My Experience at the 2019 ACEC Fall Conference in Chicago

Arthur Jones-Dove, Chair of the ACEC/MW Water Infrastructure, recounts his experience as a first-time attendee at the ACEC National Fall Conference.

My Experience at the 2019 ACEC Fall Conference in Chicago

On October 13-16, 2019, the ACEC Fall Conference was held in Chicago, Illinois at the Sheraton Grand Chicago. As a first-time attendee, I was pleasantly surprised. I enjoyed the detailed planning that resulted in multiple committee meetings, educational sessions, fun activities, networking, and quality keynote speakers who shared their knowledge, challenging and inspiring the audience to think deeper and broader. It was my feeling that the events were planned to elicit a response that varied based on the individual's engineering journey. For some it was a feeling of joy, nostalgia, relevance, community, etc. For me, it was a feeling of belonging, like I had found an organization where I would like to roll up my sleeves, share my voice, learn, and grow. Kudos to the ACEC National Team for presenting a thought-provoking, fun, engaging, and fulfilling conference.

Thought Provoking

 (ACEC Board of Directors Meeting)
On the first morning of the conference, I attended the ACEC Board of Directors Meeting. During this meeting, I had the opportunity to witness the breadth and depth of the ACEC Member Organizations (MO) with leaders from each of the 50 states. I observed the unveiling of ACEC's strategic plan and discussions of the robust and well thought out process undertaken by the leadership team. The leadership team and members of the strategic planning committee handled this process carefully, and it was clear that they understood the magnitude of what they had been entrusted to develop and the impacts it would have on generations to come. The Vision was simple: “The American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) is the thought leader driving the delivery of valued engineering and other professional services for abetter world.” The Goals and Objectives were: Leading business strategy, embody inclusivity and diversity, expanded and influential membership, essential value to society, and vibrant member engagement. 
That afternoon I participated at the CEO Roundtable for firms of all sizes which resulted in great collaborative sessions with varying discussions of challenges in our industry. Topics included succession planning, diversity of thought, creating a culture of consistency, training, retention, how to become more competitive, recession-proofing your company, knowledge transfer techniques, mergers and acquisitions, outsourcing IT, use of cloud or not, incentive programs, flow down from contractors on Public Private Partnership (P3) projects or design-build, etc.

Keynote Speakers

Robert Costa, National Political Reporter, The Washington Post

Significant thought was put into the selection of the keynote speakers, who forced us to think outside day-to-day operations and leadership roles into the macro issues and challenges within our industry. On Monday, the opening general session speaker was Robert Costa, national political reporter for The Washington Post. He shared great political insight on President Trump, his trip to the Ukraine with Vice President Pence, the impeachment inquiries, the fast pace of change in the United States, the vilification of technology companies, the 2020 elections, and more. This conversation took me back to earlier presentations by Linda Bauer Darr and her team as they highlighted the importance of ACEC and the various committees, such as the legislative committee and the need for the Political Action Committee (PAC). I learned something new in that the ACEC/PAC ranks #1 in receipts in the design/construction industry. It was clear that ACEC is fighting the good fight to ensure that we are positioned to lend our voices to the appropriate legislations in Congress, such as the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA), H.R. 1043: Employer Participation in Repayment Act of 2019, and cap increase of H1B visas. Likewise, regarding current procurement approaches, ACEC was emphatic that qualification-based solicitation should be maintained at the state and federal level and that our professional value provided to clients will not be diluted. I also learned about ACEC's participation in addressing the New York Metropolitan Transportation Agency (MTA) challenge that resulted in a 10 percent reduction in engineering fees of signed contracts, arbitrarily by the owner, which is a violation of the Brooks Act if federal funding is involved, etc. 

Keller Rinaudo, Founder/CEO, Zipline International

Keller Rinaudo, founder and CEO of Zipline International, a mission-driven, for-profit company that began drone delivery of blood to local hospitals throughout Rwanda in 2016, has an aggressive growth plan. In April 2019 he expanded his company to Ghana in West Africa, has plans to start operating in North Carolina and southeast Asia, and has a partnership with the pharmaceutical company Novartis. Keller shared the details of the technology used to maneuver his electric-operated planes, the use of computers and a cell phone application to fly the planes, and the use of local cellular networks. He showed us how they tested the planes to simulate torrential rainfall conditions, the redundancy built into the system to minimize failure, how precise the system is, and described the use of 100 percent local African teams of engineering workforce in Rwanda and Ghana. Keller was very inspiring, explaining how he had overcome huge challenges of navigating through the political system, finding local engineering help, and working across generations to accomplish his companies' vision. For me, Keller's inspiration is to not put limits on your dreams and be willing to be innovative, and if you have a big enough vision, you can overcome any obstacle.

Anirban Basu, CEO, Sage Policy Group, Inc.

