Mark Erdman | Crain's Baltimore

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Mark Erdman

Background:  

An engineering firm, Structura works with clients in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. on structural design, rehabilitation, building performance, contractor support, design build, and tenant improvement projects. Structura is a member of the project team that renovated the Baltimore Visitor Center, which was named “Best of the Best Small Project (Under $10 Million)” for 2016 by Engineering News Record, a construction industry trade publication.

The Mistake:

We opened a satellite office in Baltimore in 2011, and up until that point I’d worked with largely the same group of people since 1999. It was a new and exciting challenge to open up a new office. Even though it was only 30-40 miles away from our office in Rockville, Maryland, I was dealing with a new set of people and new clients, and for me personally that was very exciting. We were fortunate enough to land a couple projects early on in our move up to Baltimore, and I was very excited about that.

My mistake was not being involved enough in those projects to make sure that the way we do things, and the way I do things, was followed through. I spent the majority of my time seeking the gains from potential rather than focusing on what it is that we do best — preparing engineering designs and drawings.

I wasn’t involved enough to make sure that they were done the way that they needed to be done. I think I needed to have a little bit more day-to-day influence on the project and I didn’t do that. And so with a couple of our initial efforts and projects, we didn’t perform the way we were capable of, and I’ll never forget that.

I convinced myself that finding new work and clients was the most important thing.

The Lesson:

It was a real learning experience for me to step back after those projects were done and look at them and think about how they got to that point and how we could have done better.

At the time I was focused on growing the office. I represented the company to win the projects and then went back and focused only on winning more projects or making new connections. That was important too, it’s important every day, but I was out of balance there.

The lesson was I needed to be honest with myself. As the process was going on, I could tell that the projects weren’t getting the attention that they deserved, most importantly from myself. And I still didn’t give it more attention, because I convinced myself that finding new work and clients was the most important thing.

A little bit more time invested on my part doing quality assurance and quality control of our design process and our documents, applied at the right time, would have paid dividends down the line — big time. That part I really dropped the ball on. Every architect and engineer, it’s all about producing our drawings, and I didn’t spend enough time with the design to make sure that it was up to our standards.

I also learned it’s OK sometimes to turn my focus inward to what it is that we’re doing and producing, rather than outward toward clients and opportunities, because they’re both important.

Structura is on Twitter at @structura_inc.

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