ECMS - Meg Tidd, VIP Structures

Posted on May 16, 2024

Economic Champions Mini Series - Meg Tidd, VIP Structures

This is the Talk CNY Economic Champions miniseries, presented by NBT Bank, a podcast by CenterState CEO, Central New York's premier leadership and economic development organization. This series will shine a light on local businesses making an impact in our community and driving our regional economy forward. Whether it's new jobs, company milestones, business expansions, investments in operations, or DEI initiatives. Join us as we celebrate CNY's economic champions.

At VIP structures, we are focused on finding a better way for one another for our communities and for our planet. Hi, and welcome to this Talk CNY Mini Series: Economic Champions. This is our first episode of the mini series, and we are here today with Meg Tidd, CEO of VIP Structures, and I'm your host, Kate Hammer and also local business coach. Meg, thank you so much for joining us today. Absolutely. Thank you for having me. Awesome. So one thing that I love so much about this miniseries is that we get to take a moment to celebrate and to inspire the other business owners around us about all the great things that are happening right now in our local economy. Yeah. So first what we'll do is we'll learn a little bit about who you are and what VIP Structures does, and then we'll get a little bit more into the growth in the region and what you've been seeing there, what you're noticing generally, and also for VIP Structures, in particular.

So yeah, let's kick it off and hear about Meg. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Yeah, absolutely. So I have been with the company for about 12 years now. I started at VIP on the sales and marketing side. Eventually went into operating and then became our CEO about three years ago. My background was actually not at all how I ended up at the company. My background is actually in music, and I had many twists and turns along the way. Eventually got my MBA at the University of Rochester at the Simon School, and then eventually ended up at the company bringing me where I am now. Yeah. Now one might think, okay, music background, how did this all come together? But actually, it makes a lot of sense. Can you talk a little bit about why you think those things can align? This is super interesting because this is something I'm very passionate about.

I think that music, and there are tremendous studies out there, whether it's music, arts, performance, whatever that looks like, it paves the way for presence, paved the way for confidence, and really paves the way for hard work. And if I tell anybody anything, it's outwork the next person beside you. And I think that music and my background in music, it required a focus and openness to failure. Yeah, that's a big one, right? Because if you're going to do it, you're going to fail and you're going to fail a lot. And you have to be able to the next day have some sort of delusion of like, 'yes, I failed, but it's going to be better today. It's cool. No big deal. Maybe today is the day I succeed.' So there are just many attributes about it. And so I had been talking to you a little bit earlier today.

I'm going to talk to a lot of other folks about this, that I'm a huge proponent of my children being in music and really getting them on stage. And not because I necessarily have this future life for them that's on stage and acting and doing all this, but because I know it will build their confidence because I know they'll be able to hold on conversations longer, that they'll be able to have conversations with adults and shake hands and make eye contact. I mean, all of those things are fundamental basics of being on stage and music and performing. Yes. Fundamental basics. Yes, absolutely. That ability to perform, show up, ad-lib in the moment. Yes, think on your feet. We love these things for us and for our children. And so yeah, I think that's a really interesting path and perhaps can open up the minds of our listeners a little bit about what's possible when we think about leadership and our preparation for that.

Right, absolutely. So, as you moved up into the position, can you tell us a little bit about what was going on with the company and the leadership? Absolutely. So when I came on 12 years ago, started as a marketing intern. And I would say that was really the turning point for us as a company to start thinking about what does the next generation look like? So our company next year will actually be 50 years old. So when I had stepped in at the time, we were starting to think about our 40th anniversary and what does that look like and think about what does that succession look like. So my entire 12 years of the company has really been marked by taking it from a first-generation entrepreneurial company to an established, mature, second-generation company. And with that, and for anybody who's been through this process, has just a lot of moving parts, a lot of feelings across the board, and a lot of transitions from one position and one person and retiring and things like that.

