By David Steinkraus
When GSG Consultants Inc. was 20 years old, Negocios Now wrote a story about how far the company had come. Now GSG is 30, and it’s come even farther.
GSG’s core services remain the same: geotechnical engineering, drainage, environmental services, construction management and inspection, and design services, said Guillermo Garcia, the company’s owner. Unlike a decade ago, when GSG was mostly a subcontractor, today it’s the prime contractor on many jobs.
“We have key roles in these large contracts we have,” Garcia said.
“What’s exciting is … GSG has been able to expand its portfolio to program management at O’Hare airport, program management at Metra, program management at RTA (Regional Transit Authority), and general engineering services for the Illinois Tollway,” said John Trotta, senior vice president and national director of client services for WSP USA. For the tollway, he added, GSG was instrumental in developing the first Test Level 5 crash wall and sound barrier. (Barriers with that rating can handle the impact from a 79,000-pound tractor-trailer moving at 45 mph or more.)
WSP is a global professional services firm with 49,000 engineers, scientists, architects, planners, and advisors, including 9,500 people in 150 offices across the United States. It has also been a mentor for GSG.
One way GSG moved to the role of prime contractor was to acquire prequalifications with the Illinois Department of Transportation, Garcia said. “You need to have three projects under your belt before you get prequalified. Well, how do you do that when you’re always a sub? This is where WSP came in and mentored us in different roles that we wanted to get our prequalifications in.”
Having key roles also allows a company to hire very experienced people, Garcia said, and without such people clients don’t want to hire you to lead projects. Also, Trotta said, large projects provide long-term financial returns that give a business the ability to grow.
As GSG grew, Ala Sasila joined the company as a partner and brought extensive experience in civil engineering and project management, Garcia said. The company succeeded, he said, because it focuses on clients and has a workplace where everyone is respected and is encouraged to be a creative problem solver. Each year, he added, GSG celebrates its success with annual parties for employees, clients, friends, and families.
Garcia’s parents immigrated from Mexico, and he grew up in Pilsen. He earned a bachelor’s degree in vocational education from Northern Illinois University and a master’s degree in occupational safety sciences from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
He said he was the second person in his family to graduate from college. His brother was first. “Now we have nephews and nieces graduating with master’s degrees,” he said.
“Diversity in engineering is not a checked box,” Trotta said. Diverse engineers are typically people who, like Garcia, mortgage their homes to start their businesses, Trotta said, and as entrepreneurs they contribute a different mindset. “They think about how they might invest and improve. They think about stepping out farther than someone who’s never owned their own company,” he said.
The greatest key to his success is relationships, Garcia said. “My father taught me to respect relationships and always bring something to the table instead of asking.” There’s also hard work and always being there, he said.
“From my perspective, he’s always a phone call away if there’s an issue, or a question, or we need help, or we need more resources,” Trotta said. “You can call him when he’s out of town, out of country. He will always find a way to resolve whatever that issue is. For us, we need that. Clients expect that.”
In a recent speech to the graduating class at Northern Illinois University, Garcia said, he challenged students to not be afraid to fail. “The way we learn is by failing. And challenge yourself. Don’t just be sitting there and saying, I have a job, now I’m happy.”
“He’s being too bashful,” Trotta said. “Guillermo worked hard to get where he got, and the key thing that I enjoy the most from him is, he always remembers to pull other people up. He always remembers to bring other people along, to speak at schools, to reinvest in the communities that he works in. That is the sign of a great leader. We’re fortunate to have him here in this community.”