As a young staff engineer, Bret Weiss was an “idea guy,” looking for ways to help his employer be successful.
It’s a mind-set that Weiss pursued as he worked his way up the ranks, and that he’s built into the culture at WSB & Associates, the Minneapolis-based professional consulting and design firm that he co-founded. He has served as president and CEO since 2000.
Through its “Intrapreneur” program, WSB rewards staff members for ideas that lead to new business and innovations or greater efficiency and engagement. Employees can pursue the idea or hand it off to a colleague. The company’s maternity and paternity benefits and its drone program, which last year became the first to be commercially licensed in the state, both emerged from Intrapreneur sessions.
“You read books about how people say, ‘I had this great idea to solve this problem for the company but nobody asked me,’” Weiss said. “We don’t want to be that company. We want to ask [employees] what are the things that we need to do to get better.”
That’s just one way that Weiss, named the top leader for midsize companies in WorkplaceDynamics’ Top Workplaces survey, works to stay engaged with employees.
He keeps active in the business by working with clients as he runs the company, which offers engineering, planning, environmental and construction services in the government, energy and commercial markets.
“It helps me know what our staff is dealing with on a daily basis and what our clients are dealing with on a daily basis,” Weiss said. “It makes me understand. Because every day your industry is changing, and if you’re not close to what’s happening or paying attention to what’s going on, you might miss it or you might not be the guy pushing forward with the changes.”
Two significant figures in Weiss’ life helped shape his approach to leadership. One was his late father, who told him to “do what you said you were going to do when you said you were going to do it,” Weiss said.
The other was former University of Minnesota football coach Lou Holtz.
“It was an amazing experience,” Weiss said of playing for Holtz on Gophers teams in the mid-1980s. “One of the big philosophies that he had was that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. The experience that I had playing for a man that is focused on faith and family and fundamentals was pretty life-changing. That has stayed with me my whole career.”
WSB’s move into renewable energy, offering engineering and related services, demonstrated the results of the company’s efforts to engage employees, Weiss said.
“They were willing to jump in and trust us with where we were going and what we were doing,” Weiss said. “Diversifying our business put our staff and our clients and our company in better position to be innovative, to grow, to develop.”