So for me, I am exceptionally lucky. First generation, my father, Dave Nutting, really went through the transitional process relatively flawlessly. You hear about a lot of companies where the founder digs their heels in, they're not ready to move on, they don't want to think about the next steps. They don't even want to have the conversation over what's happening. He was not that way at all and has never been. And to this day remains to very much be somebody who's in our corner, rooting for us, wanting to see myself and now our eight-person leadership team thrive and succeed. So in my time as CEO, we have brought on three new senior leadership team members. We have continued through that process of, okay, this person may be retiring, they don't get to leave tomorrow, they're going to stick with us for a few years. That's a tenet of how we go through this process of how do we make sure we get to work alongside with them for a while so that someday they're not just gone and we're wondering what we do now.

So we have had that happen in multiple cases with many of our generational transfers from that first generation to the second generation. Yeah. Yeah. I love how that demonstrates your value of that institutional knowledge and of that person's energy and effort throughout that time. It's not just a stay around, we're going to make you do this. It's more like an honoring of everything that they've brought. Well, and the beauty is it allowed us, so first- generation entrepreneurial companies, and my dad will be the first one to say that this is the case, fly by the seat of our pants. We are just going to get it done. Land and the work. Do the work. Get it done. At some point that can truncate your growth and the chances and what that growth can really look like. At some point, you need the standard operating procedures and you need the rigor.

And somehow my role has been finding that balance between maintaining the entrepreneurial spirit and putting in some more guidelines and some more rigor. So by allowing this transition with these folks, we're not losing the institutional knowledge and we can actually tap into them and say, 'Hey, this is what we're looking to do now. We're really looking to put these processes into place. Help us. What would you do? How would you help us and coach us through this as well?' So it's a much more collaborative process for all of us with an eye to what's it going to look like in 5, 10, 15 years. We're all planning for that future. Yes. And one of the things that you did in order to guide in this new era was create this tagline about finding a better way. Can you talk to us a little bit about that? Yeah.

We went through a rebranding exercise in 2015 and had a really, really fantastic team. Sean Comer, his group really worked through that with us. This was in-house? No, this was actually we with a company called Mindshare. So Shawn Comer oversees Mindshare, and at the time, Mindshare worked right alongside us and really worked with us in a highly strategic capacity. So less like - we're just going to prescribe this - more of the - let's sit in with you for a year or so and work through what's the brand going to work like. Yeah, very cool. So great partners. And out of that, in 2015 came our tagline, A Better Way to Build, and we lived with it for a while. You live with it, you experience it. Our previous tagline had been Architects who Build, as you can imagine, the world has had a really hard time letting go of that original tagline and going to A Better Way to Build what we started to find really around 2020,

and then really going into the pandemic, was a better way to build quickly became a better way, a better way, quickly became a better way for our people. It quickly meant our people looking for a better way to execute on the work. It took on this adaptation until it really ended up that our purpose is to find a better way for one another, for our people and for our planet. And when we say people, we really mean community, so not just our individual people like the surrounding Syracuse community, and there's an ethos behind that. And then for one another, how we take care of each other and then obviously the planet and what that looks like. Yeah. I love how that generates so much purpose for everyone as they're showing up every day. There's that guiding line. It's very clear, and it really does have a feeling behind it.

You said ethos. How does that inform the way it feels to work at VIP? I think one of the things, and I should probably ask my people about this, one of the big things for us with a better way. So I went on a vision tour back in 2021, and then we did another one in 2023. And all that meant was I met with small groups of our employees and made sure we met with every one of our employees within these groups and asked things like, what does a better way mean for you? What does it mean for the company? What can we be doing better? What does the next five years look like? So just some really open, what are we fighting for and things like that. What I learned out of those vision tours in what is so important about a better way is a better way could mean something different to you as it means to me, but the emphasis is - do better.

Keep pushing. Look for that thing, and it's okay that a better way is different. It may mean that someone out on the job site thinks a better way is how are we organizing this job site so things are more accessible, so it's clean so our clients feel safe. A better way could mean a standard operating procedure and how we're doing that and a better way could be how are we recycling all of our construction waste and what does that look like? That is where it really has an impact on the company because one of the ways to maintain that entrepreneurial spirit, and one of the things we really wanted to do with that entrepreneurial spirit was to say, what can you do? Don't come with all the things that are wrong, don't come with everything that's broken. You come with the solutions, you come with a better way, and you show up to the table with that better way, and it's got to be a better way.

