August 7, 2019
In a recent interview with the Structural Engineers Association of Illinois (SEAOI), Scott Nacheman, shares career advice, lessons learned from his time as a design professional, and a few of his most memorable projects. As the Director of DeSimone’s Chicago office, Mr. Nacheman provides technical oversight and management of the firm’s Midwest forensics team, encompassing both pre and post-failure/loss services.
The below except appeared in the July 2019 issue of Bulletin, the association’s monthly newsletter comprised of technical discussions, continuing education opportunities, job openings, and other content related to the practice of engineering.
Michael Murphy (Interviewer): Why did you choose engineering as a profession?
Scott Nacheman (Interviewee): It was during sophomore year of my architecture bachelor’s program. Much to the dismay of my professors, I was concerned about constructability and load path in all my designs. I have enjoyed building (and taking apart) things for as long as I can remember, but it was in those undergrad design studios when I realized my high school guidance counselor probably pointed me in the wrong direction on the A/E spectrum.
MM: What did you want to be before you grew up?
SN: I’m not sure if I am a “grown-up” yet, but I had always wanted to be a firefighter for the FDNY (Fire Department of the City of New York). Life took a few different turns, and I had to let go of that dream. However, I still did become a firefighter and remain involved as an instructor and providing emergency response to this day.
MM: What is the best professional lesson you have learned during your career?
SN: Being humble as both a student and as a leader is among the most important qualities that you can have. Without the ability to put ego aside to work with, and learn from, others (even others in your command), you will limit your success as an individual and as a leader.
MM: What piece of advice do you wish you would have known at the beginning of your career?
SN: Success in life comes with balancing the dichotomies of all that you do. Whether it be the solutions to technical problems, aspects of leadership/management, or even your family/personal life, one must find the ever-changing balance point in each of these things (and everything else that you do) in order to be successful in them. If you shift too far in one direction, you are setting yourself up for failure. I’m not talking about the balance between each of the aspects of your life (which is equally important), but rather finding balanced solutions to each of life’s challenges.
MM: What is one of the favorite projects you have been involved with during your career? And why?
SN: It’s a toss-up between the Chrysler Building and One Indiana Square in Indianapolis. Chrysler has been my favorite building as long as I can remember. Being able to work on the investigation/restoration of the frame and spire of that art deco masterpiece was a once in a lifetime opportunity. One Indiana Square allowed me to utilize all aspects of my engineering career: emergency response/ stabilization, complex forensic investigation, collaboration on a detailed analysis of the high-rise’s lateral system, wind tunnel analysis/testing, and design and construction administration for a high-end curtain wall over-clad system.
MM: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? And why?
SN: Professional Race Car Driver. I became interested in driving road course time trial, and HSAX racing events several years ago. I truly love it. It’s my one pursuit that requires 100 percent focus, 100 percent of the time. It allows you to concentrate on the task at hand and shut out the rest of life’s trivial noise. Oh, and it’s an incredible adrenalin rush too.
MM: What profession would you not like to do? Why not?
SN: Flight attendant. I travel a lot for work, and although I enjoy travel (and would love the free travel perks of a flight attendant job), I can’t imagine having to smile all day, while being berated by the constant barrage of some needy and ungrateful passengers.
MM: And their ungrateful germs, right?
SN: Indeed! You don’t even want to know about some of the repulsive things I have witnessed on airplanes.
MM: If you could have lunch with any individual (living or dead), who would it be?
SN: My paternal grandfather. He was always such a great source of wisdom and practical life lessons when I was growing up. He was also the one that encouraged me to go back to graduate school. Had I not made that decision, I would have likely been working for a special operations unit within the FDNY on 9-11-01.
MM: If you had a jet waiting to take you anywhere in the world, what would your destination be?
SN: A private island in the southern Caribbean. I get a private island with my private jet, don’t I?
MM: What is the first thing you think about when you wake up in the morning?
SN: Ninjas. And being grateful that they didn’t come kidnap me in the middle of the night?? And my morning cup of ridiculously strong coffee and Clif bars (I have an unhealthy breakfast addiction to both.) But also, I think about our current office workload and other tasks that need completion. I then use the time during my walk to the office to triage and plan what our team needs to accomplish for the day.
MM: What is the last thing you think about before you go to bed?
SN: Our 90-pound Doberman lying next to us, and being thankful that we had the foresight to buy a king-size bed …. In addition, usually something from whatever book I am reading. I am an avid reader of U.S. history and leadership books. So, I usually try to decompress with some good non-fiction before bed. As I doze off, I am usually thinking of ways to apply someone else’s “lessons learned” to my own life and team.
MM: (bonus) What is something you believe that most engineers do not?
SN: Don’t be afraid of hiring and training someone who may become your boss. Too many people won’t hire the best candidates available because they fear the success of others around them. Also, many professionals won’t mentor and share all their knowledge. They become concerned that “the student will become the master.” The only way to build the most successful (and profitable) team possible is to hire and train the best people possible. Further, you must share all the experience that you have. So long as you don’t become complacent, there will always be an important position for you. If the time comes when your mentee becomes your supervisor, it’s likely because they have certain stronger skills than you do. If you trained them well, they should remember their great mentor, and respect and reward your commitment to the team and their personal success. If not, you can always call on those ninjas.