Living Your Values: Q&A with Sundt’s New Austin Area Manager

 |  Civil & Transportation, Sundt People

New Sundt Area Manager Darren Okruhlik reflects on the opportunity and challenge of building a brand in a new region.

As Sundt Transportation Group’s Area Manager in Austin, Texas, Darren Okruhlik has a big job on his hands. There is a rapidly growing need for the construction and upgrades of critical transportation infrastructure in Austin, and Sundt is answering the call. But, breaking into a new region doesn’t come without challenges, and as area manager with a wealth of experience, Darren is ready for the job.

Before coming to Sundt, you led the creation and development of an infrastructure division. Can you tell me more about that process and how your experience lends itself to your new role at Sundt?

Absolutely. I recognized that there was so much work to be done in Central Texas that if I ever wanted to go out and pursue that on my own, that was the time. Not only was I helping to build an entirely new company, but I was also heavily involved in every step of the process of pursuing and executing work as a general contractor. That included finding projects to bid, recruiting personnel, acquiring equipment and materials and so on. And while Sundt isn’t a new company, we’re relatively new to the Austin area. So, we’re up against similar challenges that come along with trying to get our name out there.

What led you to choose a career path in construction?

I always knew I wanted to do something in the construction industry where I could be outdoors and have something tangible to show for my hard work. I attended Texas A&M and got my degree in civil engineering and decided to pursue transportation and heavy civil projects because I knew I could go out on any given jobsite and see progress being made on a daily basis. The visual aspect of the job really motivates me, and the fact that no two days will ever look the same. There’s always something new and exciting to look forward to in this industry.

Sundt’s current transportation work in the area includes the 183 North Mobility Project and the Lake McQueeney and Lake Placid Dam Improvements in Seguin, TX.

What can you tell us about our progress on these projects?

We have a diverse set of projects on our hands right now, which is exciting because it’s allowed us to showcase a wide range of skills and expertise across a number of markets. We have two dam projects: The Lake Placid/Lake McQueeney dams for the Guadalupe Blanco River Authority and Dam 101 for the Upper Brushy Creek Water Control and Improvement District. Then there is the 183 North Mobility Project for the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, which will improve mobility, reduce congestion and provide more reliable travel times for transit and emergency responders along a nine-mile stretch of U.S. 183. Additionally, we are responsible for various civil scopes on a confidential water reclamation facility in Taylor, Texas that falls under our Industrial Group.

What a variety of projects. Can you tell us more about our history of work in Austin?

Previously, our most notable project in the Austin region was with the Austin Bergstrom International Airport when we helped transition the space from a former Air Force base into a new and needed travel hub. That project and our work today is helping to deepen our presence in this area, similar to what we’ve accomplished in other parts of Texas like San Antonio and El Paso. As we build more relationships here, we’re getting involved with the community through outreach like attending industry days to connect with the local workforce. Probably the biggest challenge facing not only our team in Austin but across the entire industry is the workforce shortage. There’s an abundance of opportunity here, but none of that matters if we can’t find the people we need to staff those jobs.

What are some of the solutions we’re implementing at Sundt to attract and retain our skilled workforce in Austin?

I’ve found that most people, especially at Sundt, appreciate that you really feel like part of a family when you’re with Sundt. And I know every company always uses that line “we’re like a family,” but I’ve come to learn that it rings true here. We make sure to follow through on promises and take care of our people, that they’re respected and appreciated. Our projects are truly collaborative in that everyone is encouraged to share their ideas and input, giving everyone a sense of ownership over their work.

Sundt takes this a step further with our ESOP, allowing every employee to also be an owner, so the work they put in every day feels like it actually has an impact on their future. We offer amazing training and career development opportunities to help our people achieve their personal and professional goals. There’s also a high level of flexibility at Sundt, and we encourage our employee-owners to explore their interests, even if that means “losing” a great employee-owner to another group or division. It shows we truly care about our people’s career growth and long-term job satisfaction.

Finally, what advice would you give someone early in their career to set them up for success?

Discover what you’re passionate about and then figure out how that translates into a career. There is no such thing as a “perfect job,” so instead look for companies that align with your values, empower you and encourage you to share your ideas and pursue things that you’re passionate about within that space. It’s about striking a balance between what you love, what you’re good at and what will give you the financial security to achieve your personal goals.

Learn more about what it means to be a Sundt employee-owner.

See more Sundt Texas projects.