HNTB's Tim Faerber has won the 2017 ENR Midwest Legacy Award
From the earliest days of his 35-year career at global transportation engineering firm HNTB Corp., Tim Faerber excelled at developing relationships. Whether that was with elected officials or field staff, Faerber leveraged these relationships and know-how into new business for HNTB.
“I have to tell you that that’s something that comes naturally,” says Faerber, senior vice president. “If you can openly dialogue with the right people, speak with them frankly about what keeps them up at night or what’s the biggest challenge or upcoming assignment. Managing risk is certainly important, but it’s really all about the relationship. Listen to these people, then work out a plan where you can be out ahead in a position to win these jobs.”
After serving in various field engineering and support positions within HNTB’s Great Lakes division, Faerber’s leadership began to stand out during his time as HNTB’s Illinois office leader. He expanded the services offered by the Chicago office to include program management, land acquisition and city infrastructure management services and created a new rail engineering group while also tripling revenue. When he was promoted again to president of the 10-state Great Lakes division, the unit grew by 25%. Following this success, HNTB leadership decided to send Faerber to Washington, D.C., where he could use his relationship-building skills as the company’s top lobbyist and government-relations officer.
“Tim’s focus on relationships, from elected officials leading our public initiatives to young engineers and contractors’ field staff, has been essential to the growth and impact of the people in our industry,” says Dave Crosson, an HNTB senior vice president and a longtime colleague. “His industry contacts range from Chicago area professionals to government officials in Washington.”
It was important to understand the political activity that goes on in Chicago, Faerber explains, when talking about his approach to building relationships.
“I got very active in understanding how infrastructure was funded locally with [then] Mayor [Richard M.] Daley, and we made a point to always know what was going on in Springfield,” he says. “Then nationally, I helped out with our government affairs team in Washington because it helped the company coast to coast.”
In 2013, Faerber became the business unit president and COO of the newly formed HNTB Advantage, which promotes innovative delivery contracts. While focusing on developing the new division, Faerber created policies to improve performance in a rapidly changing market, managed change in the design-build process, resolved outstanding issues on previous contracts and improved selection processes and contracts themselves. Unlike his previous leadership positions, HNTB Advantage called for flying somewhat blind as the industry struggled with transitioning to P3 contracts, integrated project delivery and other new delivery methods.
“We’re continuing to advance in the innovative delivery world,” Faerber says. “We’re really just beginning, so there are many, many years of that to come.”
In addition to his many executive leadership roles, Faerber is a champion of training and mentorship at HNTB. He trained hundreds of students as the company’s facilitator/director of training programs from 2002-2010. Some of the skills he taught included project management and leadership, along with sophisticated contracting and negotiating. As another way to give back, Faerber also served on his local zoning board in Palatine, Ill.
As far as his own mentors are concerned, when Tim was in high school and college he had the opportunity to work with his father, John T. Faerber, who opened and managed his own contracting business, Faerber Electric Co. It was one day during high school that his dad encouraged him to become an engineer because he believed it would present a range of career opportunities. Tim listened and chose Marquette University to earn his BSCE degree.
In 2004, Faerber became an honorary staff member at the Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association (IRTBA) following years of active participation. He also championed the efforts of more than 90 member consultant firms and inspired them to reach beyond the state of Illinois and become members of the national American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), where he has served as chairman of the planning and design division and as a member of its board of directors.
“I’m still very involved with IRTBA and ARTBA,” Faerber says. “It’s not just about our company, but our entire industry, to help others do better. I’m a big believer in driving continuous improvement.”
Just before the holidays, Faerber took an advisory council seat with the ACE Mentor Program of America.
Back at HNTB, Faerber began leading another division in 2015 as national pursuit champion, where he develops strategies to position the firm for success on the largest and most complex transportation infrastructure projects nationwide. He led efforts on two recent wins for the I-74 Mississippi River Bridge and the South Capitol Street Bridge program in Washington, D.C.
“With our variety of clients at HNTB, our role is to be a trusted adviser,” he says. “The only way ... to help facilitate improved public transportation is to have those relationships. Someone who is a commissioner or at a state [department of transportation]—you want to be that adviser that they pick up the phone and call. I’ve always aspired to be that person.”
The Chicago area native helped expand HNTB’s national reach in both geographic areas and scope of work over his 35-year career and, at 56, he is still looking forward to the next challenge of his career.
“I’m also thinking about the strategic direction of the firm—where do we want the firm to be in 10, 20 years?” Fearber says. “We want to continue to drive quality performance. I look, now, to more of the strategic view. I’m excited and so, so honored to receive this award. It’s truly a great honor. I’m thrilled, and I have many years left in me.”