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“Surround yourself with the best talent you can find then let them do their jobs” With Penny Bauder & Wendy Lopez

“Surround yourself with the best talent you can find then let them do their jobs. Let them know that you are always available for counsel, but that you are giving them the authority and the responsibility to perform. Secondly, be intentional about promoting female talent up-the-ranks. People complain about not having enough women in the […]

“Surround yourself with the best talent you can find then let them do their jobs. Let them know that you are always available for counsel, but that you are giving them the authority and the responsibility to perform. Secondly, be intentional about promoting female talent up-the-ranks. People complain about not having enough women in the higher ranks of companies, but I have realized that we will only get more women on the senior leadership track if we sponsor them early in their careers.”


As a part of my series about “Lessons from Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Wendy Lopez.

Wendy Lopez’s extensive experience in transportation planning, engineering and project management, combined with her strong understanding of client needs, has helped AECOM, the world’s premier infrastructure firm, provide safe, secure and resilient infrastructure throughout Texas and across the U.S. While she has nearly four decades of experience in transportation consulting in Texas, Lopez has broadened her experience to include large-scale and complex infrastructure projects across the state. She currently serves as Texas Executive, where she spearheads the strategy, growth and leadership of the company’s business in Texas’ major cities: Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.

Formerly as CEO of Lopez & Garcia, she grew her company from a one-person engineering consulting firm to a multi-disciplinary engineering and environmental services company with 200 employees in less than 20 years. She later sold the company to URS Corp. which was later acquired by AECOM in 2008.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I was in high school, one of my teachers asked me if I was going to college. I was a senior at the time, and I replied that I was thinking about it. She then asked me what I would study, and I said teaching. She quickly said I should instead become an engineer, to which I replied, ‘what is an engineer’? Without that conversation, I would have never considered engineering as a career. As they say, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see.’”

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

“When I started my firm, I never dreamed that I would be actively engaged in transactions of buying and selling businesses. After growing the business organically, we started a string of acquisitions and mergers. First, I had a failed attempt to buy a local engineering firm in Dallas (1994), learned a few lessons and bought Tierra Engineering in Santa Fe (1995), then merged with Rudy M Garcia Engineering in 2006 to create LopezGarcia Group. Then we immediately purchased another Texas firm in Bedford (2006), then sold Tierra back to the previous owners, then ultimately sold LopezGarcia to the largest engineering firm in the U.S. in 2008 (AECOM). I had become a transaction mogul, which I never even considered when starting down this path.”

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

“I started Wendy Lopez & Associates, Inc. at the ripe age of 29. When the firm I worked for decided to close its Dallas location, they asked me to move to Fort Worth to work in the office there, but I didn’t want to move as I had only been in Dallas for about three years. At this point in my life, I had saved about $11,000 in my 401(k), had a few thousand dollars in my savings account and had paid off my student loan and my car. My apartment rent was $435 per month. So, I decided it would be a good time for me to start a business. Because, after all, I had this huge savings from which to fund my startup. Funny thing is that it did not take me very long to burn through my savings. Looking back on all that, I didn’t know about starting and running a business. It’s a wonder I survived. I was fearless because I didn’t know that I should have been scared to death. What it taught me was the importance of having enough capital to run a growing business. As they say, cash is king.”

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

“AECOM is the world’s premier infrastructure firm, tackling the most challenging projects all over the world. AECOM is unique in that we bring cutting-edge innovation to the table along with countless resources. When you bring all our offerings to the table, competition is few and far between. The Gordie Howe International Bridge is the best example of AECOM’s challenging projects. The 3P project has multiple components including a six-lane cable-stayed bridge, which will be the longest cable-stayed bridge in North America. It has two ports of entry, an interstate and associated interchanges that span two countries. The ability of the team to navigate three design standards, security requirements for Canada and the U.S. and two currencies is a constant balancing act. The project includes over 600 team members in eight countries and 36 offices plus 26 consultants all working on developing unique and innovative designs for a durable structure with a 125-year design life (typical design life is 50 years). The Gordie Howe International Bridge is set to open in November 2024 with a state-of-the-art de-icing system for the main span cables for the cold climate of the northeast.”

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

“I was recently promoted to Texas Executive, where I’m spearheading the strategy, growth and leadership of the company’s business in Texas’ major cities: Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. I’m thrilled to bring the best of what AECOM has to offer to our clients in Texas. AECOM is also the lead designer on the Pegasus Link Constructors Team to widen and re-construct IH-635 LBJ Freeway in Dallas. The $1.73B project will improve mobility and reduce traffic congestion in this major Dallas-Fort Worth commuter corridor by expanding the facility from 12 lanes to 22 lanes. My role on the project is principal-in-charge. We have over 26 offices across the U.S. working on this very important and fast-tracked project.”

