As a young engineer at what is now GAI Consultants Inc., Gary DeJidas didn’t think his application to lead the company’s planned 1982 expansion into Florida had much chance of succeeding. In fact, he didn’t even tell his wife, Mary, what he had done.

Now GAI’s chairman and CEO, DeJidas recalls that at the time, he had yet to earn his professional engineer license after having joined the company right out of college 10 years earlier. What’s more, other applicants appeared to have the qualifications and skills needed to spearhead GAI’s first foray outside western Pennsylvania.

Much to his surprise, DeJidas got the job, which meant having to fess up to Mary.

“She was a real trooper about it,” DeJidas says with a laugh. He adds that even though his new assignment meant the couple would pack up their home and two young children to start from scratch hundreds of miles away, the opportunity to grow professionally was too good to pass up.

MBA program

Gary DeJidas established GAI’s onsite MBA program with his alma mater Point Park University. More than 60 employees have completed the program, including DeJidas.
Photo courtesy GAI Consultants Inc.

“I love a challenge,” he says. “That’s just my personality.”

DeJidas ultimately fulfilled his superiors’ faith in his abilities by turning what began as a six-person GAI subsidiary office in Orlando into a highly regarded 125-employee operation serving a variety of public and private-sector clients from several locations across the Sunshine State.

Twenty years of success in Florida led to DeJidas being named GAI president and CEO in 2003, a role that allowed him to at least figuratively keep one foot in Orlando and another at company headquarters in his native Pittsburgh. Once again rising to the challenge of new responsibilities and frequent travel, DeJidas would oversee GAI’s transformation into a larger, advanced multidisciplinary firm while maintaining his active involvement in industry, business and community organizations.

In his current position, which he has held since 2017, the 73-year-old DeJidas continues to play a key role in overseeing the growth and strategic development of GAI. The 800-person firm is ranked No. 173 on ENR’s most recent Top Design Firms list and No. 167 among environmental firms.

Gary DeJidas Day

Orlando proclaimed May 15, 2022, Gary DeJidas Day in the city. Commissioner Patty Shehan presented DeJidas with the proclamation at the firm’s Orlando office.
Photo courtesy GAI Consultants Inc.

An Uphill Climb

Before DeJidas could realize these successes, however, he first had to gain a foothold in the new market. As a newcomer to the area and with his entire project experience having occurred “up North,” DeJidas would spend his first two years in Orlando getting to know the market, and getting prospective clients to know him.

“The first thing people ask is what have you done locally,” he says. “It took a lot of time to really start to develop some clientele.”

“I love a challenge.... That’s just my personality.”
—Gary DeJidas, Chairman & CEO, GAI Consultants

DeJidas credits his redevelopment experience while in Pittsburgh for helping secure GAI’s first big break in Orlando—providing civil engineering services for designing and overseeing the Orange Avenue Streetscape project, designed to make the business district more conducive to pedestrian traffic. Other downtown redevelopment projects would follow, as would providing full-service engineering design and construction engineering inspection services for LYMMO, Orlando’s citywide bus system.

Similarly, DeJidas found a niche applying his experience in eminent domain processes. GAI supported the Florida Dept. of Transportation (FDOT), Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise and Orange County as the agencies expanded numerous road systems throughout central Florida. GAI’s work for FDOT would lead to the addition of a Jacksonville office in the mid-1990s. Additional GAI offices would follow in Tampa, Palm Beach Gardens, Sanford and Fort Lauderdale.

“Florida’s been a great growth market, providing a good model for us to continue to grow GAI as a company,” DeJidas says.

Thanksgiving turkey giveaway

The annual Thanksgiving turkey giveaway in Orlando’s Reeves Terrace neighborhood is sponsored by GAI Consultants.
Photo courtesy GAI Consultants Inc.

Broader Horizons

Indeed, that successful market development experience made DeJidas the ideal choice to lead the newly consolidated GAI Consultants following a 2003 employee stock ownership buyout of the firm’s original owners.

