May 2021: Victoria “Tori” Held

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Your organization is unique in that you are 100% employee owned.  Describe your broader role with Burns & McDonnell. Specifically, what has this organizational structure meant for you personally?    

In 2018, I started my career with Burns & McDonnell to help develop the public engagement and communication strategy for the Southeast. At that time, I managed a small team to create and provide world-class best practices for high-risk infrastructure projects in the energy industry. We still maintain that strategic vision today. Currently, I am the manager of the Stakeholder Management Services group in the southeast region, leading a team of 20 professionals who address public involvement efforts and real estate initiatives. Since I started at Burns & McDonnell, my team has tripled in size. We work with clients in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida — with plans to expand our team to Alabama and Tennessee.

As a 100% employee-owned firm, we know collaboration internally and externally with our clients leads to success — for our projects and our careers alike. Each of us takes an ownership stake in every project we touch, creating amazing results for our clients and communities.

As a manager, I have an even greater responsibility to make sure we preserve our employees’ ownership and entrepreneurial spirit. While leading by example, I encourage everyone to bring their
innovative ideas forward. It’s important to find ways to support their initiatives and to energize them to work hard to make our clients successful. I am so proud of everyone on my team; they all really do inspire me. Employee ownership at this company is more than a corporate structure and a financial opportunity. Our ownership culture leads us to care for our employees in unique ways and we use it as a guiding force. We foster a culture of transparent communication, listening, teaching and learning while responding to the needs of our employee-owners.

With a global company like yours, how is the Florida market different in terms of opportunities for work and career?

Over the last year, we’ve seen a lot of growth and movement in Florida. Thoughtful leadership and planning guided Burns & McDonnell to open a regional office in Florida a few years ago, so we are
prepared to support clients statewide. This past year, we have significantly grown and have been able to be extremely responsive in helping our clients navigate the challenges of the pandemic. These challenges, both personal and professional, have afforded us the opportunity to develop new services to respond to the communication and real estate acquisition needs of our clients and stakeholders. As a firm, our teams and resources are nimble so we can react to market conditions. Some markets have slowed down; others are investing even more. We have always stayed very diversified in our service offerings so we can pivot as markets evolve. The experience we have in various industries allows us to develop unique solutions to our customer’s challenges.

Overall, Burns & McDonnell in Florida has expanded our focus on supporting electrical transmission and distribution, renewable energy, state government, industrial and aviation, federal and military facilities, and other critical infrastructure projects, while also providing business, technology and security consulting services.

We hear so much about decreasing interest by women in stem-related fields like engineering. What motivated you toward this career and how can we continue to encourage growth in this sector?

The good news is that you don’t have to be a math or science genius to be relevant and contribute to a STEM-related field. I certainly applaud those women who lead the way in a technical or scientific discipline. And, I encourage all women with a passion for science, technology, engineering or mathematic with those distinguished skillsets to embrace and apply that to finding a rewarding career that is right for them. Strive to be the smartest person in the room! Know your value and that you are admired. For those of us with a more creative side, there are plenty of avenues to pursue as well. From space exploration, sustainability, water quality, land use planning, architecture, construction, computer science to building the most reliable electric grid, these industries need communicators, planners, marketers, and more to support the work being accomplished.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Food and Resource Economics from the University of Florida College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, I landed my first job with a publisher of mechanical engineering, physics, life and environmental science text and reference books. Later, I was able to take on different roles that I never knew existed — from writing and editing to marketing and advertising, to public relations and engagement — leading me to where I am today. I have a passion for learning and curiosity for creative ingenuity within the industries we serve. Everyone can have a place in STEM. While just 5% of U.S. workers hold jobs in STEM-related fields, they are responsible for more than 50% of our sustained economic growth. At Burns & McDonnell, we offer many STEM opportunities for young professionals and women. In fact, all  the environmental and stakeholder management leadership positions in the southeast region are held by women with a passion for mentoring other women in STEM. It is our privilege to share that enthusiasm with students of all ages and backgrounds.  We are proactively engaging with students at a young age and recruiting others to join STEM professions, because we know the strength of tomorrow’s STEM leaders depends on their diverse and collective vision.

Describe the benefits of having your communications and public relations backgrounds for promoting one of the world’s most successful engineering companies.

Public relations and communications require speed and flexibility, especially with the ever-changing technological platforms and channels available to communicate. I’ve communicated to many
demographics over the years and have learned you must tailor the messaging to your target audience for maximum impact. My background in communications and public relations allows me to understand the methodology and psychology that go behind the content used to address our specific audience (s). Not everyone is going to interpret a message the same way. Word choice matters.

Being able to process and understand extremely technical information and to distribute that information to educate the masses is key to success. Tracking metrics on your initiatives, understanding and learning, as well as adjusting your strategy, message or channel of delivery also plays an important role. My background supports our company’s initiative to build strong and trusted relationships with our clients, understanding their needs and being able to deliver an amazing product or service. The COVID-19 pandemic is a good example, with many lessons learned for all of us — even the “best of the best” still need to adapt their communication and public relations strategies and tactics to connect to the communities we serve in today’s current climate.

Based upon your own personal experiences in your profession, what has been the biggest challenge you have faced or lesson you have learned?

Over my professional career at Burns & McDonnell and beyond, I’ve learned it’s important to be a professional role model and mentor for others while maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Allowing yourself to have a passion for your career while balancing a family, personal goals and outside responsibilities can be difficult — yet more important now than ever. I work hard to convey that message to my team and frequently encourage them to enjoy their time on weekends and after typical work hours.

What are some of the best practices you’ve used for recruiting and retention?

Our people are our strongest assets, so we seek out strategic thinkers, technical leaders and entrepreneurs. We want authentic people with big ideas and even bigger hearts.

Here are some of the best practices I keep in mind when recruiting new hires:

  • Take the time to make sure the job description fits the role.
  • Make a personal connection with the recruit and understand their experience.
  • Remember to ask yourself the following questions during the interview process:
  1. Are they a good addition to the team and the company?
  2. Do they have an entrepreneurial spirt and excitement for this job?

Engagement and retention have everything to do with the mutual investment the company and employee make in one another. Here are some ways we work to make each of our employees feel supported:

  • Our employee-ownership model allows us to reward individuals for their contribution to the success of the company.
  • A focus on making our company a great place to work, which starts with building trust with our employees. That means listening to them and then acting on it.
  • Opportunities to take on various projects, have a diverse client base, visit a variety of locations, and lead different job tasks so their work always feels challenging and fun.
  • Transparency and conversations around career paths that best suit the employee’s strengths and benefit the company.
  • Constantly seeking their ideas and encouraging innovative thought.

Why are initiatives like Florida’s Women in Energy Leadership Forum important to you and your company?
Florida’s Women in Energy Leadership Forum has been around for many years and lends itself to a great cause that I believe in: “to help inform, inspire and motivate women to grow in the industry.” Not only will you hear from key leaders in the energy industry, with varying perspectives on a multitude of issues, concerns, and regulations, but it’s also a great way to make long-term professional connections. The panels and keynote speakers always provide relevant content that matters. The forum also provides Burns & McDonnell the opportunity to share lessons learned, research findings and the benefits of partnering with us.

What advice would you give to a 2nd year college student deciding on a career path?

As a second-year college student, I can remember that did not have a mapped-out career path or even understand all the professional opportunities available to me. My advice is:

  • Follow the things that interest you.
  • Tackle new opportunities to challenge and develop yourself.
  • Surround yourself with great mentors.
  • Motivate yourself to go to the next level.
  • Look into internship programs for real world experience before graduation.
  • Consider a career in STEM — the opportunities are endless.

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