17 Mar 2015
A veteran of the company since joining in 1988 with its environmental wing, Jacqueline Hinman has climbed her way to the top of CH2M Hill, rising to the position of CEO in 2014. Achieving this has not been without its challenges, but Hinman hasn’t dwelt on gender stereotypes during her career. In a Denver Post interview shortly after becoming CEO, she spoke of how she hasn’t seen her gender as a hindrance: “To be honest, I’ve never felt like ‘oh my gosh, I am a woman, I can’t do this’. It has just never crossed my mind. That is the story. How did I get to be the CEO? I moved through every single step.”
Born Jacqueline Crenca in 1961, she studied at the Pennsylvania State University College of Engineering, obtaining a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering in 1983. Even at a young age she is said to have had leadership qualities, with a former teacher once claiming that putting Hinman in was all that was needed to quiet a disruptive class.
Hinman began her career in 1983, at the age of just 21, when, shortly after leaving college, she was given the task of managing a construction site on the US Environmental Protection Agency’s nearly-$20bn project to decontaminate thousands of former hazardous waste dump sites throughout the US. The job was made particularly hard when she was directed to a trailer by male staff and told to get on with admin work.
Jacqueline Hinman CV
Engineering, Pennsylvania State University
1985: Hinman took on her first role as a construction manager for the US Environmental Protection Agency. She resisted a negative response from male colleagues
1988: After gaining industry experience, she joined CH2M Hill in the environmental department, before moving through several departments within the firm
2001: Hinman then spent two years as a departmental senior vice president at Earth Tech, leaving to run her own management consultancy firm for two years
2011: She was then promoted to president of CH2M’s international division and, following the departure of Lee McIntire, she was announced as CEO of CH2M Hill
Early on in her career, she often found she was the only woman on construction sites, and would frequently be sent to sit in the trailer while the men took care of the important work. “I could’ve very easily said ‘OK’ and gone away or sat in the trailer. But it was the very first time I said ‘I’m being challenged and I’m going to respectfully say that I’ve been asked to do my job. You’ve been asked to do your job. Can we work together? I’m sure you can teach me something. Let me help you understand what I am supposed to do’.”
Just three years later, she would join CH2M Hill in its environmental department, before spending the following decade working in the company’s design management, business development, client group management and project management departments. Setting up her own management consultancy firm, Talisman Partners for five years, she then worked for two years as senior vice president of the facilities and transportation business group for engineering firm Earth Tech. She then ran her own management consultancy firm, Azimuth Group, between 2003 and 2005, before returning to the company where her career started, this time as chairman.
Once back at CH2M Hill, she took on a series of leading roles, including heading the Centre for Project Excellence, as well as becoming vice president for major programmes and executive director for mergers and acquisitions. She also led the facilities and infrastructure division between 2009 and 2011, before serving as senior vice president and then president of the international division of the company. By September 2013, Hinman was announced as the person who would take over as CEO from Lee McIntire when he retired at the end of the year.
The not-so-catchily-named CH2M Hill has been operating in various forms since being founded in Corvallis, Oregon in 1946, by civil engineering professor Fred Merryfield and students Holly Cornell, James Howland and Thomas Burke Hayes. The company name is derived from the names of the founders, while the Hill part was added after a 1971 merger with Clair A Hill & Associates. After a series of acquisitions – including Black, Crow & Eidsness in 1977, ports and harbour firm Gee & Jensen in 2002, America’s oldest heavy construction firm Lockwood Greene in 2005, and UK engineering consultancy firm Halcrow in 2011, CH2M Hill has grown to become an internationally recognised player in the global construction and engineering industry.
While it has made acquisitions, such a strategy is not the only way it plans to grow its business. Speaking to Building.co.uk in 2013, Hinman said the decision to buy struggling UK firm Halcrow for £124m was based on widening CH2M Hill’s knowledge base and giving the firm a wider global reach. “CH2M Hill acquired Halcrow based on its excellent technical reputation, experience base, and strong client and project portfolio around the world, as well as its highly skilled people, who have been fully integrated into CH2M Hill.”
Despite the deal, she stressed that, because of CH2M Hill’s unique structure as an employee-owned company, any potential acquisition would have to fit into the existing ethos of the firm. “We are not a serial acquirer; we are employee-owned and every couple of years we do strategic acquisitions of firms that fit our culture. We are not out to grow by buying companies that have work.”
A company with a difference
CH2M Hill is now a specialist in a number of areas that include water, energy, transport and infrastructure. One of its most high-profile recent jobs was the successful managing of the London 2012 Olympic Games, which were considered to have been a great success, with construction of all the facilities coming in under budget and well before the start of the games. It is a project in which Hinman took a leading role.
As mentioned, the company is unique in that it is largely employee-owned, which the firm describes as being a “guiding principle” of the business ever since it was launched over 60 years ago. It ensures employees feel they are fully engaged in the work of the company and able to share in any success.
Running a successful engineering firm that is engaged in such major projects requires a number of skills, and the company itself needs to be adept at handling both the big picture of a project and each individual aspect. Hinman has a clear idea of what skills are required to deliver major infrastructure projects: good project management and good programme management. “Both play a vital role. Project management is about the day-to-day management of specific tasks. But if you have interrelated tasks someone needs to pull it all together, and that’s programme management. Being a programme manager requires a very different set of expertise. You have to think about interconnections of projects rather than the deep delivery of one project.”
CH2M Hill in numbers
Ensuring all major stakeholders in a project agree on how it will be delivered is vital to its success. “The greatest single challenge on any programme is to gain agreement with the client and stakeholders on the overall vision and strategy at the start − what its aspiration is, what the most important outcomes are, what the real key performance indicators are, and why delivering the scope as an integrated programme brings a greater benefit than delivering its component projects individually. The continuing challenge then is to drive the establishment of the programme standards, and then the delivery of each project, in accordance with that overall aspiration and vision, but with enough flexibility and creativity that allows for the unique scope, schedule and stakeholder considerations of each project within the programme.”
Hinman’s career has taken her to the top of her profession, but she certainly had to work hard to get there. Instead of waiting for the big jobs to come to her, she had to be proactive. She has been particularly keen to seek out challenges for herself. “I had to raise my hand and say I wanted to have all of these challenges and experiences. So I had to ask for it”, she told The Denver Post.
For young people entering the engineering business and hoping to emulate her, Hinman says the most important thing is to know exactly what you want to achieve and where you want to get to. Offering advice to young people looking for a long and successful career, Hinman notes people need to have clear goals. “You don’t have to say exactly what you want, but you have to say this is where I might want to get, help me figure it out. If you work somewhere where you really believe in what you are doing and you can align yourself with its values and respect the people you work for, you are willing to take on new challenges because you are excited for it.”
Hinman also says that, despite her profession being highly technical, it is her leadership qualities that have got her where she is. In a speech to graduates at her former college in 2014, Hinman talked of how she may not have achieved the greatest grades, but proved successful because of her skills as a leader. “After I graduated, I went to work in an engineering firm. I never got another degree, although I did manage to get my PE (professional engineer) license. It turns out that I am not actually a great engineer. I am an OK one, but I grow tired of working through lots of details. What I am is a great listener and leader. And I can immediately frame a problem and bring together a strong team of people to solve it.”
Such qualities have meant CH2M Hill goes into 2015 with a number of significant projects lined up, including the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar and the $5.25bn Panama Canal expansion project.