When George Nash joined U.K.-based engineer-construction manager Atkins in 2016 as its North America CEO, it was his first time working for a company with a non-U.S. headquarters in a more than 30-year career. According to the executive, the experience had a profound effect on him professionally—and personally.
With the firm then acquired one year later by Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin Group Inc., Nash says he was an American minority on Atkins’ international management team, but adds that it was “fascinating for me to feel that, understand it and integrate it into the team.”
Most important for Nash as new unit CEO was to position the company on a sustainable growth trajectory, “which we have done,” he says, admitting that collaboration with teams around the world has helped him realize how company, client and employee satisfaction are all intimately tied together.
Linking Work and Impact
“One of the great things about this industry is the meaning that employees derive from helping their communities, which is a tremendous feeling,” Nash contends, pointing particularly to “the pride that employees have when they are executing the work and the job satisfaction they get when they see what they are engaged in is helping people.”
Outside of the U.S., Nash says companies seem to have a head start in baking environmental, social and governance goals into business plans. “Although the U.S. is catching up and publicly-traded companies are catching up, it’s still under debate here in the U.S.,” he says. While more investors are favoring ESG as a firm differentiator, it has faced pushback from conservative state and federal lawmakers.
As an engineer in training at the start of his career, Nash remembers not having access to much face time with a previous employer’s CEO to influence the direction of its ESG-related initiatives.
Addressing attendees on March 9 at ENR’s Top Young Professionals conference in New Orleans, Nash and two members of Atkins’ recently launched Emerging Professional Network shared strategies to open and maintain lines of communication between a company’s emerging professionals and its C-suite executives.
At Atkins, the network operates as a formalized process to allow members an opportunity “to engage with senior and corporate leadership,” explained Adam Howell, firm senior director and strategy manager. Because Atkins hired many young employees during the pandemic, the network started with a survey that identified four main themes of employee engagement needs: socialization, flexibility, technology and mentorship. The network has been an “eye-opening engagement between the two groups … and a 360° learning process,” he added.
“I can’t speak for all your presidents or CEOs,” Nash said, “but I will tell you, I think that for folks in a position like mine, receiving and welcoming feedback is a key part of being a good leader.”