In his own words: Tom Gallagher of Summit Engineering
Northern Nevada Business Weekly: Tell us about Summit Engineering Corporation and your position.
Tom Gallagher: Summit Engineering Corporation was founded in 1978 in Reno and initially provided civil engineering design and surveying services to a small number of clients throughout northern Nevada. Over the years, Summit has grown to become one of Nevada’s largest locally-owned engineering firms, a result of providing our clients with the highest-quality professional engineering, surveying, geotechnical and planning services. In my position as president and CEO, I provide day-to-day hands-on supervision, and I am able to be involved in most of our ongoing projects and have daily contact with most of our team.
NNBW: How did you get into this profession?
Gallagher: I grew up working on ranches, and by the time I got to college, I figured there had to be a better way to make a living than feeding cattle in sub-20 degree weather. I attempted various things upon my entry to college business and agriculture and failed miserably. Engineering worked for me.
NNBW: What’s the most important thing you have learned in your career?
Gallagher: I’ve learned to think independently. In an industry where creativity is a necessity, thinking outside the box is a first step. The determination that there really is no “box” ultimately got me to where I needed to be.
NNBW: Times have been tough for all construction-related industries in Nevada over the past few years. As the leader of a large engineering firm, what strategies did you put in place to help your 34-year old firm survive and thrive?
Gallagher: We were very dependent upon the development-engineering business, and it was obvious that to survive, we had to re-tool the entire company. We moved more toward public works and mining and streamlined the company. Unfortunately, the move required downsizing the whole company to approximately one-third the size, along with the closure of two branch offices. We are now lean, and our remaining employees are fiercely loyal to the company.
NNBW: What was your first job?
Gallagher: Working on several of my parent’s ranches. My first real engineering-related job was as a research assistant to the late Dr. Vulli Gupta at the Desert Research Institute.
NNBW: Tell us about your dream job.
Gallagher: This must be it, since I was responsible for dreaming it up.
NNBW: What are your favorite hobbies or pastimes? How do you spend your time away from work?
Gallagher: I like to spend my time shooting, hunting, building anything and spending time with young people, including my three grandsons. It is amazing how much the “teachers” can learn from young people if they are willing to listen.
NNBW: Tell me about the most fun you have had on the job.
Gallagher: I love working with and training young people. It never ceases to amaze me some of the absolutely dumb things they can accomplish some times, and the creative things they do and teach me that make me feel dumber yet. If I had known all the things that young people taught me by accident or otherwise through the years when I started this place, life would have been much easier.
NNBW: What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Gallagher: “Don’t worry about falling on your face, but if you fall on your butt, you were going the wrong way,” (from my grandfather); and “Don’t ask anybody to do anything you wouldn’t do yourself,” (from my father).
NNBW: Have any advice for someone who wants to enter your profession?
Gallagher: You do not learn this business from a book. When you graduate from college, you are not anointed into any position, you are not guaranteed a certain salary, and you really don’t know much that is of value to me no matter what your class standing may have been. Get out into the real world and find out what it is all about. Get experience as soon as possible, even if it’s for free.
NNBW: If you could live your life over again, what one thing would you change?
Gallagher: I would not desire to break so many body parts. It becomes a problem as you age.
NNBW: What has been your biggest professional disappointment?
Gallagher: Seeing some of the extremely low-quality of work that comes from some members of the profession. It became very evident during the major building boom.
NNBW: If you had enough money to retire right now, would you?
Gallagher: No. My wife would divorce me in about 10 minutes.
NNBW: What’s the last concert you attended?
Gallagher: The Reno Rodeo.
NNBW: Where’s your perfect vacation spot?
Gallagher: Tanzania, if I could afford to go there again.
NNBW: What has kept you in northern Nevada all these years?
Gallagher: I chose Northern Nevada because my family doesn’t seem to know how to live anywhere else. That includes five generations on both sides of my family. Aside from that, every opportunity I can imagine is available here. I thoroughly enjoy the climate and the ability to be either in a major metropolitan area or so far out in the sticks that you won’t see another soul within a couple of hours. Business opportunities abound here if you have the proper mindset.
Name: Thomas H. Gallagher, president and chief executive officer, Summit Engineering Corporation
Number of years in this job? 33
Number of years in this profession? 37
Education: Bachelor of science in civil engineering, University of Nevada, Reno
Last book read? “In Plain Sight” by C.J. Box
Favorite movie? “Lonesome Dove”
What’s on your iPod? Mostly books and some music
Spouse, kids or pets? Wife Bonnie for the last 40 years; daughters Heather and Jennifer; three grandsons Cruz, Finn and Trey; and two wirehaired pointers, Cuz and Leo.
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