How did you get connected to stok?
A friend of mine saw the Director of Engineering job posting online and recommended I apply. In my phone interview, I mentioned that I was a helicopter mechanic, so if I didn’t do my work well, someone could potentially die. I think that got them interested… they thought I was legit.
After a few in person interviews with Macko and others, I was offered the Director of Engineering position. At the time, I had almost six years of experience in engineering and was in a similar position at another firm. stok was still in scrappy start-up mode and didn’t offer benefits yet. I had a family of four to consider, so giving up benefits for a comparable role at a new company wasn’t a decision I took lightly, but something about stok made me believe it’d be worth the risk.
What were some of your challenges during the early years?
Well, as the Director of Engineering in a firm with only one engineer, I was directing myself. I did energy modeling, energy audits, commissioning, benchmarking – a little of everything.
I was also presented with the opportunity to create a business plan for our Commissioning Team to really get that service line off the ground. It was a challenge to wrangle our Commissioning Team together, as I was the only Commissioning Agent with an engineering background, and even I didn’t have much project experience when I started at stok. In fact, on my first commissioning job, I skid on an icy roof for almost 20 feet on a building we were examining. Not that more project experience would’ve helped me avoid that, but it was certainly symbolic of our shaky start.
What projects were you working on?
We worked on 535 Mission, the first LEED C&S Platinum project in the city, and spent three days checking every single occupancy sensor in the JATC Zero Net Energy Center to help fix their lighting system and get them to NZE performance. I also did a lot of commissioning and energy auditing work with the MLVA School District early on and achieved my personal record – six energy audits in one day – working on Oak Grove school.
I also unintentionally dabbled in a Sales and Marketing project via my favorite office sport. I have a pretty competitive spirit and an affinity for ping pong. We came up with a deal that clients could get 20% off their projects if they beat me in a game at our table in the office. A couple people took me up on it, but let’s just say stok’s books weren’t impacted by our little marketing campaign. I’d love to bring the challenge back, though we now work on slightly larger contracts, so I may need to run that by someone first this time.
What factors have contributed to stok’s growth?
The biggest factor is the vision. When Macko realized that Environmental Building Strategies wasn’t the route he wanted to go with his organization, he had the courage to forge a new path – and a risky one at that. We created a company that doesn’t really exist anywhere else – the services we provide, the way we organize, the way we value people.
I think that’s the biggest value-driver: people. We view our team members as their whole selves, not just as what technical expertise they bring to their role. Respect for everyone’s personal and professional goals is written into our culture, and we always work to align development goals with where we as a company are headed next. I’ve always enjoyed the autonomy we have here. It makes it a little harder sometimes to not have such a rigid structure, but this company is nothing like I’ve ever been part of before, which is why I’ve stuck around for six years and have no intention of going anywhere else.
Back then, could you have imagined stok being where we are today?
Honestly, no. I thought a lot about quitting after six months. I wasn’t at a place where I felt I could contribute – we didn’t have many engineering projects, so I wasn’t really able to feel part of the team. I had the title but nothing else, which goes to show how they can be somewhat arbitrary, and I’m thankful for the title-less organizational structure that we’ve adopted.
The turning point for me was getting more involved in commissioning. I took over the commissioning department and did a complete overhaul, implemented processes, and got efficient. It required a lot of transparency around projects, hours, and real costs, but it really helped us shape up that service line and develop an approach that was better for us internally and for our clients. Our engineering services have grown significantly in the past couple years with this approach, and it’s exciting to see stok’s engineers becoming fully self-sufficient to the point where we can do everything in-house. I can see the same thing happening with stok’s other service lines, and I think it puts us on a path to being able to fully service our clients’ needs, which is ultimately what we’re here to do.
What’s been the biggest change over the past decade, and what’s stayed the same?
The type of people we hire has stayed the same. You can teach anyone a skill, but their spirit and willingness to do whatever it takes to get our work done is what has always stood out to me at stok. We’re all connected by this innate drive to do good, to bring joy to those around us, and to leave places better than we found them. These driving values make it really easy for us to all work with each other, even when our perspectives differ in other areas.
At the same time, we don’t communicate as much with each other. It just happens naturally when your team grows and everyone’s working on their own set of projects. We’re developing better channels for knowledge sharing to ensure we continue to feel the same level of connectedness despite our changing day-to-days, and with that, we can continue to crush our work while staying bonded to our entire team.
Anything else to add?
Just a quick request for everyone: do a Google image search for “commissioning agent” and see what pops up on the first page!