Canadian Consulting Engineer

Mentors and Adventures

Bruce Bodden, P.Eng. was president and chief executive officer of MMM Group based in Toronto from 2001 to 2011, and in June he retired as chairman of the board. During his tenure as president, the company grew from a staff of 450 people and 10...

June 1, 2013   Canadian Consulting Engineer

Bruce Bodden, P.Eng. was president and chief executive officer of MMM Group based in Toronto from 2001 to 2011, and in June he retired as chairman of the board. During his tenure as president, the company grew from a staff of 450 people and 10 offices, to 2,000 people and 28 offices. CCE interviewed him in late May.

Q. How did you get to be president and CEO of MMM?

I spent my whole career at MMM basically and worked my way up from the bottom. Marshall Macklin Monaghan hired me as a student when I was at the University of Waterloo, and then I went to work at the firm as a new graduate. I was seconded for a couple of years to another company overseas, and then opportunities kept presenting themselves. But I wouldn’t say I was particularly ambitious or overly confident.

Q. What advice do you have for young engineers who would one day like to head up their companies?

Just because it happened to me doesn’t necessarily mean that I know how to do it, or even that such a formula exists. So much of what happens to us is the result of chance and circumstance, and timing, and even a bit of good luck sometimes.

But there are things people can do to improve their chances if they have ambitions.

First, the relationship between an employee and an employer is a kind of partnership. It’s reasonable in a partnership that each should know what the other is expecting. So I think it’s a good idea for an employee to say, I’m prepared to commit to this company. I want to have a rewarding career. But in return what I expect is for the firm to provide me with challenging work that expands my experience and provides opportunities for growth.

And then we all need mentors and we need champions. To work for the smartest people around and the people you can learn the most from is the greatest advantage you can give yourself. I also think it’s very important to earn the respect and dedication of the people who work with you and for you. If you are working alongside them and you are actually on your way to the top of the company, one day they will work for you, and they have to feel that that is a good thing and justifiable.

A mentor of mine once told me that having good interpersonal skills is the only thing that really matters on the path to success.

That’s good news and bad news, because interpersonal skills are the most difficult thing to achieve if you don’t have some natural inclination that way. But there are things people can do to develop those skills. Similarly with communication: if you have the ability to articulate your thoughts and ideas in ways that convince people, you are greatly going to enhance your profile and your promotion chances.

On education: I think one should have an adequate education but I don’t know of anybody who got to the top by earning more and more degrees. Actions and deeds are what ultimately differentiate people I think.

And I would advise people not to become complacent or overly comfortable in their life or their career. Pat Monaghan used to describe our firm as cultivating a “spirit of adventurism.” This spoke volumes to me as a young engineer and to the choices that I made, including heading off to Saudi Arabia for two years early on in my career.

So my advice would be take chances, be flexible, relocate if necessary.

Years ago I heard someone say this: “If possible, occasionally be brilliant.” You don’t have to be brilliant all the time, but if possible, just occasionally do or say something that says, Wow – that was brilliant! People remember that.

I would wrap all this up in a line: “Champions above you; support around you; combined with a little adventurism, may be a good start on the road to the top.”cce

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