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At HVJ Associates®, supporting our employees in growing both professionally and personally is a cornerstone of our culture and success. In this post, 23-year HVJ veteran Dev Chelliah shares how HVJ’s franchise ownership model has allowed him to merge his civil engineering expertise with entrepreneurial goals. Dev also shares what’s been most important for his success as a leader and how he is inspired to continue giving back by advancing educational opportunities across the globe.
1. Starting with some background about yourself, can you share how you got started in this field, and what inspires you most in your work?
I was born in Sri Lanka amid civil unrest; the conflict meant there were few options to pursue a career. At the same time, my uncle was a civil engineer and inspired my interest in the field. I had the opportunity to go to India through a special program for displaced Sri Lankans, and I graduated from that program with a BS in Civil Engineering. I later came to the United States, where I completed my Masters, and decided to become a US citizen and to start my family in the United States because of the continuing civil war in Sri Lanka.
I have had many successes in my civil engineering career and have found a passion for using my career accomplishments as a foundation for helping others. True to my roots, I founded a charity in the USA for Sri Lanka called Care for Education, in which we provide computers to the lowest-rated, least-funded school districts. Many students have lost their immediate family members in the civil war. We have placed almost 300 computers across twenty-six schools and continue expanding our network. As with any business, we have had to overcome challenges such as realizing that the schools needed consultants and technology support to teach students how to best use the computers and to prepare them for using technology in the workplace. Although the charity is not specific to my civil engineering career, it has taught me so much and helped me grow in my role at HVJ. I have learned how to stay the course when things are tough, face challenges head-on, and remain calm and focused on getting the job done.
2. What is your role at HVJ, and what has helped you be successful in this role?
I am the Managing Owner of the HVJ North Texas franchise, but my history with HVJ goes many years back to when I first came to the United States. I have held many roles since that time, starting with a tech in HVJ’s concrete-testing lab and later advancing to a graduate engineer, project engineer, project manager, and then department manager. I also got involved in business development, opening a new HVJ office in Austin.
I was attracted to HVJ partly because of the advancement opportunities and potential for franchise ownership. Something that has helped me be successful in my role as a franchise owner is that HVJ invests time and money into leadership development. HVJ’s franchise owners are all part of the Generative Leadership Program (GLP). The training is based on human interactions and has provided me with invaluable training for creating a more effective team. I had the opportunity to advance my leadership skills in areas such as managing commitments, overcoming breakdowns, and mastering the core competencies of management.
I enjoy mentoring my staff, developing teams and empowering them for success. I have learned that a leader is only as great as their team, and I appreciate that HVJ places such great importance on each person having a strong character. With the help of my team, I have consistently grown HVJ North Texas’ revenue in recent years because we have many satisfied clients who put their trust in us, both in coming back for future projects and in recommending us to others.
3. HVJ describes itself as being built on service. What does client service mean to you, and what keeps clients coming back to HVJ? What are your tips when engaging clients for the first time?
Clients are looking for reliable partners committed to the success of the project. This means we are focusing not only on our individual role in the project but on the big-picture result. At the beginning of a project, we prioritize being fully present and focused on listening and understanding the situation.
Infrastructure is inherently complex and unexpected; clients often experience the stresses of scheduling delays and quality issues. We aim to avoid that and to go beyond meeting the minimum requirements. In practical terms, this means we anticipate problems to plan for them ahead of time and provide clear, regular communication to clients. We have diverse teams with a wide range of expertise, ensuring that we provide reliable solutions that are truly the best option for the situation rather than an “out of the box” solution. The combination of our expertise and ability to provide a smooth experience is a differentiator that keeps clients coming back to us.
4. What motivated you to start your franchise, and what have you found most important for being successful as an owner?
I have always wanted to be a business owner, so owning a franchise was an excellent opportunity to combine my civil engineering expertise with my entrepreneurial goals. HVJ’s franchise model is unique in this industry; each location is independently owned and run while maintaining consistent systems, processes, customer experience values and quality. I liked that HVJ’s model leverages the owner’s technical knowledge and professional network. Their established business development platform and brand reputation, with a well-established network of statewide relationships have been an important part of my success as an owner.
I also knew that business ownership requires a wide range of skills, some of which I didn’t have – such as finance and marketing. So HVJ’s support and resources in the areas where I was uncertain gave me confidence that I would have access to colleagues with these skills. As I mentioned earlier, HVJ also offers leadership skills training which has been invaluable. I have learned there are many uncertainties outside of my control, but the proper resources and support make all the difference in overcoming any challenges that arise.
5. For civil engineering professionals who are interested in entrepreneurship, what advice would you give them about where to start?
For those passionate about business ownership, an established franchise provides a platform with well-established systems and processes. I would advise looking for opportunities that offer an accessible, experienced management team to deliver support and guidance. Any new business owner should go into it knowing that unexpected situations will arise. Still, with the proper training and processes, it’s possible to resolve challenges and even come out better.
I have been confident in choosing franchise ownership through HVJ because they have provided me with the foundations for a successful franchise. I appreciate that they have shown tremendous open-mindedness and acceptance of professionals from diverse, multicultural backgrounds. They are not hesitant to invest time and money into ensuring their franchise owners have what they need to succeed.