What does it take to truly engineer a legacy? If you were to ask Jim Russ, President and CEO of EHRA Engineering, he would tell you that it takes an entire team—one with vision, thoughtful planning, dedication to see that plan through and the willingness to take the first step.
With just that, Edminster, Hinshaw, Russ & Associates, Inc. was created 87 years ago, and what began as merely a dream, a 50-person “mom-and-pop shop” has slowly and brilliantly transformed into a fortified, robust mid-sized professional services firm nearly four times in size.
For 25 years, Jim has submerged himself in the rich tapestry of a firm that began long before he walked through the doors of EHRA. He embraced the challenge of enhancing the legacy that began before him while creating one that trails behind him. When asked about his reflection on his years of dedicated service, he spoke of the past, growing up and watching his father and uncle lead and grow the business; witnessing and experiencing firsthand the unending depths that this firm has to offer. “Something I cherish tremendously is EHRA’s uniqueness in that we are not just a family-owned company,” said Jim. “It is a family company in every sense. I personally grew up with these team members and their own families. From starting out and learning the business together in high school, to now having them as my business partners is everything, a dream come true.”
As the company continues to grow, preserving EHRA’s family-like culture becomes increasingly difficult, especially given the limitations in spending one-on-one time with each team member. Nevertheless, Jim stressed that, despite these challenges, the team remains committed in their daily efforts to prioritize and uphold the cherished family-like culture from the top down.
Not All Paths Lead to Engineering
Despite other’s original intentions of maintaining a family-owned business, both Jim and his cousin, Truman C. Edminster III, PE, sought after career paths of their own with no initial plans to return to EHRA. The idea of taking over the business was something neither Jim nor Truman anticipated. Then unexpectedly, a pivotal conversation in 1997 changed everything.
Jim’s father took Jim and Truman aside and began discussing a plan to “put the family back into the family business.” Although admittedly taken by surprise, they soon began to see the viable possibility. With Jim’s father as a surveyor, Truman as an engineer and Jim as a contractor, they had all the core services covered.
Jim and Truman jumped into the business exactly as they knew it to be, facilitating the transition of leadership that allowed Jim’s father to retire. After just one year, they began to execute their very own business continuation plan; knowing even at such a young age that it would be a 20+ year process. Like putting a puzzle together without a picture, they worked on a plan and refined it overtime, and slowly but surely, they watched as the pieces began to fall into place and transform into what the firm is today.
Despite his pivotal role, Jim often surprises many by revealing that he is not, in fact, an engineer. While some may view this as a potential disadvantage, Jim proudly highlighted the numerous advantages of leading an engineering firm as a non-engineer. With great admiration for engineers as excellent problem solvers and masters of their craft, he acknowledged that not all possess strong marketing and business leadership skills nor the desire to develop in those areas. According to Jim, those that have the capability to do both simply add to the team’s ability to reach success.
Growing up in the industry, although Jim may not be able to stamp and seal a set of plans, his understanding of the intricacies and processes allows him to speak intelligently about the work. As a non-engineer, he is able to step back from the daily chaos and envision the broader scope of the business. As Jim points out, “Engineering is a very big piece of what we do, but it is not in fact, all that we do. Being a non-engineer provides me a different perspective and balance to the scales.”
When Jim and Truman took the reins in 1998, it was the smallest EHRA had been in its existence. Jim humbly tributes the success and growth of the firm to every team member along the way and their efforts, hard work and trust.
Just as EHRA has grown and evolved over these past 87 years, so has Jim and his knowledge of how to conduct and run a business that puts the people first. As a leader of the firm, Jim sets the example and consistently reminds others to ask themselves two questions before making any decision: Is this best for the team? Is this best for the firm?
When asked about the advice he would lend from his 25 years of experience, Jim simply said to learn and let go of mistakes. His belief in the mistake lifecycle to recognize, realize and accept that we are human and all make mistakes is a testament to his self-reflection and support of the team’s individual growth. Jim emphasized, “If you do not make a mistake, you aren’t doing enough. The minute we quit learning and trying is the minute we are looking at the brown side of the grass.”
The Next Generation
This year marks a number of milestones, including the recent equity transfer that marked the first successful completion of an entire cycle of stock ownership for two of EHRA’s shareholders. To Jim, this was tangible proof that the process works, and a moment that nearly brought tears to his eyes as he looked around a conference room full of shareholders that was once only his father, Truman and himself.
Reflecting on the last 25 years, Jim confidently highlighted what he considers to be his greatest success—the legacy that lies within the next generation of EHRA leaders. Aside from his marriage to his wife, Stephanie Russ, the birth of his daughter, Alexa Russ, and her graduation from Texas A&M University, Jim holds a deep sense of pride in passing the torch, an achievement of 25 years in the making.
In Jim’s own words, “It was just a dream; simply a vision, not knowing what the future would hold. And as I tell our next generation of shareholders and leaders, their transition has turned out far better than Truman and I’s highest expectations.” He expressed his pride in the unwavering commitment and sincerity in maintaining what the blood family built those many years ago. In transitioning this company to the EHRA family, Jim stated, “That to me, is success, and I couldn’t be prouder of that.”
It is Jim’s vision and hope that those following in his footsteps bring in their own families, fostering the creation of an entirely new family business. This legacy, engineered since 1936, is set to endure for many years to come, a testament to Jim and the collective effort of generations both past and present.
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