Jan 22nd, 2020
Host: Welcome to another edition of Engineering Influence, a podcast by the American Council of Engineering Companies. Continuing on with our series of interviews during ExCom orientation and we are very pleased to be joined by Mike Cooper who is in DC this week for that orientation and came to us from, I guess, I don't know if it's snowy Detroit, but you know, I know it's cold right now in Washington. It's like 20 degrees. So I would imagine it's cold out there. Wish we could actually provide you with warmer weather, Mike. But welcome to the show and, and if you could take a minute to kind of introduce yourself to the audience, those who might not be aware of your involvement ACEC in what you do. You know, let the world know who you are.
Mike Cooper: Sure. Well, Jeff, thank you. So Mike Cooper. I am the president of Harley Ellis Devereaux. We are a full service architecture and engineering design firm. We've got offices in California four of them. Detroit, Chicago, Boston and Dallas. As I said, full service architecture, landscape architecture, interior architecture, mechanical, electrical, structural engineering, really in terms of markets, healthcare, science and technology, education corporate and commercial, mostly vertical infrastructure, buildings, facilities and really trying to create a positive impact for our clients, helping them to get the most value out of their facility assets that they can. It's the most costly thing. Most businesses, institutions have to make sure we can get the most value out of those and they're working for us.
Host: That's, that's, that's an important point that you raise. And, and also just the fact that you are really involved specifically wholly in the private sector. So it's, it's, you know, all of the, either, you know, privately owned social infrastructure, we'll say the hospitals and schools and things of that nature, but corporate and private sector work, which was a very big part of the industry. And of course in Washington, we're so focused on the work that happens in Congress that, you know, we can't lose sight of the significant contribution of private sector engineering. One question for you off the top in the past year or two, just in your experience in your market sector, what's been the biggest area of growth for you?
Mike Cooper: Well, I think we've been fortunate over the past few years. We've seen a growing economy and I'll tell ya, all of our sectors are growing. That's good. We've seen growth in healthcare. We've seen growth in the R&D space, certainly in, in the, in the commercial space we've seen a lot of growth across the country. Education has been growing and one of the newer markets we're in the mission critical data center market that has been growing as companies are figuring out and they know this how dependent they are on data and on their network infrastructure. And as we continue to move forward with technology innovation we become more dependent. It's, it's a, it's a productivity thing for most businesses. We can actually bring greater value. We can be more responsive, but we're more dependent on data, more dependent on, in, on that kind of infrastructure. And so that market also has seen growth. We'll see moving forward. What it looks like, but but the economy has been quite healthy and, and fortunately all of the markets have seen the benefits of that.
Host: Now, hopefully that continues into 2020, I mean, yeah, there's no question that the amount of data that's being stored - used and then also stored and then, and the rules that companies have to follow in data management and data storage and just the, the collection and use of that data requires a lot of housing, a lot of storage and the infrastructure to allow that to happen. So I'm not surprised that's a growing area of the marketplace. Is that in, in large scale data centers or is that also in helping clients design their facilities existing facilities to, to better handle their IT needs?
Mike Cooper: I think it's both. I think certainly we're involved with the large scale data centers, you know, both for a singular, you know, owner entity and also more retail based where, where people will come in and they'll they'll carve out a piece. They don't want to build their own data center. So they'll come in almost as a tenant. And, and they'll become part of a larger scale development, but then you've got institutions that have to manage data and it might be an insurance company. It could be a university or a healthcare system that has to have onsite infrastructure as well. And so we're seeing all of the above, we're seeing the institutions needing to provide data management, storage and security, and then we're seeing the need for the larger scale projects so that everybody who needs it has access to it. Not everybody can afford their own data center, but they do need to manage their data effectively and appropriately and safely. And there are folks out there who are, who are able to help them do that and we're helping those folks to build those facilities.
Host: Yeah. And that's a, you know, it's interesting because one topic that's come up in the conversations I've had with the one of your colleagues as been, you know, of course the issue of commoditization and, and just that promoting the intrinsic value of engineering. It kind of, if you have a client that has realized, Oh my, I need X amount more space, or I need to restructure the way that we actually handle our data storage, it kind of goes to the value of a consulting engineer to be able to say, here's your challenge and here's a solution that fits your requirements specifically, which is something which is not, you know, it goes to that anti-commoditization argument of saying that you need to have that trusted advisor to help your client reach that goal. And it's might be something that they know they have to do, but they have no idea how to do it. You know, what are your thoughts on that kind of relationship that, that, that kind of goes into things?
Mike Cooper: Yeah. Design is, it's really the opposite of a, of a commodity. Everything is a prototype. Every project, every facility structure is a unique one of a kind entity based on a certain set of parameters and a certain set of conditions in a situation that in itself is unique. The challenge that one business or one institution has that drives them towards a project is going to be different than every other instance. So the idea that there would be a one size fits all or a one approach fits all solution really defies logic. I think. It's a more of a subjective field. There is more than one way to address an issue, but there are optimal ways of doing it. There are ways that lead to higher efficiency and higher productivity and lower costs. And so the trusted advisor, the, the truly qualified expert, those are the ones that can give you the better solutions, the optimized solutions that will give you the payback that will give you higher return on investment. So you know, sometimes, and I think we see this in all walks of life, you pay perhaps a little bit more for the expert, but the return on investment comes back and pays itself back time and time again. I think the design industry is no different.
