5 Questions With An Expert: Rob Lawrence

June 25, 2021

Rob Lawrence
Geotechnical Department Manager

Rob Lawrence - A passion for cultivating a team that cares and delivers for our clients

"The Geotechnical team is typically one of the first on a job site. If we blow the schedule or miss critical soil issues, it puts the entire project at risk."
Robert Lawrence, Department Manager for the Geotechnical Group at HVJ Associates® keeps this from happening. “My team strives to get ahead of the schedule, so the rest of the project stays on track,” he says. His group also identifies any unique issues with the soil and geology, which vary from site to site.

“Some conditions can severely affect the project,” Rob explains. “We bring those design challenges to the project team right away.” Addressing these problems early helps the design evolve correctly and benefits the client and everyone on the project team.

We sat down with Rob this month to ask a few more questions about what drives him and his group to excellence.

1. Starting with some background about yourself, How did you get started in this field, and what inspires you most in your work?

I came from a small town and didn't really know many engineers. But I was good at math and science, which pushed me into engineering. I chose civil engineering because it covered a lot of different things. During undergrad, I found geotechnical engineering to be the most challenging, which made it the most rewarding for me. That’s why I got my master’s degree in it.

With geotechnical engineering, no two projects are the same, because the soil and geology change from project to project. That means designing an element like a retaining wall or bridge, even if we’ve designed them before, will be totally different, because the site conditions will be different from previous projects. Each project becomes a unique experience and lets us provide the client with specialized, site-specific recommendations for their project.

2. What is your favorite type of project/work?

Any project that deviates from standard designs and requires us to put on our thinking caps to come up with a solution that best suits our client’s and owner’s needs for that particular project.

I also really enjoy public infrastructure projects. It’s rewarding to go around the place you live and see the projects that you've done and how they're helping the community.

3. What are the common types of problems that your customers are trying to solve? What do you think draws them specifically to HVJ?

Our clients are looking for solutions that are beyond the cookie cutter. And they need to be sure they're solving the problem in the best way for the groups of people they represent, whether they’re water districts, municipalities, or the state.

We have a very client-centered approach to our projects. We want the client to feel as if their Geotechnical team is sitting in the office next to them through the entire project. From the planning phase to the design phase and into the construction phase, we’re there as their teammate and co-worker. We help them throughout the project because we know that projects evolve as the scope is executed.

HVJ delivers that consistently. And I find that our clients recognize that we're able to deliver that higher quality and close relationship throughout the project. That’s what draws them to HVJ.

4. 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?

It means not only meeting the budget, deadlines, and scope, but also ensuring clients are confident and satisfied when they step away from the project. They know HVJ has done the job they needed, and we will be there with them for any changes or modifications that come down the road.

It means going beyond the project on the paper. It's getting to know the client and what their role is in the community and how they want to best serve their customers.

We make sure we’re aligned with their goals by getting to know clients beyond just the project we're working on. When we have that mindset, when we have that understanding, executing the work of the project becomes almost like second nature, because we understand each other at a better level before the project has even started.

5. One of HVJ's promises is a commitment to ongoing learning. What resources or training opportunities have you found to be the most useful? What tips do you have for keeping up to date with ongoing education?

HVJ provides continuing education for everyone in the company, whether laboratory technicians, engineers, geologists, or senior leadership. Learning never ends for anybody.

I've taken leadership training programs and project management training programs, both internally and externally. And I train in the latest trends, design guidelines, and recommendations that are coming out of the industry.

HVJ is always supportive of us going beyond the standard traditional learning that's required for certifications or licenses. The company talks with people about their career goals, from both the employee’s perspective and HVJ's perspective. Then HVJ aligns the training specific to those goals. That way, employees grow with the company and the company can grow at the same time.

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