Becoming a successful leader: an interview with Amy Jablonsky

10 février 2020


Over the past years, I developed a personal interest in biographies. I have a list of human beings in history from different fields that I admire or want to know more about for what they faced and conquered in life, or how they contributed to the world. Over time, I realized that we do not have to experience everything to learn from a situation. We can (and we should) learn from other people’s experiences and points of view.

Amy Jablonsky is Vice President and Area Lead for Virginia and the Carolinas in the Water South Region in Arcadis North America. With a business management background, she leads a group of approximately 45 professionals, comprised of senior engineers and early career professionals.

When I started my career in engineering and consultancy, I struggled a little to understand all the processes and best practices that guided our day to day jobs and everything in between. I felt like I needed a 101 course on consultancy and business practices. I even googled recommended books for beginners! (Yes, I can be a bookworm!). I believe this is a common feeling. Sometimes it might feel like we don’t know where projects come from, how they got to us (and us to them, for that matter) or why things are done a certain way, among other things.

One of the best ways to navigate your way in the business and map your career goals is having inspiring leaders and life stories to learn from. This is one reason why mentorship is a powerful career and social investment for many early career professionals. Mentorship is a relationship-builder and a great way to learn from other’s experiences, receive professional guidance and identify and create opportunities. Likewise, it is easier to get inspired when one can see oneself in a successful figure. Here, I bring the importance of diversity in our professional community and workplaces. Arcadis has plenty of mentorship initiatives and a growing diversity and inclusion initiative (which could make for another great post).

I have sought many forms of mentorship. At Arcadis, I have also increased my involvement in diversity initiatives. In practical terms, identifying mentorship and diversity opportunities in our local workplace and community can increase our visibility, highlight our potential, build meaningful relationships, get inspired and inspire others. I asked my Area Lead (at the time, youngest woman to become a Vice President at Arcadis North America) to share her thoughts and experiences in this public form of mentorship. Who could best advise and inspire than a successful leader?

Amy Jablonsky is currently Vice President and Area Lead for Virginia and the Carolinas in the Water South Region in Arcadis North America. With a business management background, she leads a group of approximately 45 professionals, comprised of senior engineers and early career professionals. Dedication, interest, enthusiasm, and mentorship were key attitudes that shaped the professional she is today. In this interview, Amy looks back on her own career and recollects some aspects that contributed to her career path and shares what motivates her about her job at Arcadis.

Tell us a little about your background, how many people you currently lead and a brief overview of your tasks as an Area Lead/Vice president.

I’ve worked for Arcadis for 13 years in a variety of progressive roles.  I earned a Master of Public Administration from the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, and prior to joining Arcadis I was the Associate Director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 2 Environmental Finance Center (located at Syracuse University).  Since 2001, I have been working with municipalities to address a wide variety of environmental issues, with an emphasis on financial management.  I started with Arcadis in the Water Business Line as a Management Consultant (Business Advisory), and progressed over the years into officer status through several positions in the ANA Water Business Line, including the Global Lead of Water Business Advisory and the National Technical Director of Water Business Advisory.  I am currently a Vice President and the Area Lead for Virginia and the Carolinas with a growing group of approximately 45 professionals.  As Area Lead, I am responsible for the operations and sales of our three regional offices (Richmond, Virginia Beach and Greensboro) and strategic growth in the region (Raleigh, Charleston).

What do you see as differences from when you started your career and the Young Professional’s at Arcadis today?

When I started my career at Arcadis, I was thrilled to be a part of this highly reputable team and was committed to doing everything I could to excel in my career here.  I knew I was expected to be in the office every day (despite having a laptop and the ability to remotely connect to the network).  While the office was open from 8am-5pm, I learned quickly that this wasn’t a 40-hour job – most Associates were in the office daily by 6:30am and didn’t leave until 6:30pm.  We were to bill our “best 40 hours” and meeting annual billable hours goal was critical.  I was exposed to professional associations and opportunities to expand my professional skills, which I undertook on my own time and without expense reimbursement.  I pursued projects that challenged me, and sought out opportunities to speak with senior staff about their career paths in the company in order to map out my own options.

What do you wish you had known when you were a Young Professional?

