Get To Know SMPS Member Brad Thurman

February 15, 2022

E = m(bd)2

 

Hi, I’m Brad and an engineer. Or I was … but am, and that’s what this story is all about.

I ended up as a marketing and business development professional in a different way than most. Growing up, I was always interested in art, math, and science. My third-grade teacher noticed my interest in math and gave me a stack of mimeographed copies (those of you who can remember those still love the smell as I do) of long-division problems to work over the summer. And I did!

In junior high and high school, I developed a love of architecture and drafting. I was lucky enough in my northwest Oklahoma hometown of Enid to take AP classes in algebra, trigonometry, analytic geometry, physics, astronomy, and astrophysics.

At Oklahoma State, I majored in architectural engineering because it was an amalgam of things I was passionate about. After spending six years taking classes I loved and a few I didn’t, I graduated with my master’s degree and headed into the real world.

I spent two years at a firm in Oklahoma City and then landed at Wallace Engineering, now Wallace Design Collective. It was a young firm full of energy and ideas. At one of the first all-firm planning meetings, we decided “we need a brochure” because that would help everything, right? I’d had half a semester of marketing, so I figured I could do it. The result was in Helvetica (both of them—regular and bold) and word-heavy (OK, just words without pictures) but it was a start.

In 1993, due to a substantial change with a significant client, we decided to “start marketing.” Turns out, it was really business development, but we were newbies. Our company did research and started meeting with people and, in the process, learned what an SF254 and SF255 were. Not long after, we realized we needed more help to be better. We hired a marketing director and Jana Monforte became his assistant. If we made one smart move, that was it. When the marketing director left after one year, Jana was the one that kept things moving.

We were leery to hire from outside again, so I took over that spot part time because I think my partners decided I was “the one who likes to talk.” Our ex-marketing director was an SMPS member. At the time, I had no idea what SMPS was—and didn’t know then what the SMPS community would bring to my career and my life. I always say that everything I’ve learned about marketing and business development I’ve learned through SMPS. It’s no joke.

Without SMPS, I wouldn’t have moved from part-time marketing and business development to full time to, eventually, chief marketing officer. The knowledge, leadership skills, and confidence I’ve gained are immeasurable.

Why am I telling you all this? It’s not a brag about what I’ve done but to point out the serendipity in life. A leads to B, B leads to C, and so on. Although the process seems linear when you recount and summarize it, it rarely is. Life iterates to a solution, oscillating between events and outcomes and, hopefully, reaching a solution. It’s trial and error, wins and losses, steps forward and back but the trick is to keep moving forward.

Beginning on February 20, it’s National Engineers Week and a time to reflect and celebrate. The main thing a life in engineering has taught me is there’s as much joy in the process as in the outcome. I encourage you to engage your technical professionals – engineers, architects, construction leaders – in the processes of marketing and business development. To be fair, I’ve never met an engineer that didn’t think they could figure out a better way to do your job than the way you’re doing it. It’s the way we’re wired. But you need their help mining information and – at least to this engineer – engaging them and giving them a problem to solve can help smooth the path.

If you’re a technical professional reading this, here are a few words of wisdom from being on both sides. My experience has shown me that you can have the best staff in the world, but if they don’t have engaging work, you’ll lose them. Learning how to get work or go after projects is a skillset that’s lacking in A/E/C education but is critical to your company’s success. When your marketing and business development staff need your help, help them. They aren’t asking for things just to pester you. They’re on a deadline like you and it’s usually a one-shot deal. There are no addendums or change orders to an RFP response. When it goes out the door, it’s done.

I’m proud of both my engineering and marketing/business development careers. I couldn’t have done one as successfully without the other. So, go out and get the work – and then enjoy doing it while working together.

 

Article written by Brad Thurman, P.S., FSMPS, CPSM. Brad is principal and chief marketing officer for Wallace Design Collective and can be reached at brad.thurman@wallace.design.