In 1966, the company that is now LJB Inc. began as many engineering firms do — as a sole proprietorship led by an innovative and entrepreneurial engineer who worked from his home. In the last 50 years, the company has grown into a 120-person firm that provides civil and structural engineering, architectural, environmental, and safety services, with offices in five states.
Following the legacy of its founder, Bill Lockwood, LJB has implemented a number of innovations throughout its history. For example, the firm has been awarded several patents related to structural design details for tilt-up concrete buildings and for a modular precast system for bridges, culverts, and underground structures. The firm is also internationally recognized for its expertise in fall protection consulting and design, which stemmed from a synthesis of expertise in structural engineering and behavioral safety.
About a decade ago, the firm was planning a major reorganization and decided that the best way to instigate long-term, sustainable change was to start with an analysis of what makes the company tick. The leadership group conducted surveys, interviewed staff, and delved into company history to develop a core purpose supported by core values. Today, LJB operates with a core purpose to improve the quality of life.
"While this core purpose could sound like a generic brand tagline, it is truly what drives our day-to-day behaviors," said LJB CEO Rod Sommer. "It's what motivated our founders, and it's what we do every day when our designs help motorists get safely to their destination, or protect someone working at heights."
Through the research and reflection process, the team recognized that it has also held on to the three fundamental core values that helped the firm grow in the early years. These are not just mottos the employees tap into at work. They are core values that the team lives every day: Integrity defines us, quality distinguishes us, and service fulfills us. These words are on every desk at LJB, and they are etched into all the exterior doors at the company's headquarters.
In late 2015, when the marketing and management teams began thinking about ways to celebrate LJB's milestone anniversary, they balked at the idea of hosting an open house or creating a piece to document its successes over the years. While those are fine ways to celebrate, the team wanted something more meaningful that focuses on what the company and its people can offer the community — rather than shining a spotlight on itself.
Two veterans of the firm's marketing department had participated in the firm's 40th anniversary campaign in 2006 — a nationwide essay contest for K-12 students, challenging them to develop an innovation that could impact the world in the next 40 years. LJB received more than 2,500 entries to the contest and provided scholarships for the top entrants in each age group. The team remembered how fulfilling it was to celebrate its anniversary by inspiring and giving back to others.
To further highlight LJB's core value — Service Fulfills Us — the company decided to commemorate its 50th anniversary by making 2016 a Year of Service. Throughout the year, LJB staff and their families are engaging in 50 acts of service for various organizations, supporting a variety of causes.
"When we announced our plans for our anniversary celebration, it was clear that service really does fulfill our employees," said Sommer. "We received more than 40 ideas for service projects from our staff within the first week of the initiative. And, we've had amazing participation from our staff so far."
To date, the company has completed 20 of the 50 acts of service. Several of the projects have been related to STEM education and mentoring prospective engineers — including involvement in a miniature bridge building event in northeast Ohio, an engineering competition for K-12 students in Houston, and a science fair near the company's headquarters in Dayton, Ohio. The staff has also participated in a number of collections, including donations for a local homeless shelter, books for an urban school district, and professional clothes for those looking to re-enter the workforce.
Several employees suggested conducting a blood drive, and the company chose to participate in an annual event in memory of local police officer John Kalaman, who was killed in the line of duty in 1998. More than 50 LJB employees and family members signed up to donate blood during the event in April and provided a windfall of support for the event.
One of the larger scale acts of service the firm has engaged in is a project-based learning (PBL) initiative. Using the PBL model, students learn by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge. In this case, the challenge was to program and design a new elementary school to replace the current outdated building.
To assist with this PBL, designers from LJB worked with fourth-grade students from Mills Lawn Elementary School in Yellow Springs, Ohio. LJB team members visited the school on several occasions to guide the students in the steps to develop a functional design. The teacher, Brian Knostman, divided the class into six working teams (hallways, offices, traditional classrooms, special rooms, outside activities, and general building).
After designing and conducting surveys to better understand the needs and wants of the teachers, students, and staff, the students worked on programming, floor plans, elevations, finishes, technologies, and site features. They also researched potential innovations, such as a rainwater retention cistern and geothermal radiant heating and cooling. Finally, the students presented their concepts at a community open house and to the school board.
"They went from funky bubble designs to something really functional," Knostman said. "The kids are coming up with everything and working through the challenges that come with a project like this. The LJB team asked good, challenging questions and helped guide them through the process."
"We could actually make the school. Instead of just writing stuff down, we actually get to work with real things," said fourth grader Isaac Grushon. "Our goal is to make the school for the next generation. It makes me feel really good because it's helping other people."
"This has been a very rewarding experience for us," said LJB Principal and Project Manager Tom Boardman. "It's been inspiring to see how the students work together, solve problems, and focus on the impact they can have on their community — it's like seeing our act of service multiplied."
The company is tracking all its acts of service through its Twitter account (@LJBInc), using the hashtags #ServiceFulfillsUs and #LJB50. By sharing the variety of service projects the company participates in, the LJB team hopes to inspire clients, partners, and staff to serve even more. "We truly hope that our 50 acts get multiplied to make an even greater impact," Sommer said.
"I am proud to say that service fulfills our employees every day," Sommer said. "Our passion for service doesn't end in 2016, but I'm excited to see the impact we're making with our special year of service, and how it further exhibits our commitment to client and community service."