5 Questions With An Expert: Sharmi Vedantam

October 29, 2020

Sharmi Vedantam HVJ Associates
Sharmi Vedantam
Houston Branch Manager

1. Starting with some background about yourself, can you share what type of work you do at HVJ and what you find most interesting about it?
As Houston’s Branch Manager, I am responsible for successfully completing our projects and managing Geotechnical, Environmental, and Construction Materials Testing services. I make sure our branch and our team deliver client satisfaction and continue to strengthen their expertise and skills. I enjoy participating in Business Development at HVJ and serving as the Vice-Chair for ACEC Houston Geotechnical Committee.

I first joined HVJ in 2004 as a Staff Engineer, and in this role, I was responsible for assisting the Project Managers and preparing Geotechnical report. I was then promoted as a Project Manager and Department Manager, and now I am the Branch Manager for the Houston office. Through these various roles, I have learned diverse skills beyond project work and also skills related to management and business development.

I’m thankful to be working at a growing company because as HVJ is growing, we are growing with them. I appreciate that HVJ values its employees and empowers them to advance their knowledge, skills, and careers

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

I have mostly worked on projects with the City of Houston, Harris County, Harris County Flood Control District, Water Authorities, Texas Department of Transportation, METRO, and other government agencies in and around Houston.

Clients expect reliable geotechnical solutions, completed on time and within the budget. They are drawn to HVJ because our experience allows us to be innovative and anticipate problems before they arise. We listen to their needs and provide the most cost-effective solutions.

Clients also appreciate that we are truthful and straightforward. We try to anticipate problems to avoid them.  Inevitably challenges occur, which we address directly to achieve team goals. The HVJ team has deep and broad experience, and if one of us needs help finding an answer or solving a problem, the team works together to get it resolved.

3. Can you briefly describe one of your recent projects, and what you found most rewarding about it?
Being in Houston, I enjoy working on local projects related to the distinct needs of the city. They often include bayous and levees, and planning for extreme weather like flooding and hurricanes. HVJ often provides recommendations for erosion control and flood mitigation. During our design, we consider factors that will mitigate the risk of failure and resolution of potential maintenance issues both now and in the future. 

An example was the Halls Bayou project, in which hurricane Harvey hit in the middle of construction of the project. Water filled the entire site for over two weeks. The erosion and the effects of the hurricane changed the soil properties and the slopes started failing during construction. We had to explore a variety of options quickly and performed numerous slope stability runs to determine the best possible solution to resolve the soil movement and future erosion issues in addition to maintaining the project budget.

4. What have you found to be most important in a project being successful?

Foundationally, we are active listeners. It is essential to understand the client’s needs and objectives from the beginning and maintain open communication at all times. Even after a project is complete, we are available to clients if they have questions or additional needs. We are committed to their success and do our best to help no matter what.

HVJ builds its culture on openness and continual improvement, which also contributes to the success of every project. For example, we have a company-wide discussion about what is going well, what we can improve, and how we can transition these insights to the development of the company.

5. HVJ describes itself as being built on service. What does client service mean to you, and what keeps clients coming back to HVJ?

After projects are complete, we send clients a feedback survey. It’s rewarding to hear feedback about how much they appreciate our collaborative and proactive approach. They like that we work with them on budget constraints and that we complete work on time. We often get feedback that helps us improve as part of these surveys.

Another part of client service that happens in the background is HVJ’s commitment to continual learning and innovation. For example, managers go through an extensive leadership course that trains us on how to meet customers’ conditions of satisfaction. It’s a three-year course that has helped me grow professionally, and I am grateful that HVJ invests in helping their employees learn and advance their skills. Clients don’t necessarily know all of these things that happen in the background, but they experience the outcome.

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