We’ve added industry veteran Steve Shepherd to our team to establish our presence in Salt Lake City, Utah, and expand that market.
“As the former CEO of Van Boerum & Frank Associates, Steve brings a wealth of experience and expertise as well as an impressive track record to our team,” Salas O’Brien CEO Darin Anderson said. “He’s a great guy, and his relationship- and people-first attitude and approach align perfectly with our Ownership Values. I know he’ll achieve remarkable things, and we’re lucky to have him.”
In the following Q&A, Steve shares insights into his leadership style, what he hopes to accomplish, and what ultimately led to his decision to join Salas O’Brien.
What drew you to Salas O’Brien?
When I started looking for different opportunities, I honestly wanted to find something totally new … something in an entirely different field. I’d talked to a couple of other companies, but then I met Darin.
That was just an incredible experience. He is an outstanding person.
And then I met Principals Deirdre McDaniel and Brad Kalmans, and I was so impressed by their kindness, ambitions for the future of Salas O’Brien, and excitement to have me on the team. I could tell they were genuinely more interested in me as a person than what I could do to help their business, and I knew the relationship would be a very reciprocal one.
I was also drawn to the company culture. I know that Salas O’Brien is a large firm, but I could quickly tell there’s a strong commitment to supporting local decision-making and local culture.
Also, there’s something about representing the first Salas O’Brien presence in Salt Lake City. It’s the excitement of feeling like a startup with the stability of a company that has already been well established for years.
Looking toward the future with Salas O’Brien in Salt Lake City, what is the most exciting aspect for you?
What’s most exciting is the fit we have. I recognized how alike our values are long before I knew Salas O’Brien’s official Ownership Values. I could tell based simply on my interactions with Darin, Deirdre, and Brad that client relationships are at the heart of everything Salas O’Brien does, and there’s a strong culture of accountability in the firm.
I’m also excited about the incredible potential to develop an outstanding team and to grow our presence in the Utah markets. The greatest joy I have in my professional life is mentoring young engineers and helping them achieve their goals. They’re ambitious, excited, and smart. This new path with Salas O’Brien will bring many more of those opportunities.
Describe your leadership style.
I’m very task-oriented, and I want to get things done. I’m also very achievement-driven. I know what people are capable of, and I push them to reach their potential. I love helping people learn and grow.
I take a hands-on approach to equip and empower my team members to excel. I spend more time than most on preparing people for future leadership. First, I show them how it’s done, prompting them to pay attention to the moves I make, the things I say, and the way I navigate client interactions. Then, I ask them for honest feedback about what they like and why they think I could do better. Having an open dialogue about how we can improve as people, as leaders, and as a team is critical to building and keeping trust and maintaining high performance.
Even though I am task- and achievement-oriented, relationships are what matter most. I try to be self-aware and not push for short-term achievements at the expense of long-term relationships.
What advice would you give to those who aspire to be executive leaders? What should they do at each stage of their careers?
Anyone beginning their career should start by developing their skills and gaining expertise. That’s what’s going to give them confidence.
Once they’re proficient in their discipline, they need to continue mastering their technical skills, but they also need to develop their relationship and leadership skills. Much of that depends on people’s ability to establish and maintain trust. When people have confidence in what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, people will follow you, and you will have influence. That’s when you become a leader, regardless of your title or position.
And once you are a leader, you can maintain that leadership by doing everything in your power to elevate others around you. Your goal should be to train your replacement so that you can leave your legacy in capable hands, allowing them to succeed wildly and letting you focus on advancing your own career.
What’s the key takeaway you have from being an executive?
When you reach that level, you fully understand the phrase, “the buck stops with me.” You may not have a hand in every detail of a decision or action, but you are accountable for yourself, your team, and your company.
Many of us who reach those ranks are Type A personalities, so we tend to take over and get into the weeds to carry projects over the finish line. Unfortunately, that can have a substantial negative impact on the quality of the finished product.
What I’ve learned along the way is that it is better to develop a formidable team of people who are smarter, more talented, and more experienced in their areas than I am. As a result, our deliverables outperform anything I could have even imagined, let alone execute, on my own.
This is exactly what I’ll focus on as a senior vice president for Salas O’Brien. I’m an incredibly passionate person, and when I wholeheartedly believe in something, that passion runs deep. I truly believe in the Salas O’Brien Difference, and I can’t wait to show it to potential clients and team members in the Salt Lake City area and tell them about our comprehensive, integrated services.