An Interview with BEE Engineer’s Jim Freeling, PE, Chad Smith, PE, and Telman Gasanov.
After a quarter century raising the bar for building performance design, BEE’s first and second generation of owners sit down to reflect on decades of growth and diversification, what the future has in store, and what it means to pass on the torch to a new generation of leaders.
BEE Engineers will soon celebrate 25 years in business. What do you think has contributed to your success and solid reputation? In other words, what makes BEE special?
Jim C. Freeling, PE (Founding Principal): Back in the 1990s when we started BEE, there was an alarming problem affecting Seattle buildings that were designed and constructed starting in the mid-80s. If left unchecked, it would render a significant percentage of the city’s buildings uninhabitable due to rot and mold. Fortunately, the State passed legislation that mandated remediation and repair to existing buildings and prescriptive building envelope design requirements for future projects. Our young company was primed and ready to help due to our expertise in a type of cavity design generally known as a Rainscreen. This approach set the standard for building envelope design in the Pacific Northwest and BEE was there to lead the charge in introducing it to the Seattle and Puget Sound region. I’m proud of that and that we were able to be a part of this extraordinary push to create safer buildings.
Chad Smith, PE (Managing Principal): In addition to that legacy, I’m also proud of the community we’ve created here in Edmonds. We work all over the Puget Sound region, but Edmonds is our home. We started here and have grown a local workforce that supports each other, that collaborates well, and that are passionate about what we do. Our team and our culture are special.
Telman Gasanov (Principal, Energy & Sustainability): Jim helped create an inclusive company well before the topic was an industry conversation and aspiration. As an immigrant the odds are good that in another firm my chances of becoming a partner might be different. Opportunity to thrive exists everywhere in this company. I think that drives our passion and helps create additional positive impact for our clients.
“Everything we do traces back to the fact that we want to create an energy-efficient future for the occupants of the cities in which we work.”
As you reflect on the last 25 years, what has BEE achieved that you’re particularly proud of?
Jim Freeling: We may have established our reputation with building envelope design, but adding energy and sustainability to our core services makes me very proud. Through our work we are helping to make healthier environments within our cities. And we’re not just solving energy issues for our region—our work is helping to drive change throughout the country. That knowledge contributes to our company’s culture and supports our core values. We believe our staff are making the world a better place and we take every step to make this a company they can stay at for the long term.
Chad Smith: We’ve been around long enough to have weathered the challenges that come with difficult economic times. Through downturns we learned to expand and diversify our services which is what led us to develop staff and service areas in testing, simulations, energy, and sustainability. Because we embraced these challenges, we’ve created a centralized hub to support all envelope, energy, and sustainability needs during the building process and throughout the life of the building. We are one of but a few companies throughout the country that can say that.
Telman Gasanov: I’m proud of the staff we have and that we have earned a reputation for helping develop a workforce that will make significant contributions to our built environment for years to come. Training, nurturing, and supporting professional growth for new engineers translates into decades of positive impact for the community.
What gives you confidence in this ownership transition?
Jim Freeling: I never wanted to be that important in my own company. I knew for BEE to continue to thrive, I would have to let go and bring in other leaders who could carry the company forward—to make investments and bring fresh ideas. I have great confidence in Chad and Telman because I know them well and am confident in their management skills. Someday, when I officially leave the company, I know I won't feel like I've lost anything. We created a culture that embraces hard work, a desire to always learn more, and a place that supports individual growth. That culture has become self-perpetuating and that’s why I know this is going to continue to work.
Chad Smith: I've been able to work beside Jim for 16 years. He’s been my mentor and I’ve seen up close his leadership style and ways of managing the company. At BEE we lean in to being adaptive, we challenge our assumptions, and make room for expansive new ideas. I think this is partly why our turnover is low. The staff at BEE tend to stay, developing long tenures. This stability combined with excitement for the direction the company is headed gave me the confidence to sign on as a partner.
Telman Gasanov: The people attracted to this work are passionate about it. They also like to have fun. I also haven’t found the limits of this firm yet!
What would you like to impart to BEE’s staff and clients?
Jim Freeling: To the staff I want them to know that we are dedicated to listening and listening with intention. That goes for our clients and contractors, as well. For the company to thrive, we must always keep our staff and clients at the center. We must also continue to embrace adaptation and sophistication. As BEE grows, we need to prepare for the future and continue to make investments in our staff and internal resources.
Chad Smith: It’s interesting—it’s a pivotal moment, but we’re not really ‘pivoting’. The structure we’ve created and the longevity we’ve achieved means we’re just carrying on the torch. Our values and culture aren’t different than they were before. We have the same passion and focus to help the community and do good work. It’s not a pivot; it’s growth.
Telman Gasanov: We’re not planning any big 90 degree turns. We’re adapting in a linear way that reduces the ‘change’ impacts on our staff and clients. We are committed to training and working together to expand our services and capabilities. The company as a whole will be looking out at the horizon, aligned and supporting each other.
“At BEE we lean in to being adaptive. We challenge our assumptions and make room for expansive new ideas.”
What do you envision for BEE 25 years from now?
Jim Freeling: That far out the question is, what will be happening in the world? We know climate change is a huge issue. We already solved the building problem from an envelope viewpoint here in the United States, so perhaps we will take this abroad. I think BEE could grow within the country and beyond it. One thing I’m confident of is that buildings are going to change. Big cities are going to be connected in smarter ways. Informed design around weather and energy consumption will extend well beyond the building itself.
And one thing I am confident will not change within the company is BEE’s commitment to investing in our employees’ education. As our people’s certifications and specializations grow, so too does our collective body of knowledge. We firmly believe that to stay on the edge of new concepts and breakthroughs we must continue to study and learn.
Telman Gasanov: I hope that we will continue to help cities tackle the most critical issues within their building portfolio, which I imagine means specializing in smart design and high-tech engineering solutions. I’m passionate about the idea of designing buildings on a citywide scale—transcending just building management systems. Perhaps someday we will be designing city management systems.
Chad Smith: I also think that there will be a major nationwide emphasis on sustainable energy upgrades for existing buildings, in addition to new construction. Doing so efficiently and affordably will no doubt be BEE’s priority.
As for the time between now and that distant future, I see us continuing to support our clients and community and investing in our people—ultimately raising up the next generation of leaders who will take on the company after us.
James C. Freeling, PE is BEE’s Founding Principal. Jim has provided building envelope design and inspection services using the ‘rainscreen’ approach, a design concept that has transformed the construction industry in the Pacific Northwest.
Chad Smith, PE serves as a Managing Principal. In addition to his project work, he dedicates his time to strengthening client relationships, providing leadership and guidance to the BEE staff, and setting strategic priorities for future growth.
Telman Gasanov serves as Energy and Sustainability Principal. He is continually striving to increase his team’s abilities to provide the most effective and energy efficient options to BEE’s customers.