April 14, 2014 by Brad Hull
Ellis has personally had a hand in so many transformations in her career that if each were a pre-cast concrete slab, you’d have enough to construct a skyscraper.
In a career that has spanned more than 30 years, Anne Ellis has seen just about everything that the construction industry can throw at a person.
And she’s wore enough hats that she could practically start her own haberdashery: engineer, project management, instructor, marketing, policy influencer, lobbyist.
Yeah. She’s done all that.
Her current role is as Vice President of Global Initiatives for AECOM Technology Corporation, and she recently concluded a two year stint as President of the American Concrete Institute (ACI). It was another example of Ms. Ellis’ habit of breaking through glass ceilings, as she was the second female — and first female engineer — to head the non-profit society comprised of over 20,000 engineers and construction professionals.
Founded in 1904, the ACI has emerged as a pioneering influence on the concrete industry across over 100 countries worldwide, and Ellis’ tenure at the head of the organization has been marked by her dogged determination to be ahead of the curve and prepared for the future.
“Do today what needs to be done to be relevant tomorrow,” is her oft-repeated mantra.
W. R. Meadows had the profound honor to interview Ms. Ellis and talk about her career, her background and the future of the concrete industry.
We hope you enjoy her wisdom as much as we do!
W. R. Meadows: Do you recall when you first realized you could make meaningful impact in your career?
Anne Ellis: Many years back, a young female engineer talked to me about the need to bring clean water and sanitation to her home country and the impact it would have on her nation’s health. It made me appreciate the importance of what we do. This is a key message in many of my talks. Our work has purpose and meaning beyond the tasks we perform each day: master plans shape lives, clean water is the foundation of healthy communities, transportation is the hallmark of industrialized civilization, and iconic buildings place cities on the global stage. We transform the world around us each and every day.
W. R. Meadows: You’ve spent a lot of time in academia, studying at Virginia Tech, doing the lecture circuit, and serving on university advisory boards. What was the key takeaway from these experiences?
Ms. Ellis: Recognizing what a significant impact good professors and inspiring speakers had on my career, I take very seriously any opportunity I have with students. Subsequently, several chose me as their mentor. I learn so much from those I mentor.
W. R. Meadows: Much of your industry is born out of Industrial Revolution innovations of the 20th Century, what changes does the industry need to make to adapt to the Information Age?
Ms. Ellis: The Information Age has been transformational in all we do from advanced computational analysis to BIM to apps to social media and beyond. If you haven’t made the shift, can you survive?
W. R. Meadows: Your legacy at ACI may well be in that you’ve persistently encouraged the organization to invest in education and in the next generation of engineers and concrete professionals. Can you talk a little as to why these initiatives are so important to you personally?
Ms. Ellis: Continuing education is requisite for engineers. Technology advancements demand it.
W. R. Meadows: Clearly one of the big initiatives in the concrete and construction industries is the incorporation of green building practices and the implementation of oversight programs such as Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED). In what way is the ACI involved in the LEED movement?
Ms. Ellis: Sustainability permeates much of our volunteer efforts, including our technical, educational, and certification activities. ACI 130 – Sustainability of Concrete, is our largest technical committee and is developing materials on the sustainability of concrete. Additionally, ACI participates in the Concrete Joint Sustainability Initiative, “an industry coalition dedicated to educating ourselves, our members, and the public about the role and responsibilities of concrete in sustainable development.”
Ms. Ellis: I subscribe to numerous media services with daily news feeds related to concrete, construction and finance. There is so much going on and these allow me to filter and read what is relevant and of interest. Additionally, I am a big fan of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat website and read everything they publish.
W. R. Meadows: What is the last business book you read?
Ms. Ellis: I read a lot of papers such as those published by Harvard Business Review, McKinsey Quarterly and similar. I’m also a big fan of anything John Spence recommends. Due to my role at ACI, I’ve read many books in the past couple of years related to nonprofits such as Race for Relevance.
W. R. Meadows: What was your most exciting work development last year?
Ms. Ellis: I had the opportunity to travel to India in 2013 on business. I was greatly impacted by the perspectives of those leading Indian businesses and driving advancements in the country’s infrastructure.
W. R. Meadows: What work challenge keeps you up at night?
Ms. Ellis: Inadvertent oversights. Like many, I continue to process while I sleep. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night with the realization I’ve missed something. Ugh! But I am thankful for those moments.
W. R. Meadows: If you own a smartphone, what app do you use most often for work?
Ms. Ellis: My traffic app – essential getting around town to meetings. Living in a dense urban area, traffic often rules the day. I also like the Uber car service app as it takes the mystery out of when the driver will arrive.
W. R. Meadows: Can you tell us a little more about ACI’s new website launch and logo?
Ms. Ellis: Both have been recently modernized to create value for our members and customers. The new website is built from the perspective of the user. Our website simultaneously serves multiple purposes: retail, committee collaboration, communication and education. Our new logo has been updated to reflect the energy and diversity and today’s ACI. And we have a new tagline, Always Advancing. The tagline speaks to what ACI members do individually and collectively. If we are transforming the world around us each and every day, we are always advancing.
W. R. Meadows: What are three pieces of advice you could give to other working parents who are trying to manage their time?
Ms. Ellis: Invest the resources to get daycare right. Work smart. If you reduce your hours and/or take off time from working, it is NOT the end of your career. In fact, it was what I did during those years to stay technically relevant that opened doors to new and wonderful professional opportunities when I was ready to return.
A big thank you to Anne for taking the time to conduct this interview. We really appreciate it!