You believe in something you care about, something that you want to have an impact with. And I really think that that's helped maintain the entrepreneurial spirit. So that you don't go from the first generation exciting startup mode to all of a sudden sort of this mature, overly processed company. I wanted, and we wanted to make sure we found that middle line, and I think it has allowed us to do that. Yeah, I like that you said middle line, because it really does create that balance between, okay, yes, I am responsible for that, but also there's creativity in that. There's openness in that, which is really lovely and enjoyable, frankly. So I had the pleasure of actually getting a tour of your new office space. That's been up for about a year now. Is that right? Yeah, one year. Yeah. And truly, when you're walking around in this environment, you are able to see this demonstrated. This idea of finding a better way.

You have all of these moments throughout the office where you're showcasing specifically how are you making those contributions to the planet or keeping that environmental piece in mind and how are you contributing or raising up your community? There's many showcases of local artists. There's a beautiful mural in the space. So even in the space, it feels like it's really translated through, and that seems quite intentional. Yes. Very intentional. Yeah. Yeah. Awesome. So what we haven't talked about yet is what does VIP Structures actually do? Who is the customer? How do you exist? What problem do you solve? Yeah, absolutely. All really good questions. Yeah. So VIP is a fully integrated architecture, engineering, construction, and real estate development company. And I'll rewind a little bit of our history to give you why we are where we are today. Please. Yes. So Dave started the company in 1975.

He was an architect by training at Cornell University, and from day one, he didn't understand why the building process would be blown apart at these major junctures. So why would you use an architect over here and then a totally different construction company, and then why would you have somebody else property manage it? So his dream from day one was to be a fully integrated, design, build company and have everybody in-house and be able to just move here, move there, go to desks and problem solve together. So it started out as construction and architecture in 1985, we had a client come to us and they're like, Hey, listen, they're industrial client. We don't want to own our facilities. Can you guys just own our facilities for us? We said, all right, sure. We've always been that way as a company. We will figure it out.

Let's work on this with you. What we did in that though was with this client in particular, they were a glass bottle manufacturer. They were manufacturing their product in one building and then they were shipping their product into other buildings and storing and warehousing those products and these other buildings. So upon taking on the ownership, we said, listen, we need to have your manufacturing in one facility, but your warehousing needs to be contiguous to where we're manufacturing. And so we were able to connect it accordingly, and they were able to save as much in what they were paying in shipping costs as what they were paying us in rent. So we followed them around to about 10 locations in the U.S., a little over 3 million square feet for them all told. So that was how we really got our start in real estate development. Then 2009, we brought on Sam Cosamano. We had been teaming with him at the SU Green Data Center, and he was a tremendous engineer out of Utica and said, 'Hey, you're sort of like the last puzzle piece to this whole thing. Come and join us and start the engineering firm.' And so that's 2009 is when we really had all the pieces together fully integrated.

Our work is about 50% industrial, so each one of our companies, there's some nuance in that, but from an integrated perspective, about 50% of our work is within the industrial sector, warehousing, distribution, manufacturing, large facilities. The other 50% is projects like this one that we're sitting in today. So mixed use, historic rehab. We do a lot of commercial office space and then private medical and education space. But to go back a moment, our sweet spot is to be able to have that integration at the table. So because we have owned and operated, so we have historically owned and operated a fair bit of space, we currently own and operate a fair bit of space, so we understand what it is to own and operate manufacturing space, office space, medical office space. We know that there's the cost to build a project, but then there's the cost to operate that building from day one when we turn over those keys.

