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Leader focuses on the paths taken

 

For Daniel Bowllan, regrets about something he did do not scare him as much as regrets for something he never got a chance to do.

Understanding that has been a potent motivator throughout his personal and professional life, starting with a cross-country road trip he took at age 21 with his best friend in a van they rebuilt.

At age 37 it also inspired him to start his own business in 1996 with four partners and only credit cards to fund it.

Today Bowllan, 51, is president of IBC Engineering P.C., which he leads with two partners: Geoffrey Mead, chief operating officer, and Daniel Fox, director of engineering.

Though each of them works 55 to 60 hours a week, down from 70 hours a week 14 years ago, the partners could not be happier with the firm.

"Fourteen years ago, no one would have expected that Geoff, Dan and I would be the team running the firm. Though we are all different, we complement each other. The proof of that is where the firm finds itself now," Bowllan says.

IBC employs 31 people at Winton Place and 14 at an office in Buffalo. With seven local licensed engineers and $4.3 million in local billings, it ranks 18th on the Rochester Business Journal’s most recent list of engineering firms.

Companywide, revenue totaled $5.45 million in 2008 and dropped slightly last year to $5.23 million. The projection for this year is $5 million.

Last week, the firm was honored in Washington, D.C., with a national diamond award from the American Council of Engineering Companies of New York. The event is considered the Academy Awards of the engineering industry, recognizing pre-eminent engineering achievements in 2009 from all over the world.

IBC’s award was one of 18 honors bestowed for the company’s role in renovating King & King Architects LLP’s office building in downtown Syracuse for LEED Platinum certification, one of only four such projects in the state. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design citation is the common measure in the design industry to standardize evaluation of green building.

King & King, founded in 1868, is the state’s oldest architectural firm and the fifth oldest in the nation. For the firm, IBC helped turn a dilapidated warehouse into an energy-efficient workplace.

IBC officials say the project is a showcase of green building technologies. Those include boilers and chillers that use roughly 40 percent less energy than code specifications; solar panels that generate 12 kilowatts of energy for the building; and rooftop vegetation and reflective materials that lower the building’s need for heating and cooling and reduce rainwater runoff into the sewer system.

Sustainable design

IBC already had one LEED Platinum building under its belt with Rochester Institute of Technology’s University Services Center.

Some 30 percent of IBC’s business is in sustainable design. The company’s achievements in LEED include one silver certification and three pending silver certifications.

"We’ve done energy projects since we started, but as far as sustainable and LEED projects, they really have come to the forefront since 2000," Bowllan says.

Fox, who is LEED-certified, leads that end of the business.

"Back around 2000 or 2001, he said that was a direction he wanted to take; he thought it was a place where the company could grow, and it’s proved very beneficial," Bowllan says.

Overall, IBC offers engineering services involving heating, ventilation and air conditioning; electricity, plumbing and fire protection; safety, data and telecommunications design; sustainable building design and energy modeling.

Approximately 30 percent of IBC’s work is on K-12 educational projects, down some 60 percent from two years ago. Higher education and health care each make up another 30 percent of the company’s work. Commercial and industrial projects make up the rest.

The company does roughly half of its work on projects in Rochester and surrounding areas, 25 percent on Buffalo projects and 25 percent on projects elsewhere. Elsewhere can be as far away as Madagascar, where IBC is working on a $50 million project for SUNY Stony Brook, to be used for observing lemurs.

That project, most of which is being completed by native workers, will be LEED-certified. Bowllan says the foundation was chiseled out of granite, bricks were made from the soil and scaffolding was built with bamboo. The project is roughly 80 percent complete.

IBC’s Buffalo office capitalized on connections the company’s founders had made there in their previous jobs and opened around the same time the Rochester office did, in 1996.

Breaking down silos

"When the firm was founded, there were five partners. Geoff and Dan became partners shortly after the firm was established, bringing the total number of partners to seven," Bowllan says. "During the early years, we found it tough to come to a consensus with a rather large number of partners. It ultimately created silos within the firm, which hurt the firm’s focus."

That did not help the clients or the employees, he says. The company eventually had to make some tough decisions to become the type of organization its partners envisioned: flat and cohesive.

The company’s name stands for Integrated Building Concepts, Bowllan says. For a balanced project, the individual trades need to be taken into perspective. Different management perspectives also had to be considered with respect for a strong company.

"One of the keys over the years that we’ve learned is so important: We have to respect who we are and what we do," Bowllan says. "That’s key to our success and maybe part of our downfalls in the past.

"We had our struggles," Bowllan says. "I was trained as an engineer, not as a business owner."

Outside experts helped to find a way through the difficulties.

"We actually brought in a managing firm in 2005. What we did with them is to verify our thinking and our operations," Bowllan says. "They interviewed Geoff, Dan and me, looked at our books and how we were structured internally."

Overall, it was concluded, the three men were on the right track with their structure and processes, but they still had the tendency to think in isolation. The silo mentality still was present.

Today, they use their differences to the company’s advantage. Their distinct personalities and approaches-and their complementary roles within the company-make for the best final decisions, Bowllan says.

Mead and Fox head up the technical side of the business, while Bowllan handles the day-to-day corporate side. That includes dealing with client concerns. Mead and Fox handle the engineering concerns.

