Keeping communication lines open
Gary Brennen, the Co-president of Syska Hennessy Group in Los Angeles, talks about his experiences with the company and his hopes for the future.
Who: Gary Brennen, PE, LEED AP, CRM
What: Co-president, Syska Hennessy Group
Where: Los Angeles
About: With a career spanning 29 years of engineering experience, Brennen has worked on and managed a multitude of diverse and technically driven projects for the firm. In his current role of co-president, he continues to grow Syska Hennessy’s national and international presence to bring innovative, high-performance solutions to clients globally. Brennen, an electrical engineer, obtained his Bachelor of Architectural Engineering degree from Pennsylvania State University and is a licensed Professional Engineer in California, New York, Arizona, Florida, and Kansas. He has been with Syska Hennessy Group from the beginning of his career in 1982 to the present.
Q: You are a graduate of Penn State University. How has that changed your outlook on life?
A: I’m very thankful that I was able to get a good education at great college. With that said, there are certain things you can’t learn in books. There are other types of knowledge that come with experience as you grow into your job and career.
Q: What or who led you down your career path?
A: After taking a drafting class in high school, I thought I would go into architecture when I entered college. After being enrolled in a core architecture class for one day, I realized I really wanted to be in architectural engineering, which would have the creativity of architecture but would allow me to leverage my math and science abilities, as well as problem-solving skills.
Q: What things are missing from engineering education? What did you not learn in engineering school that you know you should have learned?
A: Well, school definitely does not teach you about the business side of engineering, nor do they teach you about how to develop and maintain client relationships. These are acquired skills learned along the way, through listening, learning, and practicing.
Q: What surprises you the most when you are engineering building systems?
A: There’s not one specific thing, but sometimes even with meticulous planning and designing, and the use of the latest and greatest in technology, there’s something that comes up that you didn’t expect. So always be flexible and ready to roll with possible solutions or options. One thing that doesn’t surprise me is the rapid rate and speed of technology today. It’s always changing, growing, and evolving. As an engineer, that’s exciting to see and experience.
Q: You’re the co-president of a large engineering/consulting firm. How does job sharing work for you?
A: It actually works quite well. Both Cyrus Izzo (my fellow co-president) and I make it work through effective communication, which is also another acquired skill. Sometimes we compromise in certain areas, but when we do this, we both know that intentions are always for the good of the company and will make it better. Having support and the ability to bounce ideas off of someone is invaluable, but being able to do so successfully through good communication is priceless. Our relationship also emulates how our clients demand we work and how we would like other team members in the firm to work—collaboratively.
Q: You’ve worked for one firm your whole professional life. Most engineers today won’t have that experience. What professional recommendations do you have for recent grads?
A: Be ready to take on challenges…this is what Syska Hennessy has always offered me—new challenges. Be flexible and open to ideas from others, whether they are dealing with technical solutions or business solutions. Success is a constant work in progress and doesn’t happen overnight. So continually work on learning new things and cultivating relationships in the industry.
Q: How would your co-workers or clients describe you?
A: Conscientious, dedicated, assertive, smart, curious, fair, flexible, and patient.
Q: What makes you laugh?
A: Knock-knock jokes. But truthfully, people make me laugh. They do the funniest things (including myself).
Q: What life adventure is still on your list?
A: I wouldn’t term it as an adventure but I would love to get back into playing tennis more often. I recently joined a tennis league after not playing for 30 years. It turns out I am older and slower now.
Q: Where is the best place you’ve traveled to, and who were you with?
A: The best trip I took was to China with my wife of 24 years. Simply incredible to watch a great civilization rooted in its history, while also transforming itself into a growing dynamic, modern country.
Q: What do you wish you knew more about?
A: Everything! How to cure cancer, speak five languages, and develop a repeatable and good golf swing.