Host: Yeah, exactly. Especially as technology changes in, in that area of, of course the day is as things change, you're going to need to modify and you can't say, yeah, this is going to be perfect for the next 20 years. You need to have that, that design process is always ongoing and always has to to adopt or, or adapt to changes in the marketplace.
Mike Cooper: Well, there's two things there. One is adapting to changes in the marketplace. So making sure that what we design can be adaptable. You know, you look at in terms of research or today we are, we are going down one path, but a year or two or three years from now we may be going down a completely different path that we couldn't envision today. So the fact that we have to be adaptable and we have to know how to design that way is one aspect. The other is simply to be able to look out into the future and see what's coming and recognize trends. There is a lot of disruption happening in a lot of industries including the design industry. So our ability to understand where technology is going and understand how, how delivery methods and how collaboration between the industry, you know, the industry players is happening, will enable us to be able to talk to our clients about not just what's happening today, but what's happening tomorrow, next year, a year from now. So that we can plan for that, anticipate that, take advantage of it.
Host: Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. And that's, that's that that kind of goes to the thought leadership role that ACEC and its members play of really being experts in these fields and be able to provide that perspective about potential future trends and things of that nature. Of course, you're here today for the orientation. You sat through a number of PowerPoints from our different business units. We kicked it off this morning with advocacy and went from there. What, what kinda got you to this point as an engineer getting involved, ACEC, what, what led you to get involved with volunteer leadership and to executive committee?
Mike Cooper: Well. So it started really at the state level in Michigan and I became involved in the state of Michigan in the Michigan chapter, you know, to, to build my personal network to improve my growth as a professional to be able to, to just, you know, to be able to be better and offer more value to engage with the experts and to be able to be a bit more collaborative and understand what's going on and, and, and truly it's been it's been a wonderful experience. So I think having gone through a lot with the state organization, the national organization seemed like a natural extension for me. We work on a number of things that I think don't just apply in Michigan, but apply nationally. And so there are a number of things we talk about awareness and we talk about the disruption and we talk about the need to increase the number of folks who are going into the engineering industry and into that profession. And it certainly is a focus in the state of Michigan, but it's a focus nationally. And I'd love to bring the energy and the passion that I have to the national stage.
Host: Yeah. And that, that kind of leads me to my next question of, of we're right now in the first, actually the second week of the new year and the new decade, you know, looking ahead 12 months where you're ending out 2020, you look back and you say, you know what, this is, this is something that I was able to help ACEC push forward. What's one of your big goals?
Mike Cooper: Yeah, I think the first one is to build awareness of the impact of the profession on a, on a broad, on a global scale, you know the impact that engineers have on society, the impact that they have on really all things that we use, whether it is the cell phone in our pocket or whether it's the vehicle that we're driving or clean air or clean water or, you know, basic community needs. It's engineers who are really behind all of those things. If we want more people to go into the engineering professions, if we want people to understand the professions, get behind it so that we're driving innovation so that people are flooding our profession so that we can continue these kinds of advancements. We have to start with making people aware of what engineers are doing what they're having and get them excited about careers in engineering.
Mike Cooper: It's we don't have this many engineering graduates as we need. And I think that the start of turning that around is letting people know what we're doing. Some of the most important things that are going on, the most important initiatives from a technology and, and from a, from a advancing society perspective are happening within the world of engineering and R&D and to be a part of that and to, you know, to see that more people are interested in the profession and applications are going up and the number of graduates is increasing. That to me is going to be a signal number one, that our communities and our society are going to be well taken care of. And number two, that our, our organization here is doing what we need to be doing.
Host: Absolutely. And I think that there are number of opportunities to help get that mission accomplished.
Mike Cooper: Absolutely. One of the things that I see with people in my own firm they're most excited about purpose-driven work, you know, work that has significance, that has impact, that that is really helping people out, making the world a better place. And I think when we talk about what engineers are doing, that is what we're doing. The results of our work are literally doing those things. And when people are brought into the fold and they understand and they see all of the opportunities, as you say, to be able to do that, to be able to impact people and impact our communities in all sorts of ways in ways that we're personally passionate about, then it's not about work. It's about, you know, more of a life's mission than it is about a job or work. And I, and I see it everyday when people do what they love to do, right? They never work a day in their life.
Host: Yeah, exactly. That's, that's a great, that's a great way to end this. Mike, I think Mike, Mike Cooper, ladies and gentleman is probably one of the best evangelists we have for engineering right now. I think. I don't think I've heard that put in such an eloquent way. And it's exactly the kind of message that we have to get out there. So I really look forward to working with you over the coming months and into the future. I think we've got a lot of opportunity in front of us and really wish you success in all the markets that you work in and hopefully 2020 is as good as 2019 was. And congratulations and safe travels. I guess back to back to Michigan. Hopefully it warms up.
Mike Cooper: Well, thank you very much. It will warm up. Maybe not until March or April, but it will well, but well I, I appreciate it. I'm looking forward to working with you. It's going to be a great year.