"Geoff is somebody who will sit back and listen, take in what’s been said, and help us reach a consensus. He’s quieter, laid back; he’ll listen before he gives you his assessment," Bowllan says. "Dan is somebody who’s much more highstrung and is always willing to give you his outlook and opinion.

"There is a lot of conversation between Dan and me, and a lot of it is corporate, technical and how we’re going to move forward; Geoff kind of sits back and watches it all happen," Bowllan says.

Mead says the common perspective they share is that they are all engineers.

Bowllan describes himself as highstrung. Fox says Bowllan is more optimistic than anything, whereas Mead is focused. Fox describes himself as passionate.

"These traits help provide companywide balance. We understand that we as individuals have strengths and weaknesses. We not only understand this about each other; we objectively and constructively work to draw from each other’s strengths while placing our egos aside, not taking advantage of our weaknesses," Fox says.

They divide management of the firm according to their individual areas of strength and interest, he says.

"We as a group mesh well based upon a mutual respect and trust for one another and the common belief that our individual motivations are fueled by the desire to do the right thing-the common good for the whole team and their families here at IBC," he says.

They may be different, but their goals are the same, he says.

Bowllan says his own personality is Type A. But Mark Pandolf, principal at PLAN Architectural Studio P.C., says Bowllan is a little more complex than that. Bowllan is genuine, likable and generous with his time, Pandolf says.

The two know each other from several PLAN projects for which IBC has supplied engineering services.

"Dan is very driven and consistently does what it takes to get projects completed. In that respect, I can see why he may feel he is a Type A. However, I believe Dan also exhibits Type B traits such as patience and calm. He is also collaborative in a positive way," Pandolf says.

Bowllan was a manager before co-founding IBC. He had gotten in on the ground floor of another consultancy and helped it move into the Buffalo market.

At an open house for the firm, Bowllan heard one of the partners say to his parents, "I fulfilled a dream."

The comment struck Bowllan, he says, because it was his own dream to own a firm.

"Hearing that really drove me to say, ‘If I don’t do it now, I’ll probably never do it.’ I’ve gone through my life that way. I don’t want to look back and say, ‘I wish I had,’" Bowllan says.

It was that way for him when he and his wife, Nancy, adopted two daughters from China and Vietnam. They adopted their first daughter just two weeks before he co-founded IBC. Today, Alannah is 14 and Aliah is 11.

The trip

Years before, when he had graduated from SUNY College of Technology at Alfred with an associate degree and was about to enroll at RIT, Bowllan made the decision to take a break and travel the country.

"I said to myself, ‘If I don’t travel and see the country now, I never will,’" he remembers.

"I’ve always enjoyed being a mechanic. So I took a dilapidated van-it didn’t have floors-and rebuilt it. The engine had to be completely rebuilt, and that was because I was broke and couldn’t buy another one. My friend and I rebuilt it top to bottom," Bowllan says.

David Hauck and Bowllan had been friends since they were 5 years old, and they still are.

When they were growing up, Hauck says, Durand Eastman Park was their playground.

"We played a lot in the woods when we were kids. We would play from sunup to sundown. We built forts, we used to climb trees, try to find the highest tree to climb," Hauck recalls.

It was obvious that on their road trip someday, they were going to hit as many national parks as they could.

"We talked about it quite a lot when we were kids. I had two older brothers who tried to do it. One of them left with one of Dan’s older brothers," Hauck recalls.

Bowllan had eight brothers and sisters; Hauck had eight as well. Their Irondequoit neighborhood, he says, was crawling with kids.

"If you played kick the can, you had 30 kids lined up outside," Hauck says.

The two men left in August 1982 to spend a year on the road, starting out on the East Coast and going south to Florida, where they spent some of the winter. They earned money when and where they could. When the weather broke, they headed to the World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tenn.

They then continued their travels, hitting 39 national parks and forests along the way.

"We were living in the beaches and living in the woods. We saw a space shuttle take off in Florida. Then we went off to Edwards Air Force Base in California and saw a space shuttle land.

"The trip around the country stands out as being one of the best times I ever had," Hauck says. "It was just Daniel and me. Living together in a van for a whole year, you become kind of close; you learn things you didn’t even know about each other when you were kids."

Today, the friends enjoy sailing together when they can. Bowllan has a boat at the Rochester Yacht Club.

Hauck, who rides a Harley Davidson, would like to enlist his friend for another cross-country trip, this time by motorcycle. They used to ride together when they were teenagers.

But Bowllan, he said, works too hard now. He has a lot of responsibility, Hauck says. "When he does something, he’s very serious about it."

Bowllan says he enjoys his job and his family more than anything, but being in nature, whether it is hiking, sailing or skiing, is what keeps him grounded.

"That’s kind of my peace and serenity," he says.

Daniel Bowllan
Position: President, IBC Engineering P.C.
Age: 51
Education: A.A.S. in air-conditioning technology, 1978, SUNY College of Technology at Alfred; B.S. in mechanical engineering, 1987, Rochester Institute of Technology
Family: Wife, Nancy; daughters Alannah, 14, and Aliah, 11
Residence: Pittsford
Activities: Hiking, sailing and skiing
Quote: "People want to make a difference. It’s important to let the contributors know that they have."


5/7/10 (c) 2010 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail
rbj@rbj.net.

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