Bob Ruch, Col. Ret., PE is Pond’s Executive Vice President, Defense & Federal. He has been in the industry for 5 years since retirement from a distinguished 30-year career with the U.S. Army and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. While serving with USACE, he commanded the Philadelphia District, Omaha District, and U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center in Huntsville.
Q: What advice do you have for those transitioning from military to civilian life?
Making the transition to civilian life can be a challenge and you want to ensure you are prepared for the complexities of building a career outside of the military. That preparation begins almost at the moment you join the military. Building your network prior to leaving is crucial. Increase your visibility and position yourself as a knowledgeable person in the industry. You can do this through networking, working to understand the perspective of contractors, and talking to people one on one. Being a leader where you are is more of a mindset than a job title.
Taking advantage of all the resources and leadership programs SAME has available will help you to gain an understanding of the other side. Active involvement in organizations widens your network exponentially and puts you in front of the AEC leaders you want to work with down the road.
Q: As a professional who has experience both as a federal client and as an AEC contractor, what are your thoughts on partnerships and joint ventures?
My philosophy is that partnering with other firms is advantageous for both organizations, as well as for the client. The firms’ combined expertise strengthens the overall team and ensures that critical gaps are filled, especially when your partner organization excels in areas your firm isn’t as developed in. Maybe your firm doesn’t do surveying. You now can partner with a female-owned small business or veteran-owned company that not only has a strong surveying practice, but also brings a unique perspective to the project.
Drawing on the expertise of another firm allows you to build those valuable relationships that are required for high-performing teams, which allows you to pursue more work because you have demonstrated that you understand the needs and objectives of the client. After several projects successfully collaborating to meet your client’s mission, it is almost like working with colleagues in your own firm. The relationships you build when working toward a common goal makes both organizations more agile and better equipped to solve any challenges at hand.
Q: What advice do you have for mentor-protégé partners?
If you want a successful mentor-protégé relationship, you must approach it with a team mindset and prioritize functioning as a unit every step of the way. The goal of the program is to expand the capabilities of the protégé firm, which is only possible when you invest in their success. We win and lose as a team, and trust is built that way.
Protégé firms should take full advantage of the program and soak up the best practices and lessons learned of a larger firm. Speak up, too, and stand on equal footing. You bring something essential and that’s why your mentor firm selected you as a partner.
Mentor firms must remember that the relationship is a two-way street. We have much to learn from our protégé partners. You can find impressive expertise in a firm of any size and doing so might give you the advantage when it comes to advancing an initiative, furthering a project, or securing a contract. I think if you spoke with leadership from Raymond, one of Pond’s joint venture firms, you could easily identify their significant growth in technical and business capabilities over time. The most important words I can share with my team are “be a great partner.”
Q: How do our clients – federal agencies, Department of Defense, the military – benefit from people like you who served and then transition into the contractor world?
People who have experience in the military are extremely valuable to AEC firms because they speak the language of both sides. It’s important to remember your service and reputation precede you. I spent 30 years in uniform, and in some ways I’m still serving the military and federal agencies, similar to what I was doing in service. The role is a little different now, but working with companies whose principles align with the values we represented in uniform allows me to continue serving the Nation, just from a different angle.
People who understand the mission, objectives and best practices of the DoD bring an established level of trust, which is so important when working with clients. They will feel more comfortable reaching out and having an honest conversation with you. I’m proud of my service and the country I served and I’m proud of the work I do today. I think that’s a plus point for all those who have made the transition.