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

“I’m honored to work alongside many female engineers every day. At AECOM, we build diverse teams and create inclusive environments, so employees are empowered with the autonomy to reach their full potentials.

While society has seen the number of women in STEM fields increase over the last 20 years, there is still much to be done. You can no longer wait until high school to encourage girls to consider careers in STEM. Once we have increased the number of workers in STEM, we must be intentional about promoting them. A diverse workplace reflects the diverse world we live in. Women are customers and women bring a unique perspective to projects and teams. Hiring, retaining and promoting women is the right thing to do and is just smart business.”

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

“Having role models is so important to retaining and recruiting more women into STEM and tech fields. While there weren’t many women entrepreneurs running engineering businesses in Texas, I looked up to the three I was familiar with — Georgia Wilson, Nathylene Kennedy and Jana Lloyd. Specifically, I recall sitting in a room full of male engineering firm leaders with Georgia, and I was so impressed by her ability to speak up and be heard. Often it had been my experience that women were invisible in these meetings. It influenced the way I was able to confidently present myself and my ideas to a group that did not look like me. Successful women must take the time to reach out to other women and share their stories of how they took advantage of opportunities or overcame challenges through formal or informal mentoring and coaching.”

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech? Please explain what you mean?

“When I was in college studying engineering, there were only three females in the civil engineering department. All of the guys thought the females must be geniuses or else we wouldn’t be there. Isn’t that funny? Remember, I’m really smart, but I’m not a genius. Ha!”

9What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

“Five Leadership Lessons

  1. Surround yourself with good people and let them do their jobs.
  2. Learn from your mistakes and celebrate successes.
  3. Understand financials — personal and business — and don’t live outside your means.
  4. Build your network — early and often — with people inside and outside of your industry.
  5. Make yourself uncomfortable from time to time — take risks, take on an extra assignment, do something that others don’t want to do but needs to be done.

For me, network building was moving beyond engineering focused societies, and joining business groups such as The Dallas Regional Chamber of Commerce, where I took a leadership role running committees and serving on the Executive Board of Directors.”

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team thrive?

“Surround yourself with the best talent you can find then let them do their jobs. Let them know that you are always available for counsel, but that you are giving them the authority and the responsibility to perform. Secondly, be intentional about promoting female talent up-the-ranks. People complain about not having enough women in the higher ranks of companies, but I have realized that we will only get more women on the senior leadership track if we sponsor them early in their careers.”

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

“Decide how you want to organize your team, select leaders and let them lead. Develop strong trusting relationships with your team leaders. Always be fair and inclusive. Be your authentic self, letting people know you. And be genuine in your interest in each member of your team both professionally and personally. Inspiring others includes understanding that the sacrifices that person makes impacts not just that person, it also impacts their family. In the early days of Wendy Lopez and Associates, we had a small team and sometimes that team needed to work late or on weekends to deliver projects for our clients. During some of the more intense projects, I would send flowers, movie tickets or a simple thank you note to their families, so they knew I valued their contribution to our success.”

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

“In the very early days of Wendy Lopez & Associates, I hired the father of a friend, John Robertson. John had recently shut down his construction company and was sort of semi-retired. His daughter asked me to talk to him about what he might do in his next phase of life. We hit it off and he joined my company as Employee Number 2 (I was Number 1). He taught me how to read financial statements, and I taught him how to design water lines. He pushed me to market the company and stretch myself. He was a great sounding board, and he challenged me to think big. Unfortunately, five years into our journey, John passed away from brain cancer. I think he would have been pleased with the way I grew the firm.”

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

“I believe in the adage, ‘To whom much is given, much is expected.’ I try to bring goodness to the world with how I spend my time and anonymous financial donations. The cause closest to my heart is helping other women succeed. I meet with new women business owners and share the lessons I learned as an entrepreneur; I meet with young women starting their career and talk to them about the importance of getting out of their comfort zone; and I donate to organizations that help women such as ‘dress for success.’”

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

“I hope to inspire more people to see the value of equality — intentional inclusion of diversity on teams: including a strong mix of women, minorities and the younger generation.”

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Please share how it’s relevant to you in your life.

“I think good things happen to good people, so live your best life. Be kind and treat everyone as you would like to be treated.

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou

Treating people with care and kindness is not hard to do, just try to practice ‘Random Acts of Kindness.’ For example, if I am at a restaurant and see one of my team members having lunch, I will pick up the tab without telling them.”

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the U.S. with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

“Barack Obama: He is a brilliant leader. He is thoughtful, sincere, likeable and optimistic. Yes We Can!”

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