Canadian Consulting Engineer

Karen Savage

January 1, 2007
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

Karen Savage, P.Eng. is a principal of Horizon Engineering in Vancouver, a company which she started in 1997 and runs with her business partner Troy Isigonis, P.Eng. The company has 11 staff and provi...

Karen Savage, P.Eng. is a principal of Horizon Engineering in Vancouver, a company which she started in 1997 and runs with her business partner Troy Isigonis, P.Eng. The company has 11 staff and provides geotechnical services for over 300 projects a year.

In 2004, Karen was named one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women in the professional category by the Women’s Executive Network.

Q. How did you come to be principal of your own consulting engineering firm?

I incorporated Horizon Engineering in 1997, when my eldest daughter was one year old. The company for which I had worked for 10 years was purchased by another firm, and with my new employer I found working close to home and having a flexible work schedule was not possible. Work-life balance was, and is, very important to me and seemed more achievable by starting my own business.

Q. Has winning the award as one of Canada’s most powerful women made any difference to your life or your business?

Winning the award has not made a noticeable difference to my life; certainly my children are not impressed by it.

Q. Do you consider yourself “powerful”?

In what ways? I think my greatest power lies in being a role model for other women, especially young women who are in, entering, or considering entering a career in engineering. Over the years I have promoted the participation of women in engineering by facilitating interactive events in school classrooms, speaking to university undergraduates, mentoring young professionals and educating my male colleagues on the concerns and communication styles that their female employees may have that differ from their own at a similar age. I am more gratified by the many private communications from individuals whose lives I have positively impacted than by winning any award. If I can empower others to do or be more than they otherwise would, then I feel powerful. If winning the Top 100 award or being profiled in this magazine contributes in some way to someone else saying, “I could do that,” then I am powerful.

Q. What do you think are your strengths?

Courage — as in moral courage, the courage to impart bad news, take an unpopular stance, or recommend an expensive solution. And the courage to go first (to quote Martha Piper).

* Honesty — to the point of bluntness.

* Intuition — in many ways geotechnical engineering is an art as much as it is a science. I am good at synthesizing information, including what I see, what I know from previous projects, what I am told by colleagues or by analysis, or by the old guy leaning over the fence or by the labourer with the shovel.

* Empathy.

* Worrying.

Q. And your weaknesses?

I have abysmal self-confidence and want everyone to like me. As a result, I am not a good advocate for myself, which is a poor thing for a businesswoman.

Q. Generally, do you think women still face a glass ceiling?

Absolutely. Although it’s no longer strange to see a woman in engineering, there are very few women or other visible minorities in upper management in consulting engineering firms. Of the 72 signatures to the Charter of the Consulting Engineers of British Columbia, I was the only woman.

Q. If you picture your life in 20 years’ time , what will you be doing?

I will still be in engineering management and striving to be a catalyst for improving my profession. I will still be a mom to Susan, Kristyn and John and wife to Ben. I will still love gardening. I will probably still want to lose 10 pounds. Hopefully I will have cleaned out my basement. And I will still value the friendships and camaraderie that the engineering profession and my consulting business have given me.


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