation engineering, surveying and geospatial services.
“I actually started working for the firm in 1963 at age 13,” says Lowe. “My dad gave me a choice of playing Buckhead Baseball or earning fifty cents an hour working in the field. I learned the value of that hour when my field supervisor won $26 off of me during a noon card game.”
Lowe, who co-chairs a water task force created by Gov. Sonny Perdue, graduated from Auburn Univers-ity in 1973 and bought his father’s company in 1984, the same year he earned his MBA from Emory University.
Clients range from the U.S. Army Corps of Engin-eers to Cousins Properties to state and local municipalities in the United States and abroad.
Examples of the firm’s work include completing boundary surveys, topographic mapping and construction stakeout for the high profile, 138-acre Atlantic Station development as well as infrastructure support services for the Harmony Church Civil/ Utility/Landscape Master Plan Project at Fort Benning.
The post, home of the U.S. Army Infantry, is preparing to absorb the Armor School relocating from Fort Knox, Ky., part of the 2005 Base Relocation and Closure.
“It’s the equivalent of taking a city the size of Rome, Georgia, and plunking it down on top of Fort Benning,” says Lowe of the project.
But it’s not just the services the firm provides that set Lowe Engineers apart from other firms, Lowe says. “Business is all about relationships. Ninety percent of our business is repeat or referral, and that happens when you build relationships in your community. We seek to build trust with our clients, [so] that we’ll be able to provide what they want and that they’ll listen to our advice.”
And if Lowe isn’t “feeling the trust” from his client, he doesn’t mind suggesting they look for help elsewhere. “We have probably fired more clients than I can count because I wasn’t able to build trust,” he says. “That’s all right with me. Trust is essential to the business relationship.”
Putting a priority on building relationships with clients means Lowe is definite about what he’s looking for in an engineer. “I look for extremely bright, highly inquisitive people who don’t like to be told no,” he says.
And all things being equal, Lowe, the father of three daughters in their 20s, is likely to select a woman for the job. “We purposefully go out trying to find women to bring them into meaningful roles in our business,” he says. “I enjoy watching things get built, but the fun part of the business for me is to develop people and their talents and turn them loose.”
Lowe gained first-hand experience being turned loose after college as a newly commissioned lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. “I was 22 years old and had 65 people to lead,” he says. “Nowhere else can you grab that much responsibility at such a young age.”
After serving three years on a destroyer, he finished his ROTC commitment and continued to serve in the Naval Reserve for 26 years. “In a lot of ways the military is much more about training than it is the bottom line,” he says. “I say to my folks, ‘Do the best you can. I’m here to nudge and watch.’”
Lowe had zebra stripes painted on all the com-pany’s trucks, cars and boats in 2006 and 2007, originally to distinguish their boats on lakes in Louisiana during post-Katrina cleanup.
“We adopted the motto ‘Earn Your Stripes,’” he says.
The firm is helping fund school infrastructure for a remote village in Zambia, Africa. “There are about 1,000 people in the village,” Lowe says. “They had no school for grades 1 through 5. We are able to use our resources to make a difference. It doesn’t take a lot of money to make a huge impact.”