When we work with our clients, that's the perspective we're trying to bring to the table for every conversation. It's a lot more consultative, a lot more, this is what we did in our project, here's what you should consider on your project. Here's some of the barriers we faced, and here's what we maybe would've done differently on our projects for you to consider. So that long story short is what we as a company do. Awesome. Well, that's terrific. And you mentioned this building in particular. So we are recording from the CenterState CEO offices, and you noted that there are some other things happening in this building such as... Well, so we took on this project, so Pike Block as we title, it was a project that was started back in 2009. It was one of, and is, to this day probably one of our proudest projects.

It is a project in which in many ways we were invited to the table by the movers and shakers within the community who knew they really wanted to do something with these four buildings. And so we got invited to come along on the journey and spent a lot of time figuring out how do you take these four buildings? How do you turn them into apartments? So there's apartments, how do we turn them into retail? Things like Original Grain, how do we turn them into commercial office space CenterState CEO, and Downtown Committee, and how do we use historic tax credits and all of those things. So this project is an example of when we can bring ourselves together all four of our companies and then team with all of our clients to say, okay, what does this project need to be? What does it need to look like and what impact can it have on the community?

So that's one piece I haven't really talked about, but it's really one of our tenets and one of our tenets of the future when I talk to our employees that when we design and build, because we control so many aspects of the project, we can really think about what is the impact of that project on the community, the impact of the human experience within that facility, and how are we doing better and finding a better way for the community. I love that. And it's in this space downtown where you operate, and that must be all the more special to you as well, just the location itself specifically. Right? Yeah, and I like that you mentioned impact too, because where I want to shift the conversation into is just if you could share with us your general excitement for this anticipated growth that we've been talking about for the last 18 months or so since the big Micron announcement in fall of 2022.

How are you feeling? Oh, it's so, oh, this is so interesting. So I was thinking about this question a lot. I hear it a lot. I'm seeing it a lot. It's everywhere. And feeling is the exact question. How are you feeling? Because it is that it is a feeling. We as a company, we get asked a lot of, what are you doing to prepare and what are you, it's interesting because a lot of in the generational transfer, a lot of what we've gone through in the last full 12 years that I've been there, but really in the last three years has been around what that transfer looks like, which happens to lend itself to having prepared for what's happening in the region, which is great. But when I sit around and I talk to my leadership team, we can all feel it. The clients. So there's a lot of clients that are coming to us that are from outside the area.

There's a lot of clients that are coming to us who are, when I say outside the area, who are overseas-based, which for us is exciting because there's some really great tremendous standards on environmental requirements and things like that. So we always get excited. There is an excitement. I'm starting to see actually coming from the Central New York community. In a way that we've always sort of been a community that's like nothing's ever going to work and we're going to find everything wrong with it. I am seeing the shift. I'm seeing the shift in some of the biggest naysayers. So it's exciting. Our team is really excited to be here and be here in this moment, but it's hard to outline exactly what it is, just this energy, it's this feeling. And you really know because you've been here. When we met previously, you mentioned that you grew up in Scaneateles. And I know this, I'm born and raised in Syracuse as well, but you really know. It wasn't just something that you noticed a couple of decades ago.

You remember that vibe from childhood, right? Oh, absolutely. Yeah, for sure, for sure. Yeah. And it is difficult to describe outward for anyone who hasn't had that lifelong experience here of that shift, but it is palpable. Someone said to me recently, and I think you'd like this, I was thinking about you. They had been talking about, it's a business owner here locally, and they had been talking about expanding their business elsewhere. And they had been talking about getting on a plane and expanding their business, and they had a meeting the next day and they actually called and they canceled their meeting. This person and I had this great conversation where they're like, if we're going to invest our time and our energy and our money, why are we going outside of Central New York? Why aren't we investing it right here? Yes, it was so good, so good.

And then everyone was like, yeah. Why aren't you? Yes, that's a great point. Yes. Don't do it. Yes. So you mentioned that you've been asked a few different times. What have you done so far of VIP Structures to adapt to set yourselves up for this new era? Yeah, and my reaction and my response has always been, it just so happens that a lot of the changes we've been making in the last three years as a generational company have set us. But, yeah, it actually works out really, really well. So some of the things that we've gone through, again, being a founder-led company and then going into that second generation is not an easy feat for any company. So some of the things that we have done as a company is really figure out, okay, how are we established as a family company? What is the impact we as a family want to have on the community?

