Practical and persistent

Licensed professional engineer Neal R. Kuula brings practicality to design and an understanding of the client's needs and requirements.

March 16, 2011

Who: Neal R. Kuula, PE, LEED AP

What: Senior Engineer/Project Manager, GRAEF

Where: Milwaukee

About: Neal is a licensed professional engineer with 22 years of experience in the engineering, architecture, and construction industry. As an electrical engineer, he has served as lead engineer and project manager for numerous commercial, retail, restaurant, residential, medical, high-rise, and performing arts projects. His experience also includes performing property condition assessments and serving as an owner’s representative for construction projects. With a diverse background of experience, Neal brings a practicality to design and an understanding of the client’s needs and requirements.

Q. When you first wanted to be something in life, what was it?

A. I always wanted to go into music, to become a famous guitarist or to be a member of the greatest rock band ever.

Q. What changed your path? Or what helped keep you on that path?

A. I found out very early that my musical aptitude was almost nonexistent, so on to engineering.

Q. What is working well in the engineering profession today?

A. I am a big believer in cross-training between disciplines. I have always encouraged our electrical engineers to become familiar with mechanical design and likewise have the mechanical disciplines learn some electrical. I am not sure how much this is happening with companies across the board, but in the firms that have used this approach, quality control has improved as well as communication between the disciplines.

Q. What is the biggest challenge for you in your job?

A. Keeping clients satisfied is always the first and foremost concern in our industry. We have to balance meeting the project budget while providing a high-quality product in a timely fashion.

Q. Who has mentored you in your engineering profession, and what have you taken away from this relationship?

A. My previous employer, John Kowalski, has played the largest part in the development of my career. The technical expertise conveyed through the years has been invaluable, but I would say that it has been the business aspect of the profession where John has provided the greatest insight and where I have excelled the most. As engineers we know how to design a system, but we do not always know how to influence clients, manage people, and generally run the day-to-day operations of the business. Working with John, I have had the opportunity to experience all of these things. From this experience I have gained the knowledge of what works and what does not in order to run a successful business.

Q. What one thing is missing from engineering education?

A. Practical application of what we have learned is the key to our success. Most programs are very good at teaching engineers theory and crunching numbers, but when it comes time to apply the skills, our younger engineers are at a disadvantage. I was fortunate enough to start my career in the contracting world where a large amount of my time was spent in the field and I was able to experience, firsthand, how to apply my education to real-life scenarios. I have always felt that field work, as part of the engineering curriculum, would be invaluable to new a new engineer.

Q. How would your coworkers or clients describe you?

A. Personable and reliable.

Q. What trait or habit from your youth have you brought into your professional life?

A. I would say persistence has been the one thing that has carried me through the years.

Q. What life adventure is still on your list?

A. Travel. The world has so much to offer with all of its magnificent places and cultures. There is just not enough time to experience everything.

Q. What one word best describes you?

A. Genuine.

Q. What makes you laugh?

A. What makes me laugh is a good comedy with simple humor. We tend to get caught up in the all of the seriousness of life. Sometimes you just need turn it off and enjoy the basics.

Q. What do you wonder about?

A. Given the economic downturn of the past few years, many companies have had to change how they normally do business and were forced to become more lean and creative. I think we can now expect the difficulties of acquiring new business as a new norm for the industry. Ultimately, I wonder how all these changes will alter the “whole” of our industry as we begin to settle into these new methods.

Q. Where is the best place you’ve ever been, and who were you with?

A. Paris. It is a wonderful city with lots of culture and history. I and my girlfriend Cathy went for a week in the spring a few years ago. A week was definitely not enough time to take in all that there was to offer, so we look forward to a return trip in the near future.

Q. What do you want to learn more about?

A. I would like to learn a new language. Since we are becoming more international in our commerce and industry, the ability to communicate more effectively with the world is essential.