Matt Cummings, P.E., Leads T.Y. Lin International’s Efforts to Affiliate Infrastructure Firms Under Dar Group Umbrella
By Richard Massey
He’s already done plenty of meet-and-greets and traveled many thousands of miles. That Matt Cummings, P.E., would journey across the world and connect with some of the AEC industry’s most talented people was a foregone conclusion when, in April, he was named president and CEO of T.Y. Lin International (TYLI) Group.
Indeed, the United States, Asia, the Middle East, and Europe comprise the grand stage from which Cummings will spearhead his most ambitious project yet – creating an affiliation of global infrastructure companies, all of them under TYLI’s parent company, the Dar Group, that can compete with the world’s largest firms for the world’s largest projects.
Simple enough, right? Recruited out of mega-firm AECOM, where over the course of more than 26 years he shaped both his technical and management expertise, Cummings said he’s invigorated by the entrepreneurial spirit baked into the DNA of a smaller, privately-owned company.
Plus, Cummings said he’s honored to have his hand on the reins of a firm like TYLI. Founded in 1954 by Chinese engineering prodigy Tung-Yen Lin, the firm does half its business in China and Southeast Asia, but is headquartered in California with offices throughout the Americas and Asia. The firm, old and prestigious, has a sterling brand, particularly in the field of bridge building.
“That made a big difference for me,” Cummings said, referring to the firm’s global reputation for exceptional work.
He likes to build collaborative teams, a must in the AEC world. Just as important, however, is the process of managing integration, something Cummings saw a lot of during his years at AECOM, and something he will have to do, and on a global scale involving thousands of people, in the years ahead.
Emerging as the top candidate in a wide-ranging executive search, Cummings, a bridge builder himself, seems to be a natural fit for TYLI. In the press release announcing his hire, Cummings voiced his enthusiasm for the new opportunity.
“T.Y. Lin International has established itself as the go-to firm for solutions to the most difficult engineering challenges,” he said. “We are globally recognized for setting the standards for excellence, innovation, and incomparable technical solutions. I look forward to building on our momentum and furthering the firm’s legacy of delivering remarkable infrastructure projects.”
He succeeds former President and CEO Alvaro J. Piedrahita, P.E., who transitioned to a new role as Chairman of the Board of Directors of TYLI Group.
Cummings, who holds a bachelor’s in civil engineering from Lehigh University and completed the Wharton Management Program at The Wharton School, now finds himself at the top. But with more than 30 years in the business, he had to work for what he’s got. His recipe for success is pretty simple: “It takes perseverance, some good fortune, and a lot of diplomacy along the way. You don’t give up.”
A Q&A with Matt Cummings
C+S: After more than 26 years at AECOM, you were named President and CEO of T.Y. Lin International Group. What opportunity did you see at TYLI that you did not see at AECOM?
TYLI has a storied brand and reputation in the marketplace. It’s a great opportunity that Dar Group represents, to tie the infrastructure pillar companies in an affiliated way and as a collaborative partnership. The companies include T.Y. Lin International, Landrum & Brown, Ross & Baruzzini, Integral Group, and GPO Group. TYLI is a smaller, private entity with real entrepreneurial spirit. This is a challenging opportunity to strike out in a slightly different way in the same industry.
C+S: You worked for one of the giants of the industry for a quarter of a century. Still, TYLI is a big firm, an old firm, and a prestigious firm that has plenty of signature projects in its portfolio, like the elevated bridges in Taiwan, the Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge, and the Eastern Span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. What’s it like being the president and CEO of a firm with the brand value of TYLI?
It’s really a privilege to work for TYLI and to build on the great brand. T.Y. Lin, the person, is an inspiration as an original innovator in bridge design. It’s a happy coincidence to land at TYLI as I am a former bridge engineer. I have a lot of respect for the professionals that build these beautiful structures.
C+S: The press release announcing your position says you plan to “leverage the strength of and unite the various global infrastructure affiliates” beneath parent company the Dar Group. The parent company employs nearly 19,000 people in 296 offices in 59 countries and has annual revenue of about $2.4 billion. Tying all this together would seem like a Herculean task. What kinds of resources, and over what kind of timeframe, must you deploy to make this happen?
This is going to be an evolution. It won’t have a hard beginning with a hard end. It’ll be a journey with milestones along the way, measured more in years rather than months. It will be a thoughtful journey. We have great staff and leadership at TYLI and at the other firms. They will all contribute to making the strategy successful.
C+S: As you assess the various companies in the process of bringing them together, what are a few of the key things you will be looking for – what do you need to find to make this endeavor successful?
It all starts with people. Being new to the enterprise, I’m getting to know all the people and their leadership and capabilities, both within TYLI and our affiliate companies. To date, I have visited locations within the U.S. I’ll be visiting our Asia locations, and then Jordan, to discuss strategy with Dar leadership, followed by a trip to Europe to meet with affiliates there. It’ll be important to not only form a collaboration, but to also ensure the success and health of each entity. I’ll also keep an eye on the health, prosperity and growth of TYLI, and the other firms, looking at the broader strategy of collaboration. The collaborative concept has been formulating over the years. We’re coming together to thoughtfully bring all the people and companies along using a well aligned strategy. I’m a connector at heart and feel strongly about forming teams and supporting collaboration among people.
C+S: As you seek to bring the various pieces of the Dar Group together, what is expected to be the biggest challenge to overcome?
Any kind of change and overcoming the inertia of the way things have been done, is always a challenge. We must work hard to overcome it, but it’s not insurmountable. With thoughtful communication, transparency, and laying out a strong, clear strategy and approach, we’ll succeed.
C+S: What is the timeline on the formation of this new group?
This is an exciting time with high potential, but nothing will happen overnight. There will be no radical shifts in the TYLI brand. We’re engaged in a thoughtful process aimed at close collaboration among companies to be able to deliver large, complex projects around the world. Collaboration among firms under the Dar Group’s Infrastructure pillar, and across pillars, will allow us to compete with the largest firms for the largest global projects.
C+S: When you have brought the companies together for an expanded, global presence, what would be the goal of the new entity?
To deliver our specialized expertise across a broader global platform. To provide opportunities for our people to excel.
C+S: Dar Group’s mission is to create sustainable communities worldwide. What does that mean to you and how do you go about realizing the mission?
Along with all our people here, I take great pride in designing the beautiful structures and infrastructure in their communities. We live where the projects are built, and there’s a great source of pride in delivering on needed infrastructure that the communities and all our people value.
C+S: You are, and have been, a global player. When you were at The Wharton School, did you see this type of future ahead of you?
This opportunity combines the experience I’ve cultivated over my career of 30 years, my training that includes Wharton, my engineering background, and my entrepreneurial spirit. This is the perfect opportunity for me. At the foundation, I’m an engineer. I’m passionate about building a better world and building the infrastructure that our society and communities need.
Wharton certainly pointed me in a good direction, but I didn’t envision everything playing out the way it has. As a mid-career engineer at the time, Wharton helped round-out my business, strategy, and leadership skills. It gave me the exposure I needed to realize you can do important things and change your path from technical to business leadership, and that’s been a valuable lesson.
Richard Massey is managing editor of Zweig Group publications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.