Anirban Basu, CEO of Sage Policy Group, Inc., an economic and policy consulting firm in Baltimore, Maryland, highlighted some key indicators to consider on the state of the economy. The question posed was how long the market will be stable and when should we anticipate a recession. Anirban indicated that every economic downturn has been preceded by an inverted U.S. Treasury yield curve, rising income, capacity utilization index, etc. Also, he noted that the Chinese economy slowed to its lowest growth rate in 28 years in January 2019. Anirban anticipates a recession in the third quarter of 2020.

Sekou Andrews, Founder/CEO, SekouWorld, Inc.

Sekou Andrews, founder and CEO of SekouWorld, Inc., came out dancing to a rap song, dressed in jeans and sneakers, utilizing his new, cutting-edge form of speaking called Poetic Voice, which is a unique blend of inspirational speaking and spoken-word poetry. His goal was to challenge the group to innovate by first making the change within us and the need for disruption within our industry. He tagged disruption as being a bright green catsuit that was bold and audacious, that we needed to be brave and blaze a new trail, and that we had to put on that catsuit first before trying to lead others. He talked about the importance of telling a story and getting personal, humanizing your story, and urged us to tell our own purpose-driven story so that listeners can feel heard and understood. He shared his personal story of pain and the loss of his father, providing several tips including developing a six-word story that you provide at the back of your business card, and give people an opportunity to see themselves in you. The greatest resource he said, is each of you (the audience) and before you can innovate you should have a trailblazer mindset, then you can think of innovating. Sekou was the ultimate disruptor speaking about disruption and warned us that if we do not change the status quo and do something different, slowly before our eyes we will be disrupted because we were not bold enough or willing to make a change or a shift to innovate. 

Fun and Engaging

 (ACEC/MW Leadership team holding our socks)
There were multiple opportunities to hang out with our peers and enjoy each other's company. At the board member and new member luncheon on Sunday, the board members were welcoming and inviting. While seated at our tables, we participated in a quiz ensuring that we collaborated, and if we answered all the questions, we won black ACEC socks. 
Additionally, the event was organized with a myriad of networking opportunities and receptions, such as the welcome receptions, networking session and dinners with exhibitors, and in some cases recognition of key participants for their contributions over the years. The attendees were very warm and friendly. There were also opportunities to go to dinner with friends and colleagues. After the sessions we had an opportunity to chat and make new friends. Tours of the Art Institute of Chicago, architect river cruise, charity fun walk, the final races for the ACEC/PAC pinewood rally to raise money, and golf tournament were other fun activities planned. I enjoyed meeting new people and listening to their stories. 
Additionally, there were multiple educational sessions on business ownership, transition and succession planning, sessions on technology and innovation, CFO roundtable discussions on how to embrace business practices outside your industry for success, risk management, growing profits through employee retention, Millenials and Gen Z - Reaching the next generation of decision makers, fostering a culture of innovation, engagement and collaboration through integrative learning, structural engineering roundtable, future of sustainable and resilient stormwater infrastructure design, events in FAR overhead rates and state DOT reviews, imbalance: work, life and wellness for consultants, risk management, project management, healthcare design, ethics, strategic planning, women in leadership reception, employee retention, as well as the charity events mentioned previously.


I had a good time interacting with the various C-Suite leaders, executives, and other managers from firms of varying sizes, sharing our challenges but being able to connect at a human level. The first thing I thought of was why I did not get involved earlier, but on the other hand thankful for the opportunity to be engaged. 
I walked away from the conference with an excitement knowing that I was present to discuss and be part of shaping the future of a profession I love. I thought about macro-level issues including my responsibility and place within the industry, my purpose, what would the world look like 10 years from now. Would we have to compete with machine learning? Would we be willing to change and innovate before our industry shifts or changes in front of our eyes? What new skills do the younger generation need to learn so they can be competitive? What would disrupt our industry in the next 10 years? Knowing that we have an organization with professional staff and key volunteers throughout our industry who are thoughtful and are working hard to ensure a brighter future for us and the next generation was reassuring. 
In my role as the ACEC Metropolitan Washington Water infrastructure Committee (WIC) chair, and with years of leadership and program management of major infrastructure programs, I left with a renewed drive to ensure I utilize my unique skill set and that the WIC goals are aligned with ACEC's strategic plan. I want to make sure that we are thought leaders for our clients.  I will come back making sure we reinvigorate our efforts to continue promoting engineering to local high schools, starting with a local high school in Prince George's County in Maryland where I reside, ensuring there is diversity of thought as major decisions are made to further the mission of ACEC.  To truly appreciate and benefit from an organization like ACEC, you need to be an active participant in your member organizations.    Join us at the 2020 Annual Convention will be held on April 26, 2020, in Washington, DC. 

Author: Arthur Jones-Dove PE, PMP, CCM, MBA, PgMP, is a Vice President and senior Division Manager for the Northeast Region of Atkins Public and Private Business Unit.  Mr. Jones-Dove has more than 20 years of engineering experience and has held leadership roles in infrastructure projects totaling approximately $5.0 billion in the DC Metropolitan area.


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