I wish I had learned sooner about the mechanics of a consulting company.  Looking back at the first couple years here, I was largely limited to financial services projects.  I understood my role as a financial analyst (complete the project correctly), I understood the role of the Project Manager (complete the project on time, on schedule and on budget), but the impact I personally had on our business was not clear.  I didn’t clearly understand the critical role of the project team, the direct impact we had on the firm’s success.  I didn’t understand much about the proposal process, how we sold work or obtained follow-on work once a project was completed.  I was narrowly focused on just my particular task or project, and when that project was complete, a new project miraculously appeared and I got back to work.  Our Business Advisory practice was not well integrated with the army of engineers and scientists that sat around me – I didn’t understand how my business advisory projects fit in with anything they did!

What makes you get up every morning?

Knowing that I work for a global company that is helping solve complex environmental climate change issues – whether that is here in southeastern Virginia, or in New York or San Francisco or cities around the world – and that the work we collectively do is meaningful for the generations to come.  I choose to work at Arcadis because of the promise and potential of the passionate, talented professionals I work with locally, regionally, nationally and globally.  I was fortunate to have had several roles over the past 13 years here that afforded me the opportunity to make these connections, establish relationships, and develop a strong professional network.

What do you admire/value the most on the Young Professionals you lead?

I admire their freedom and adaptability, their fresh perspective and energy.

Do you have or had someone in your career who inspired and/or mentored you? If yes, why was this person(s) important for you? What was the most important value/concept/advice this person(s) has given you?

I’ve had the privilege of working with several inspiring leaders that helped me to get to where I am in my career.  When I began my career in Albany (NY), John Mastracchio was my direct supervisor and helped me to understand the ropes of consulting, giving me the opportunity to learn from his technical expertise in financial consulting.  He supported me in further developing my technical skills, and allowed me to work with him first as a mentee and then as a peer on some of our most difficult projects across the country.  Over the next few years, I gravitated towards the strategy and sales side of the business – speaking frequently with experienced client account leaders such as Gerry Spiesbach (who shared a cubicle wall with me in the Fair Lawn, NJ office), listening to him “wax philosophical” about the importance of cultivating strong client relationships.  But I was looking for an opportunity to do more…  Patrick Flannelly was leading our national Business Advisory group, and launched a sales strategy competition to redefine our “pitch” on BA services.  I think I may have been the first person to sign up!  I won that competition.  That extra effort afforded me the opportunity to work closely with Patrick and Raul Torres on Business Advisory services for the next few years, and that led to my involvement in the global business advisory and other opportunities.  I’ve also worked with several strong women (in the firm and in the industry) along the way without whose support I may not have succeeded including Cathy Mallon-Traynor, Heather Polinsky, Isabella Schroeder, Patricia Cerro-Reehil, Pat Scalera and many others.

How do you measure the impact of diversity and have you noticed an increased number of women in your team?

Over the years, the number of women in my team has varied, but it seems as though there are more women getting engaged in the environmental field now.  To be honest, that hasn’t ever been something that I’ve concentrated on.  I have not felt as though I was “held back” in any way.  I’ve always been fairly assessed against my peers and judged based on my accomplishments.  To me, the value of diversity is in the myriad of perspectives it brings to a room – it helps us to understand and empathize with others, communicate more effectively, and create better solutions through collaboration.  Over the past 50 years, our society has taken purposeful steps to “force” diversity into the norm, and that has come to fruition in many ways.

Have you ever faced any situation that made you uncomfortable in your career for being a woman? How did you deal with the situation?

In this business, I don’t think you can avoid every situation that may make you uncomfortable for one reason or another.  Let’s be honest – this has been a historically male dominated industry and it can’t change overnight.  To me, it’s more about how you deal with the situation, how you can use emotional intelligence to navigate some tricky situations.  At the end of the day, this isn’t about who is best at math, who has the best technical expertise – it’s about relationships, this is a relationship business.  Some men will deal with each other differently than they would deal with a woman – for better or for worse.  You need to stay focused on your end game and read the situation’s social cues to understand the best path to getting your desired outcome.  Don’t get bogged down with the gender differences, embrace all aspects of diversity for what they are – differences – and learn how to build and collaborate with them.

How do you feel being a successful woman in charge in a male predominant field (engineering)?

I feel fortunate and thankful that I’ve had opportunities – and continue to have opportunities – to prove myself worthy of this leadership position.  At times, it is daunting – particularly for someone without an engineering background!

By Giovana Batista