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The Tale of Two Presidents: Chalifoux, Smith share memories and advice

April 23rd, 2019


DRMP President/CEO Wayne Chalifoux, PE and Principal/COO Larry Smith, PE, LEED Green Associate are board members, coworkers and friends. On April 23, 2019, Wayne made the bittersweet announcement that Larry will be taking Wayne’s place as president.

Two months before the official announcement, Larry and Wayne sat down for a quick chat in the boardroom at the corporate office in Orlando, FL for a question and answer session.

One thing that all DRMP employees know is that engineers are creatures of habit. Larry and Wayne are no exception. Since the late 1990s, they have been sitting in the exact same seats for every board meeting and did the same for even a casual chat.

Before getting into the question and answer session, Wayne told Larry a story about a time when his pastor directed all churchgoers to sit in different spots than they usually do, and a total frenzy ensued.

“Things will hit you that you aren’t prepared for,” Wayne said. “Engineers like to have plans well in advance, but you don’t always get that being president.”

In their question and answer session, Larry asked Wayne some questions and they chatted about working together, lessons learned and their most successful project.

Larry: What’s your first memory of us working together?

Wayne: When you first started, I really wasn’t involved with you a whole heck of a lot because I was here before you. Then you came on the scene after I went to Transportation.

Larry: The first projects we worked on together were for Orange County. I worked on Hiawassee Road and Piedmont Wekiva Road and then Cortez Road.

Wayne: Yes, I did all the Orange County stuff.  And I remember in 1999 that we elected you as a vice president and to sit on the board.

Larry: I found that letter from Don Barton, Sr. telling staff that I had been elected.

Wayne: That was the first time that I really started to get to work a lot with you. You were still young and green, even when on the board. I had to teach you a whole bunch of things.

Larry: Yeah…those first few board meetings I’m sitting there going what in the heck are you guys talking about? Balance sheets and income statements…

Wayne: Yeah, it’s a learning process, but here we are 19 years later…

Larry: What’s the best thing you learned while on the job that I should take with me?

Wayne: I remember when the discussion was being held about me taking over. I had made the comment that I would do this, but it wasn’t going to be a one-man-show. I said, “I’m only going to do this if I have the help of my peers.” I needed the help of all of you to do your part. That’s one of the things that you’ll probably learn, if you haven’t already. You’re not going to do this on your own and it sounds kind of corny, but I always use the Spock analogy: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.” If you think along those lines, you’ll be fine. You’re going to get a gazillion opinions. You’re not going to please everybody. I think we have had a good cross-knit of individuals on the board who think openly and differently.

Larry: What’s something about me that everyone should know?

Wayne: You are very compassionate and sensitive, but you have to be tough at times, too. Generally, though, I think you balance that very well. I think that’s important. You tend to adapt to the climate and the people who are here. That’s one thing about our firm anyway—we have an identity of being family-oriented. It starts up here, so we’re pretty big about that.

Larry: What are some memories you’ve made at DRMP that you will always cherish?

Wayne: There are a gazillion memories. One of the things for me is when you look at it, when I first came to work here, there are still half a dozen people, or so, who I’ve been able to see grow from their first employment day here to positions of Vice Presidents now. I’ve worked very closely with all of them when they first started and to see their growth is pretty cool. So, you kind of leave with a feeling that people stuck around for a long time for a reason.

Larry: What project of ours do you think was most successful and why?

Wayne: I’d say it was this building that we are in now. I just remember working with you and the whole group. It’s one of the more significant things we’ve done because at that time, we were bursting at the seams. We had no space and needed to relocate. I remember doing the destination study about where people were coming from and where we should locate. I remember trying to convince everybody that we weren’t going to do a conventional office layout with everybody closed in. I thought we needed a more collaborative space because the new generation was mobile and didn’t want to be crammed in an office. I remember putting all the spaces together and figuring out where each group would sit. It was an enjoyable project for the company, and a critical one because we were growing. I felt it was a major transition in the way we were doing things and a culture change for the way we did business.

Larry: How do you think our leadership styles are different?

Wayne: One of the differences I think people will notice is that, I’ve been accused that I need to put insulation in my office, so you can’t hear me down the hall. I have a very boisterous voice. I’m not usually lost for words and I always have an opinion. That’s a big difference between me and you. You are more soft spoken and reserved. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. People will get used to your style.

Larry: What’s an area of improvement you would like to see happen at DRMP?

Wayne: The associates program needs to be revamped and I think it’d be good to see that happen. Whatever goes into that, I think its about time that it gets a major overhaul. We’ve tweaked it along the way, but I think it’s one of the more important things we need to do. I think the way you help make it better is to get everybody to sit around a table and express their opinions about why and how to change it. I think we do a good job, but the program could be enhanced.

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