And really starting to think about that intentionally and what are the values of the family, and then what are the values of the company? How do they all tie together? And then what is that impact going to look like? So that has been a lot of conversations around community. Dave has always said, we wouldn't be the company we are today if Syracuse hadn't accepted him in this community the way they did nearly 50 years ago. So a lot of community-based, which means how are we creating opportunities for underserved communities? How are we creating opportunities for women? How are we creating opportunities in general for youth and what that could look like and how are we creating apprenticeships? So we put a lot of energy over the last three years around our employee retention, around building employee-based programs. So we have programs where we have outside leaders come into the company and speak with small groups of people.

We are trying more and more to take grant dollars and be able to say, okay, what training is out there? What are the grants that are out there? So over the last three years, we have really bolstered these programs through our people operations department and really tried to put a lot of focus there, and I think it has really paid off for us. I had mentioned a little bit about just making sure that we as a company can handle the growth. So really a tenant of my time when I was a chief operating officer for three years was how do we take a company that has been extremely successful but has always sort of hit a ceiling? Because that tends to be what happens if you don't have those procedures in place for growth, and how do we lay that framework for growth? So during those three years, we spent a ton of time on just best business practices, communication, communication with clients, and what that looks like.

So then going into my CEO role, the team has spent a lot of time on, okay, what is now that continuous improvement? So how do we make sure that when we land that next great client, we can be the best company and partner for that client possible? And the very basis of that is just making sure we have it together as a baseline, as a company that we know where to find a piece of paper or it sounds so simple, but it's really not. It's actually highly complicated and something we spent a lot of time doing. We then also spent a lot of time as a company thinking about our culture. So we brought on our chief people strategist five years ago, almost six years ago now, Cynthia Hernandez, and she put on the proverbial boxing gloves and basically took a 45-year established company and really turned the ship of culture, which is really tough to do, but it has placed us in a spot that allows us to think bigger.

Where's the world headed in three years? Where's it headed in five years? Another small, but big thing to us is that we are majority women-owned now in the majority of our companies, which is interesting because we get employees coming to us saying, I want to work for a women-owned and women-led company. Yes, I want to be there. These are my core values. Here's how they align. It's not something I necessarily anticipated to be totally honest with you, and yet we've seen some major outcomes in that regard and we're going to push that forward. And so yeah, we've put a lot of this framework in place. We've really been poising ourselves for growth thinking that that growth was actually going to come outside of Central New York. So we've been really thinking, how do we structure ourselves? How do we make sure we're ready to go so that when those projects come from across the country, we're good to go.

And then lo and behold, they're happening here and we didn't expect it and it's fabulous. But because of that planning and intention, it ended up setting you up in such a way where now you can receive that here and meet that demand and interest and growth here. As you look forward, what sorts of opportunities or intentions do you have down the line when we think about the future as a company? And when I think about what that's going to look like, it's less rooted in, for lack of a better term, it's less rooted in best business practices and who's that next big client? And what hat's our revenue going to look like? What's the growth trajectory look like? It is way more rooted in how do we keep doing better? How do we keep doing more? How do we keep showing up for this community?

Well, Meg, thank you so much for spending some time here today and sharing your story and about some of the wonderful things that have been happening with VIP Structures. Thank you so much for having me. It is wonderful to be here. I love chatting with you every time and have so much fun. Yes, the fun. We love the fun. So, Meg, if our listeners want to find you or learn more about VIP Structures, where would you tell them to go? LinkedIn. You can find us Instagram. We have a Pinterest page, we've got our website, and then we've got a blog on our website as well. So all sorts of avenues to finding us. Okay, awesome. We'll get those links in the show notes, all the good things. Thank you so much again. Awesome. Thank you so much. Alright,

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