Getting to Know Kevin Hartig and ESC Engineering, a Q&A Session

EN has partnered with ESC Engineering following its acquisition in early December. Kevin Hartig, president of ESC, sat down with us for a few minutes to share his thoughts about this exciting new partnership within the EN group of companies.

Q: Tell us about yourself and why you chose this industry.

A: I’ve been doing control systems engineering for about 37 years. And, as part of that, I would consider myself a very analytical person. Most people would say very anal (laughs). Engineering became a natural field and very logical for me, but I also have a high demand for variety and continuing challenges, and control systems offer that. Very little of what we do in controls and automation is the same. Some people like continuity and consistency, but I like variety and change. That’s really why I got into this field and why I’ve stayed in it.

Q: What are your interests or hobbies outside of work?

A: Time with family, woodworking, shotgunning–mostly sporting clays, camping, and anything to do with my beloved Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins.

Q: What are the most important things people should know about ESC?

A: That we are focused on relationships, very client-centric. We look at this as ‘engineering made personal.’ We focus on relevant and impactful solutions; not delivering what we want but what we think fits the client’s needs best. We also have a long-term mindset.

Q: What do you mean by long-term mindset?

A: When we talk to candidates, we tell them that careers and wealth are built over time. You don’t land one monster project and retire from it. We think of client relationship development as long-term; we don’t expect to go in and strike a relationship up on day one, and everything’s great. It takes a great deal of investment. With a long-term mindset, we’re not out for the quick, but instead looking to invest over time–the long haul–and that’s why we have 20, 30, and 40-year clients onboard with us.

Q: What are you most passionate about with ESC, and why?

A: I would say two things. We like to have a wide lane for people to operate within. We have people on one end of the spectrum that are very much, “Put the blinders on, give me the work to do, and I’ll do a great job.” They are focused on a project and the details associated with it. Then you go to the other end of the spectrum, and you have people, and I would classify myself on this end, that are SOS people—or ‘shiny object syndrome’ –new software, new market, new client. They are continually looking to grow and move in new directions.  Again, it comes back to that need for variation and stimulus. People can be on either end, but you need people in between as well and it’s that mix of people with different interests that make a company.

I think that’s where we’ve been successful. When people come in, they may start in one area and, over time, gravitate toward another. We try not to pigeonhole anybody or say this is only what you’ll do, and what I love is the fact that we provide people the ability for that variation throughout their career. The other thing that I’m passionate about is that having been here for 32+ years now, I have client relationships and friendships that are 10 or 20 or 30 years old, and I’ve never worked anywhere else where that latitude is given. So, again, I think we look at our business as much more relational than transactional.

Q: What are you most proud of?

A: One of the things I’m most proud of are breakthrough moments with people–when you experience a light bulb moment with someone you’re mentoring or teaching, and that could also be a client, or personal, outside of work. I’m most proud when I can have that kind of impact—work, personal, community, or whatever it might be. It motivates me and energizes me when I can see those moments happen–it’s magical.

Q: Your website talks about the importance of people. Could you tell us more about that?

A: You’ll notice that we don’t have a traditional mission statement. We have five core values and four action statements. Those were done to express an active tense as opposed to passive, the way a lot of mission statements are written. We talk about how we pledge, how we solve, how we value, how we connect, and those are all people-oriented actions. For example, we talk about the fact that we connect with a client. We think the language we use (we forge relationships that outlast contracts) emphasizes that clients are not an invoice, they’re people. They have dreams, they have fears, they have the same stuff to deal with that we do. We’re not just doing a project; we’re impacting somebody’s life. When we make decisions or determinations or give directions, everything we do impacts people, and we want to do it in the best manner possible, to positively influence our clients as well as the team that we have on board.

Q: What differentiates ESC from its competitors?

A: I would say, and you hear this from most companies, we value relationships. However, that is the very core of our ethos, and it’s about the relationship and doing what’s right for people. We may have competitors that say they’re perfect. We’re not. Over the years we’ve made mistakes in projects, but one thing we’ve never ever done–and I can use that kind of exclusive language–we’ve never walked away from a project. Even when we’ve made mistakes, we’ve made it right. One of our core values is to be accountable, and the definition is pretty easy. “What we promise, we deliver.” We are committed to doing the right thing, the right way. It’s who we are.

Q: What similarities does ESC share with EN?

A: For one thing, our logos are very similar. Our marketing company even said, “this looks really weird and it’s like you guys are long-lost cousins.” I noticed the logos when we had our first call in August 2020. Also, our range of work, or our verticals, align very closely with EN. EN is predominantly utilities focused, and we’re predominantly utilities focused. The other verticals are in the industrial or energy space, and then there is automation. From a market positioning standpoint, we’re in lockstep, almost identical. The difference is that EN is more gas-oriented, and we are more electrical-oriented. Also, anytime we’ve had conversations with companies, there have been concerns over culture, especially when you get to larger firms. With EN, we share a similar culture in terms of our focus on people.

Q: What goals do you have for ESC?

A: To win. To me, in business, in life, I do better when I can make a competition out of something; I am very competitive. So, when I say goals, it’s to win. But what does win mean? Well, it can mean growth, it can mean hitting a certain size, it can mean getting into a certain geographic space. It’s being able to achieve the vision that we have set forth in terms of growth and capabilities while bringing our people along for the ride, to provide a means for them to grow and achieve their goals. So, it’s not to say that it comes down to the dollar. But it does come down to one of the reasons that we exist–to create jobs for people that are satisfying. I’d say the overriding goals are to grow, both from a revenue and capability standpoint but also from a people and developmental standpoint.

Q: What challenges does ESC face?

A: I would say that it’s acquiring and retaining talent. It’s a tough market, and that’s our biggest challenge. Beyond that, it would be to navigate a marketplace that’s changing more rapidly than it has in recent memory. With the acquisition by EN, there are many positives in terms of what we’ll be able to do collaboratively, and that is an exciting aspect for us. There will be some challenges, too, like integrating cultures and work styles. But, I don’t see those as big challenges,  they’re more like opportunities where we can learn from each other and get better in the process.

Q: What do you find most interesting about this new partnership?

A: The opportunities. There’s a good deal of market overlap, and I think what compelled us so much in the discussion that led to this partnership was being able to expand what we do and having a partner to do that with. Also, understanding the depth of resources. There are skill sets that EN has that we don’t and that we’ll be able to leverage, and vice versa. I think one of the most compelling things is resource utilization between the companies and the ability for us to learn from what EN has already accomplished, and to help in scaling our organization.

We’re a 43-year-old company integrating with a 20-year-old company. When you’ve been around that long, when you have our success, and when you have some people working here for more than 30 years, you tend to think the way you do it is the best way or the only way. However, I think having that younger company perspective and an outside viewpoint is going to be very beneficial to us because I expect that we’ll be challenged to some degree, and I think that is going to interest and stimulate many people here. I think that will work well to lead process improvement as we move forward.

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