Carolyn Stanworth: Top leader, midsize employers A ‘reluctant leader’ makes a mark
Carolyn Stanworth, president and CEO of Meriden-based BL Companies, joined the architecture and engineering firm nearly two decades ago. As one of the primary drivers behind the employee stock-ownership plan, Stanworth has continued to inspire ownership through employee engagement and accountability among the staff. She championed the firm’s multi-year leadership development initiative and succession planning efforts.
Stanworth, 61, is winner of the 2018 Hearst Connecticut Media Top Leadership award for midsize employers. Originally from Hampton, Virginia, Stanworth came to Connecticut and received her bachelor’s degree in economics with a minor in computer science from Southern Connecticut State University and her MBA at the University of New Haven while working full time at the old Southern New England Telephone Co.
She left SNET to join BL in 1999 as chief financial officer in 1999, became chief operating officer in 2003 and president and CEO in 2010.
BL Cos. was founded 30 years ago by former state Sen. Robert Landino, who is now CEO and founder of Centerplan Cos. It provides integrated building design and infrastructure projects for private and public land development in 45 states and three Canadian providences.
Q: What is the secret of a content workforce?
A: We have been an employee owned company for 20 years now and have been sharing the rewards and success of the company with all of the employee owners and creating a culture that everyone has a vested interest in taking care of our clients and employees. We care about each other and each other’s families.
Q: What is the most challenging thing you have come across as a CEO?
A: I became the CEO in the worst economic conditions. The weight and responsibility of navigating during those times and creating a long-term sustainable employee owned company was immense. Being responsible for our employees’ livelihoods, careers and retirement is an awesome responsibility. And yet, that the leadership team and all of the employee owners were willing to join in the direction and help an untested CEO was inspiring. And with everyone’s support, we turned the company around.
Q: How did you end up in charge?
A: I am the reluctant leader. We had some turnover at the top and at the time, I was the best candidate for the job. I never aspired to be the CEO. It’s just one of those things.
Q: Who are your employee owners and what do they represent?
A: They are our interns — we have a very robust paid intern program; our graduates out of college, our mid-career professionals and our senior professionals and senior leaders working in over 14 offices and work in 45 of the U.S. states and 3 Canadian providences. They have many disciplines, expertise including land development, transportation, traffic, energy, architecture, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire protection, environmental site assessment and cultural and natural resources, land surveying and more.
Q: What is the difference between being a boss and a leader?
A: A boss implies a structural hierarchy. I’ve always said leadership is a verb not a noun. To be a leader is to put yourself out there and take care of clients or situations regardless of what your role in the company is.
Q: How can managers build stronger ties to employees?
A: Being genuine and interested in what each employee needs and wants in their career and spending time with them. What we can do for all of our folks is remove any roadblocks to becoming their very best. Showing appreciation for what people do, something as simple as a thank you or recognition for what someone has done — it goes a long way.
Q: What broad advice would you give a young manager?
A: Be humble. Treat everyone with respect. Be kind to the people on your way up because you’re going to see them on your way down. Everyone has value and we do better as a team than we do as individuals.
Q: What is the most challenging thing about what you do?
A: We have 14 or 15 offices and the most challenging thing is being able to spend the amount of time that I would like to spend with all of our folks. There’s time but there’s never enough time.
Q: Why do you think your employees have rated the firm as a Top Workplace?
A: With our culture of employee ownership, our employees feel that they are cared about and that we have a genuine interest in their careers. We work as a team we don’t compete against each other. There’s room for everyone to advance.
Q: What was your very first job?
A: Working at age 13 on a tobacco farm in North Carolina.
Q: What are your hiring plans over the next 12 months?
A: There are 41 vacancies today. We are looking for those who have the expertise and cultural fit.