Interview with Michael Tobias, Principal at New York Engineers
Published on Feb 16, 2018
2 min read
Location: New York, NY
Current Role: Founding Principal
What’s your background and how did you get into management?
I graduated Georgia Tech with a Mechanical Engineering degree. Went through GE’s Engineering Leadership Program, learning the leadership methods from a large scale company helped in retrospect, but felt too slow and archaic at the time. I always loved the balance of technical ability and leadership skills. Now I’m focused on revolutionizing the MEP Engineering industry in construction, which is a perfect balance for me. You need to have dozens of companies, and people with competing interests all play nice to finish one building, it’s a fun challenge.
What are the biggest challenges you face?
Getting the smartest people write down and teach their process so others can multiply their efforts. Sometimes the smartest people suffer from the “only I can do this” mindset. The true master can simplify their work and teach others to replicate it at the same level.
What is your approach to hiring?
Topgrading (see book). Get the top 10% of the world’s talent for that role. Include numbers to hit (KPIs) in the job posting. Make SURE they are a culture fit first, ask questions about your firm’s values, it’s way more important than their technical ability. Perform an actual tryout grading a simple task to complete, they need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
What’s your advice for managers who are just starting out?
Assume you are responsible for EVERYTHING your direct reports do wrong. How could you coach, lead, guide, the person better next time? Read a lot of business leadership books, they will blow your mind when you are in the heat of battle and the solutions are only a few pages away.
Whats your work day like and how do you manage your time, emails, etc.?
I’m mostly in internal meetings, out with clients, at construction sites. Keep a tight calendar all internal meetings must be quick, start and end on time. I stack 4 internal meetings back to back one day instead of spreading them across the week, this has been surprisingly much more efficient. Re-prioritize every day. When walking in the door in the morning, what’s the single most important thing you personally must do today, make sure that gets done first no matter what. Don’t get pulled into urgent but not important time wasters which is very easy to do.
What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success?
Execution, the drive to always deliver no matter what obstacles are in the way.
Share an internet resource or tool that you can’t live without.
If you could recommend one book to managers, what would it be and why?
Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It…and Why the Rest Don’t (Rockefeller Habits 2.0) . It’s the best tactical leadership guide I’ve ever read, the whole company runs using this leadership methodology, the results are outstanding. The word leadership has a bad connotation, a great leader doesn’t come up with all the answers and everyone follows. A great leader encourages their team to perform at the highest level, come up with solutions themselves, and execute them.
Where can we go to learn more about you? (LinkedIn, Twitter, Github, etc.)
This series asks engineering managers to share their experiences with the intent of helping other engineering managers learn and improve. Have someone you want to see featured or questions you think we should ask? Contact me.
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