While attending college at the University of Arkansas, Brad Hammond spent the summer of 1990 working for his uncle, Carl Yates, at Fayetteville engineering firm McGoodwin, Williams & Yates Inc.
That first summer did not bode well for a long and distinguished career.
“My first day on the survey crew, I went out with our chief surveyor, Gary Denzer — who is still our chief surveyor today — in the hottest part of the summer to survey an area in Fayetteville,” Hammond recalled. “And the foliage was so great that we couldn’t use any of the equipment. We had to do it all by tape measure. I had a machete and I was cutting brush, and I was wondering if I had chosen the right profession.”
Despite that start, however, Hammond’s career has been distinguished. After earning his civil engineering degree from the University of Arkansas in 1992, he was hired part-time by his uncle to begin working at MWY, while completing work in the UA’s MBA program.
He joined the company full-time two years later and has since prospered at Northwest Arkansas’ oldest engineering firm, which turns 70 next year.
MWY was founded by L.M. McGoodwin in 1946 as McGoodwin Consulting Engineers. Yates and Terry Williams joined the company in the 1950s, and it was incorporated as MWY in 1966, with Yates being named president.
Yates, who will celebrate his 85th birthday Feb. 15, is still working and remains CEO and board chairman in semi-retirement.
But it’s his nephew who handles the day-to-day operational duties as president, a role he assumed in 2004 as part of the company’s leadership restructuring.
Hammond has served as president of the Arkansas Society of Professional Engineers, and he is currently serving a term as president of the nonprofit professional organization American Council of Engineering Companies of Arkansas.
Northwest Arkansas Business Journal: What does McGoodwin, Williams & Yates do?
Brad Hammond: We do municipal consulting engineering. The majority of our projects, probably 95 percent, are public clients. And probably 80 percent of that is municipal water and wastewater. We’ve done a lot for water district clients and we’ve specialized in that since the company was founded in 1946 and we’ve maintained that focus. We also do some work for the state, for the University of Arkansas. There’s very little private work or development.
NWABJ: Other than water and wastewater, where does the largest percentage of your business come from?
BH: It’s mostly infrastructure. We do a lot of street and drainage for cities, mainly in this area. A lot of master planning.
NWABJ: What has made this company work for nearly 70 years?
BH: I think it’s putting clients’ interests in front of our own. Since our inception, we have tried to do that by our quality of work and making sure our clients’ needs are being taken care of. Regardless of how it affects us. We’ve had an instance before where we’ve had a client ask us to design a [wastewater] lift station. Theirs was undersized, so they asked us to look at it and design a replacement. We looked at it and what we found was there wasn’t anything wrong with their lift station. The floats were set too high. We told them we didn’t need to do anything; they just needed to set their floats lower. That’s just a small example of how we want to work. We want to tell clients not what they want to hear but what they need to hear.
NWABJ: What is the company philosophy? What’s the mission statement?
BH: We don’t have a mission statement. We have considered formalizing that, but mainly our mission is providing quality consulting engineering services to our municipal and public clients. And to do what it takes to make the area a better place. The kind of work we do, it’s not sexy. We can’t always point to a project that has beautiful aesthetics that has set an architectural tone for the area. Our projects are the type of projects you go by every day and you don’t notice, or you may flush your toilet every day and not know where it goes, or care. But our mission is to make sure the people in Northwest Arkansas and the surrounding region have the proper infrastructure in place that will basically allow them to live their lives without thinking about all these aspects of life.
Generally when you hear about engineers, it’s not always a good thing. If you don’t hear about some of the stuff we do, that can actually be a good thing.
NWABJ: What is MWY’s niche?
BH: For decades, we’ve been known for doing water and wastewater. In fact, starting in the ’50s, up until just recently, really, we did the majority of the work for both small and large municipalities in Northwest Arkansas and north Arkansas. There just weren’t that many other firms that specialized in that. We are the oldest consulting engineering firm in the northwest region. Recently, as the area has grown, we’ve had a lot more competition come into the area. A lot of the bigger firms that are out-of-state are opening up offices, or working from out of state on projects in Northwest Arkansas, and that’s good. But it has caused us to have to revisit how we go about getting projects.
NWABJ: In what way? How has marketing your company and its services changed through the years?
BH: When I first came here in 1992, we didn’t do any marketing. In fact, we didn’t have a sign out in front of our office. Carl was adamant that professionals don’t market. Doctors and lawyers don’t market themselves, and engineers were the same way. Over the last 20 years, that has changed a lot and engineering firms have to market themselves a certain way to at least let people know that they are there.
NWABJ: You’re a lifelong Fayetteville guy, right?
BH: I am. I was born in Fayetteville and then we moved to my grandparents’ farm just outside of Fayetteville near Farmington, and that is actually the property the city bought to build the wastewater plant on the west side.
NWABJ: How did you get involved in this line of work?
BH: My father was a bricklayer, and I’ve told this story all my life. I followed my dad around a lot like all sons do, and always idolized him. I watched him lay brick and helped him mix mortar and stuff. One day I said ‘Daddy, when I grow up I want to be just like you and do what you are doing.’ He stopped, looked at me and said, ‘I will kick your ass if you do.’ So I thought maybe I should find something else. But I always liked being around building and construction and always liked building things.
NWABJ: So what is your role with MWY these days?
BH: I do more management and less engineering now. I joke around that I used to be a good engineer and now sometimes I feel like I am a mediocre manager. But actually, we’re a mid-size firm, which has its advantages and disadvantages. I still do a lot of project management. I just look at things from the forest level instead of the tree level. Before 2004, I stamped a lot of drawings. Now, I look at things from a bird’s eye perspective. Being a mid-sized firm, I like to tell people we’re big enough to get the job done, but we’re also small enough to provide a personal, communications-based approach.
NWABJ: What would you do if you weren’t running your own business?
BH: Look for a job! Seriously, though, I would love to find a way to travel more with my family. My wife and I love to travel, and it would be great to expose our kids to other places and cultures.
NWABJ: What’s the toughest part of being in charge?
BH: The hardest part is knowing that your actions affect the livelihood of so many families. That can definitely be a heavy weight to bear. Plus, I think that a good leader must take responsibility for a firm’s mistake or failure regardless of who made the mistake. On the other hand, a good leader should always give credit to individuals responsible for success. So it can sometimes feel like you take more blame than credit.
NWABJ: What is your proudest accomplishment in your business?
BH: There is no one thing to which I can point. I am somewhat of a people-pleaser, so every time we make a client happy, or assist an employee with personal or career development, I feel a great sense of accomplishment. Actually, I think our firm as a whole has this attitude as well, and this attitude has resulted in a lot of loyal, long-term repeat clients and employees who have been with us for decades. That in itself is a pretty good accomplishment.
NWABJ: Instinct or expertise: Which is more important and why?
BH: I think it depends on the work involved. For strictly technical work, such as detailed engineering design, expertise is much more important. However, for business development or communications with team members, clients, or regulatory bodies, instinct has a lot of value. In the business of engineering consulting, expertise is required but a truly valuable engineer also has good instincts.