Current GAI President Tony Morrocco, who was serving as chief operating officer during the transition, says DeJidas brought a new, more business-oriented approach that would provide a foundation for the firm’s geographic growth, building an organization now encompassing 27 offices in 12 states.

“He has a great business mind that put GAI in position to grow and succeed,” Morrocco says. “He was also committed to getting out to our various offices and holding town hall meetings, listening to what staff have to say and giving them feedback.”

“He's what a good engineering professional should be, and what a good businessman should be.”
—Dave Coduto, President and CEO, Terra Insurance

The fact that DeJidas has spent his entire career with one firm hasn’t limited his perspective. As a board member and past chairman of Terra Insurance Group, he has conducted numerous organizational peer reviews of other design firms through the Geoprofessional Business Association (formerly Associated Soil and Foundation Engineers), one of many industry groups in which he’s been active.

Dave Coduto, Terra Insurance president and CEO, says DeJidas is often the first person he thinks of whenever a client requests a peer review.

“He’s one of the best CEOs of engineering companies we insure,” says Coduto, who has known DeJidas for more than 20 years. “He’s the ideal person to look at other firms to see what they’re doing right and where they can improve.”

Coduto also praises DeJidas for having cultivated a culture at GAI around technical competence, getting the job done and solving problems—another of his many strengths.

“He’s what a good engineering professional should be, and what a good businessman should be,” Coduto adds. “Yet he’s very humble and never brags.”

Recognizing that cultivating business skills among the firm’s current and emerging leaders would be critical to GAI’s continued growth, DeJidas launched a collaborative MBA program with his undergraduate alma mater, Point Park University in Pittsburgh. Leading by example, he is one of an estimated 60 employees that have graduated from the program, earning his degree in 2011.

“I am very focused on creating a culture that is really more focused on helping people develop their careers,” he says. “People may go on to work for other companies, but while they’re here, I want them to feel that this is a wonderful place to be part of.”

DeJidas feels the same way about the city he’s come to call home. He’s supported GAI’s annual Charity of Choice fundraising campaign and local branches of nonprofit organizations like Make-A-Wish, United Way, Building Homes for Heroes and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, for which he was a past director.

He also does more than lend GAI’s name to good causes. City of Orlando District 4 Commissioner Patty Sheehan recalls how DeJidas helped rescue a planned annual charitable program to provide bicycles to students living at downtown Orlando’s Reeves Terrace, a public housing community located in the same district as GAI’s Orlando office.

“When Gary heard we’d lost our original sponsors, he not only committed his support, but got his colleagues involved as well,” Sheehan says. DeJidas also helped turn what began as a one-off Thanksgiving turkey giveaway for Reeves Terrace into an annual event that this year brightened the holiday for 170 families.

Along with unflagging support, Sheehan can also count on DeJidas being on hand to distribute the bicycles, scooters and turkeys to grateful families.

“He and Mary are always there, often with their children and GAI employees,” she says. “They give for the sake of giving, and see firsthand the difference these programs are making for these families. I wish we had more people like them.”


DeJidas remains focused on the changing engineering landscape.
Photo courtesy GAI Consultants Inc.

Still Going Strong

At an age when many people might consider taking advantage of the Florida sunshine for more leisure-oriented activities, DeJidas shows no sign of slowing down. His current focus, he says, is to get GAI back on track following pandemic-related challenges that “hurt our growth as a company.”

There are other industrywide transformational issues he and GAI’s other leaders must address as well, from designing resilience into electrical and transportation infrastructure in the face of continued climate change to encouraging more young people to pursue careers in civil and environmental engineering. DeJidas is also intrigued by the potentially revolutionary influence that artificial intelligence and other high-tech tools could have on design work.

Still, DeJidas can’t help but marvel at how much his adopted home has changed since he first arrived more than 40 years ago.

“A lot of folks see Orlando as Disney, Universal or SeaWorld, but there’s a lot more to the city than that,” he says. He ticks off accomplishments such as the growth of downtown and University of Central Florida, the continual expansion of Orlando International Airport, new major highways and dozens of commercial, residential and other development projects.

“Just watching that transformation from a sleepy little town to a metro area,” he says, “has been just a wonderful experience.”