New Pond & Company CEO Lorraine Green, “Take Care of Your Employees; They’ll Take Care of You”
At 56 years old, Pond & Company, an architecture, engineering, and planning company, has only had a handful of leaders. First was founder Al Pond, then Tony Parker, then in July 2021, Lorraine Green was named CEO. In her 13 years at the 550-person firm in Peachtree Corners, Green has consistently risen through the ranks from program director to president and now CEO. But Green’s history with Pond began long before joining the company.
Before Pond, Green ran her own company, Green Environmental & Corrosion, which partnered with Pond on energy projects for more than 18 years. When she was ready to make a career transition, Pond offered her a full-time position leading its energy group. Green said she knew it would be a good fit since Pond’s people-centric philosophy has always mirrored her own.
“Even though I wasn’t an employee, I got to know the organization pretty closely over those 18 years,” Green said. “It was an incredibly comfortable move because I had known them for so long. I knew their mission and how they treated their clients and their people. It really fell in line with my values.”
Now, as CEO, Green hopes to continue to usher Pond through the transition of being a leading regional company to a national and worldwide competitor. Pond was recently named the number one engineering firm in Atlanta by the Atlanta Business Chronicle and has spent the last several years building the necessary infrastructure to be able to support even larger efforts.
“We’re working on some really exciting projects now that put us in the same league as some of the largest engineering firms in the United States, and the world for that matter. It’s getting us noticed and helping us attract incredible new talent into the fold,” Green said.
Though the company has changed tremendously in terms of numbers, size and goals over the several decades, owner and founder Al Pond’s original philosophy about how to take care of people has continued to permeate Pond’s culture.
“What we really want to make sure doesn’t change is our philosophy about how we take care of our clients and how we take care of our people. The culture of a company is what it’s all about,” Green said. “And that’s what I want to make sure never changes.”
One of the ways in which she plans to support this philosophy throughout her tenure is putting an emphasis on employee retention – making Pond a place for people to grow their careers.
“It’s incumbent upon us as leaders of an organization to really focus on creating opportunities for people at all levels in our organizations. And that means not only training, mentoring and leading, but also listening and finding out what excites employees,” she said.
Green has learned that by listening to what excites employees about potential for career growth, leaders can help their employees formulate plans and continue to have intentional conversations about professional growth. This enables employees to feel like they have a voice in their career plan and gives space for leaders to provide honest, constructive feedback on where employees fit within the company.
“It’s those intentional conversations that will really help drive great relationships with our employees,” said Green.
Employee retention is an especially hot topic at present given the glut of opportunities and dearth of qualified talent. Women, in particular, are difficult to retain, especially in the engineering field. According to the Society of Women Engineers, only 30 percent of women who earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering are still working in the field 20 years later.
To try to lessen that loss of talent, Green said it’s imperative for employers not to fall into the trap of assuming all women are motivated by the same things. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution,” she said. “The key is finding different ways women can engage and contribute.”
“Early in my career, I felt like a woman had to be “one of the boys” to succeed. That has changed dramatically in the last 10 years. Now, people are very conscious of the enormous contributions that women make and are eager to include us in the larger network. We make an impact in a big way,” Green said.
Over the last 10 years Green has seen a growing number of women graduating with technical degrees and an increasing focus on workforce diversity. Green also noted that advances in mobile technology have provided more flexibility for women (and men) to work from home, take meetings from remote locations, and be present for both their families and work. “We really can have it all, a family, a home, a career,” she said, “and it is to our advantage as employers to offer everyone the flexibility they need to lead a balanced life.”
Another way in which Green is fostering employee engagement in Pond is by offering company transparency. “My goal as CEO is that I want to ensure that we have an fully transparent organization. Employees best serve our clients and each other when they are informed about the operations of the company and about the ‘why’ behind some of the decisions that we make.”
Green is holding quarterly town halls open to every Pond employee. The first meeting was held virtually in July and 90% of employees attended. To Green, that was a win. “It shows our employees value knowledge and want to understand and have input into what is going on here at the firm.”
That engagement leads to retention, and all goes back to Green and Pond’s philosophy of taking care of employees. “Having engaged, dedicated employees is a constant effort by anyone in leadership in an organization. And if you forget to take care of your employees, they will quickly remind you by going elsewhere,” Green said.
Green acknowledges that her position as CEO also elevates her as a role model. In 2019 women employees represented 21% of c-suite roles in the United States. Only 8.9% of 2021 Fortune 500 companies have a female CEO.
“While I want to use the position I’m in now as CEO to encourage women and show them that they can succeed without sacrificing their personal lives, I also don’t want to be known as the ‘woman CEO,’” Green said.
“I have a great sense of responsibility to the women who come after me. I feel a great sense of responsibility for everybody who works in the firm, and I want everyone to feel that they have the opportunities to reach whatever professional heights they so desire. If I’m an example of that, as someone who when they started never ever thought they would reach this pinnacle, that’s an honor. I’m proud to be that example for them.”
Green never imagined herself in the c-suite. Though early on she knew she wanted to follow in her dad’s footsteps and become an engineer. “I knew all along I wanted to do something that would affect the world around me and would make the world a better place. Engineering seemed to fit that bill,” she said.
Green earned both her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and her masters’ degree in environmental engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. After college she worked in a variety of jobs, ending up in one that required significant travel, which took her away from home while her children were young. Not able to find the work/life balance she wanted in corporate America, Green started her own company in 1990.
“Running my own business really set me on a good path towards this position as CEO because I had to deal with everything, from accounting, to HR, to marketing, to leadership. I learned the full gamut of what goes into an organization’s success,” Green said.
In 2005, she was elected to the Gwinnett Board of Commissioners, where she served a four-year term, which helped reinforce the efforts it took to run a successful organization. “And Gwinnett County government is the epitome of a successful organization,” she said. “It has been for a long time.”
Gwinnett County is home, both for Green and Pond. “I’ve been a proud Gwinnett County resident since 1987. I still view this county as one of the most successful, most exciting communities in the state of Georgia,” she said. “I raised two children here and now grandchildren. It’s a wonderful place to grow a career and a business.”