In order to gain some perspective on why I started Hallam-ICS, it’s important to understand the history of my work experience.
When I graduated from Norwich University in 1970 as a 2nd lieutenant, with the Vietnam War staring at me, and no desire to use my electrical engineering degree, I did what any red-blooded American would do prior to reporting for active duty; I became a ski bum!
I didn’t know if I’d even be alive in two years, so why not have some fun! Luckily during my two years serving our country, I did not go to Vietnam. However, after my service in the Army, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. The next 8 years of searching would help define my career.
Before I started Hallam-ICS, I spent time ski bumming again, ski instructing, as a management trainee for Republic Steel, an apprentice electrician and eventually an electrical design engineer.
All these experiences helped form my eventual decision to start Hallam-ICS. As a ski bum, I allowed myself to experience freedom and little responsibility. After spending 4 years at an all-boys private high school and another 4 years at an all-male military school, I needed to get in touch with how the rest of society functioned. This was one of the best decisions of my life, because I picked-up a fellow ski bum hitch hiking to the mountain one day. This past March, Patty and I celebrated our 45th wedding anniversary.
The management trainee position with Republic Steel Corporation in Detroit taught me three things:
- I didn’t want to work for a large multi-national company
- I didn’t like working with the United Steel Workers Union, and
- I didn’t like big cities
Republic Steel was not a team atmosphere. For example, as a management trainee, there was a clear line of demarcation between the union and management, however I was very friendly with the rank and file. One day one of the fabrication machines went down and therefore employees were losing part of their weekly salary. I helped one of the maintenance personnel by handing him a wrench and the next day the Shop Steward complained to my supervisor that I was taking a union employees job away. Not my idea of how teams work!
After 6 months in Detroit, we decided to move to Burlington, Vermont and within two weeks I had a job as an electrical estimator, apprentice electrician and sometime project manager for a local electrical contractor. I discovered that there were engineers who designed electrical distribution systems for buildings. Because I was interpreting electrical design of out-of-state and in-state engineers, I also learned that many engineering designs were incomplete, leaving the electrical contractor responsible for filling in the gaps. Because many contractors did not understand design, they had to carry an amount to cover these gaps, which drove the construction costs up unnecessarily.
Eventually I moved on to begin my career as an electrical engineer, working for a local consulting engineer and architect that had in-house engineering. At the time, I was the only degreed electrical engineer; everyone else did not have the educational background, just field experience. I found that there were some aspects of electrical design that my mentors could not provide the answers for my questions. I was working long hours and felt underpaid; my life was not balanced. I also did not feel that I had a voice in the direction of the companies where I worked. One frustrating part of these experiences was the complete lack of communication regarding the health of the businesses. There was no input from employees about any aspect of the business. Keep your head down, don’t ask questions and keep producing. Some years we would receive a bonus, other years none, no explanation, just frustration.
My frustration continued to grow and I was getting closer to making a change, but what would it be. One of my personal traits is that I needed to feel like I was learning everyday and that opportunities are in front of me. Everywhere I worked, when learning and opportunities disappeared, I moved on to a new challenge. I don’t think I ever spent more the 2.5 years at a company until I started Hallam-ICS.
In order to start my own business, I needed to have my professional license, which meant passing two exams, The Fundamentals of Engineering and the Professional Engineering exam in my discipline. I started taking the tests 10 years after graduation and, not being a stellar student, this was a challenge. In 1981, after having passed both exams, and the day after I received notice that I would receive my Professional Engineering license, I went in and told by employer I was leaving to start my own company. This was the second best decision of my life. I could now be my own boss, create the culture I desired, lead as balanced a life as possible and continue to develop myself personally and professionally.
The rest is history and still evolving. I obtained autonomy to create my own company. Over the years, we have created a culture where information, responsibility and reward are shared. The company has fulfilled a need for quality engineering in Vermont and beyond that did not exist in 1981. We taught each other how to live a balanced life and remember that family always comes first. We also helped each other to develop personally and professionally. We created a value system that is solid, clear and true, which helps us to make daily decisions in our lives.
I think that I am most proud to have been surrounded by the wonderful friends who were and still are dedicated to taking care of each other, their families and clients. The most meaningful value statement we developed is around “Stewardship.”
“Stewardship means that we each understand that this company is not “mine”, but that we are each entrusted, for a time, with the responsibility and benefits of this renewable resource. We will organize and perpetuate our ownership with a constant awareness that we must pass the company on in better condition than we received it.”
Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this wonderful company and journey!
About the Author
David is a 1970 graduate of Norwich University with a BSEE. He started Hallam-ICS in 1981, originally as Hallam Engineering. In 2001 he stepped down as CEO and began working part-time on special projects until full retirement in 2014. David is currently on the Board of Directors of the Counseling Service of Addison County, Wake Robin Retirement Community, and volunteers at the Middlebury Area Land Trust. In his spare time he bicycles, skis, plays lacrosse and fly-fishes.
Hallam-ICS is an engineering and automation company that designs MEP systems for facilities and plants, engineers control and automation solutions, and ensures safety and regulatory compliance through arc flash studies, commissioning, and validation. Our offices are located in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Vermont and North Carolina and our projects take us world-wide.