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Rules of engagement: How to manage clients and career for 40 years

May 03, 2018

What does it take to keep a ‘client for life’? Greg and Gary Batie share some lessons learned during a career of design for healthcare facilities

By Greg Batie and Gary Batie (former employee)

Greg Batie and Gary Batie—brothers who are electrical engineers in our Lynnwood, Washington, office—believe in keeping a “client for life.” The Batie brothers have spent their 40-year careers working for Stantec. They are drawing close to retirement, and because of their unique work history we wanted to talk with them about the importance of client relationships.

Greg is the go-to electrical engineer at Loma Linda University Medical Center (LLUMC) and Gary is the go-to electrical engineer at the University of Washington Medical Center (UWMC). Each has maintained these client relationships during their entire career. Their technical expertise and client service has kept them at the table while other firms and have come and gone.

We picked their brains to get at the core of what it takes to sustain long-term client relationships.

The surgery pavilion at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, Washington. Gary Batie has worked on more than 350 projects for the medical center during his 40-year career.

As electrical engineers, what drew you to the healthcare market?

Greg: When I first started working at Stantec in 1975, my boss approached me and asked if I would be interested in becoming a healthcare designer. We had started working on a couple large hospital projects and he needed someone to become familiar with hospital codes and communication systems. From there, I set out to learn everything I could by reading the applicable codes and attending every healthcare design seminar I could find. 

It’s been a very rewarding career watching new technologies enter the healthcare field and figuring out how to design to accommodate those technologies. You also tend to work with the same people over the years and create lasting relationships—that’s one of the main reasons I’ve stayed in healthcare.

Gary: I fell into this market after Greg had found his place in it. But a large part of what drew me to healthcare is the consistent work—new treatments are constantly being developed and discovered, which require new equipment or layouts and, thus, remodels or expansions of a facility. There always seems to be something in the works.

Why Stantec for 40 years?

Greg: It absolutely is the people that I have had the pleasure of working with over the years. When I first started out in my career, everyone took the time to answer my questions and help keep me out of trouble. I always felt that no matter what I ran into, there was someone I could turn to guide me in the right direction.

Gary: For me, it’s been a combination of relationships and interesting projects. It takes a community to complete a project. The camaraderie developed among team members in sharing the experience of completing a project and/or deliverable is fabulous. And the personal relationships built with repeat clients has been incredibly rewarding.

Studies suggest that “An emotional connection matters more than client satisfaction.” What are your thoughts on that statement?

Greg: I agree. Client relationships are based on trust and honesty. And, of course, the given here is that you must be able to deliver projects that meet the clients’ needs and time frame.

One of my favorite project managers to work with at LLUMC is Bob Schoberth. Over the years, we have become friends and I have had the pleasure of accompanying him on mission trips with Adventist Health International to work on hospitals in Guyana, South America, and Koza, Cameroon, in Africa. Not only would I not have had the opportunity to travel and lend my expertise to healthcare facilities in third world countries but being able to share the experience and emotional connection with a client made a lasting impact on our relationship.

Gary: While I strongly believe in client satisfaction—delivering an accurate product in a timely fashion—I would agree that clients remember the emotional connection. This can be from meeting a tough schedule or resolving a design issue, relative to costs or physical space for equipment. 

I’m a firm believer in being a client advocate. That means listening to the client, trying to understand their goal for the project, and coming up with design solutions that meet that goal.

Our clients hire us for our expertise. Can you tell us about a time where you disagreed with the client? What was the outcome, and what does that do to the relationship?

Gary: I’m sure there have been several throughout my career, but I can’t recall a specific instance. I learned quickly that the client’s viewpoint is always right—at least until you can provide information and/or education to offer them a different perspective. The most valuable thing I’ve learned is to be forthcoming and give clients as much information as possible to make an informed decision. Honesty and education go a long way in building client relationships.

Greg: There may have been some disagreements with clients over the years, but I can’t remember a specific one. I have found that if you can present the basis for why something needs to be done and then present options, costs, and advantages/disadvantages of a situation, it is much easier for the client to make an informed decision and avoid any disagreements. If the client has an opportunity to learn and feels like they’re a part of the decision, it’s much easier to accept instead of them feeling like something is being forced upon them.

Why do you think clients have stayed with you for years? What has kept you engaged with the client for so long?

Greg: Positive engagement comes from simple human respect—it is the friendships I have developed over time. One of the most satisfying pieces of client feedback I’ve received is: “You know our business as much as we know our business.” To me, that meant in addition to understanding their needs for a project to complete construction, we also understood the function of what we were designing for. While designing these spaces, we always kept the end-user in mind: healthcare professionals and the patients they treat.

Gary: I’m a firm believer in being a client advocate. That means listening to the client, trying to understand their goal for the project, and coming up with design solutions that meet that goal. On most projects where we have had the opportunity to have an audience directly with the client or end-user, we have been able to prepare our design to meet their goals.

The Proton Accelerator installation at Loma Linda University Medical Center in California, which Greg Batie says is his most memorable project. It was completed in the mid-1980s.

What’s the most rewarding project you’ve ever worked on? Why? 

Gary: The most rewarding I’ve ever worked on is a project that is just now wrapping up: the UWMC Montlake Tower. We started some pre-design work in 2005 with the first phase of construction starting in 2009 and was completed in 2012. The second phase started construction in 2014 and is just now closing out. It’s been an exhausting 13 years but rewarding at the same time. Knowing this facility can assist in providing medical care that improve someone’s life is rewarding.

Greg: Hands down this has to be the Proton Accelerator installation at LLUMC. At the time in 1985, it was the first hospital-based proton accelerator installation in the world and there were no examples of previous installations to use as reference. This project required a lot of communication among all parties involved and was undertaken before the internet was available. The satisfaction of designing something without reference and being able to see this project built and put into use for life-saving cancer treatment makes it the most memorable project for me.

What’s the most valuable thing an emerging engineer can do to win client trust?

Gary: Be honest, be responsive, and be comfortable enough to deliver the “bad” news. Understand who your audience is—younger engineers should strive to create that client connection.

Greg: Don’t be afraid to answer the phone and you must respond to the clients’ questions and needs in a timely manner. You don’t want to lose a client’s trust because you forgot to reply.

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