Lynch Mykins’ Anna Lynch was named 2021 CEO of the Year by Triangle Business Journal. Today, she shares her journey from Iowa to Wyoming to Austin to Raleigh, being a woman in a field of almost exclusively men, how she formed Lynch Mykins, her radically honest interview process, and building a human-first culture.
Anna Lynch: What value we bring is the human side. Okay, so I’m like, what if I built a company that was focused on the human side. So then if AI comes in and can do structural engineering, we were still in business. Right, but then I look at all the other engineering firms and I’m like, all they care about is the analytical side. So what are they going to do? They’re not going to be in business.
Dana Kadwell: Welcome everyone to Hustle and Gather, a podcast by inspiring the everyday entrepreneur to take the leap. I’m Dana
Courtney Hopper: and I’m Courtney.
Dana: And we are two sisters who love business. On this show, we talk about the ups and downs to the hustle and the reward at the end of the journey.
Courtney: And we know all the challenges that come with starting a business. Between operating our wedding venue, doing speaking and consulting, and starting our luxury wedding planning company, we wake up and hustle every day
Dana: But we love what we do. And today we’re talking with Anna Lynch, CEO of Lynch Mykins, a full-service structural engineering firm. Anna leads with a clear mission, commitment to hard work and strong dedication to client service excellence. Since 2004, she has served as a successful project manager and engineer in practically all public and private market sectors. Anna, welcome to Hustle and Gather.
Anna: Thanks for having me.
Courtney: Yeah. Thanks for being here. Glad you made it.
Dana: After that journey down Harrington.
Anna: That’s right. Life is a journey.
Courtney: All right. So we’d love to start out with a little bit of your background before we dive too much into your journey, not the one from today, but the life one in general. So you are originally from North Carolina?
Anna: I’m from Iowa. I grew up on a farm in the middle of nowhere. My parents are a bunch of hippies and I grew up very healthy, growing everything, eating what we made on the farm. Then I went to University of Wyoming for architectural engineering for my undergrad. I chose that school because it was the cheapest engineering school in the US. Kind of summarizes me, that’s age of 17, right? Yeah, finished my degree at the university of Wyoming and then decided that I was going to live somewhere outside of the Midwest.
And I just knew I couldn’t handle the cold anymore and I just love people. And in the Midwest, you know, Wyoming, Iowa, there’s just not a lot of people. So I interned in Austin, Texas for a summer. Hated it there, was too hot. my sister, my older sister lived in Boston, didn’t like it there for many reasons, too big of a city, too scary for someone my age from Iowa. And so there’s this pocket of area that I had never been in the US and it was North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia. and I just sent my resume out and back then it was faxing, I’m that old. and Dave Mykins actually got my resume. And so I flew out spring break of senior year, my college, and flew into Charlotte, rented a car and went door to door to everywhere I sent resumes.
I only had one interview actually lined up and I just went door to door and one of them was Dave Mykins, I went to his door and, you know, he was like, we’re not hiring. And he had about three employees and I said, well, I’m here from Wyoming. So maybe just lunch, you know?
And so we went to lunch. In the end, I got about six offers around the area and Dave Mykins, I just clicked with him the most. I felt the most comfortable. I did not feel judged. I didn’t feel like I wasn’t smart enough because you know, I don’t have an Ivy league degree in this, you know, fancy engineering schools are important to engineering firms.
Yeah. and so Dave made me an offer and I took it. So I moved to Raleigh, North Carolina from Wyoming, packed everything up in my car. That was in 2003 and I’ve worked with Dave since.
Dana: Okay, that’s awesome.
Courtney: That was like a, like a Goldilocks story. I say, it was just right here in Raleigh.
Anna: I love Raleigh.
Courtney: Yeah. Not too hot. Not too cold. It’s a little humid. I feel like,
Anna: nah, no, I’m good. My hair goes, pops up and I’m fine with that.
Courtney: All right. Big hair, don’t care.
Dana: What was it about engineering? So you, I mean, you said architectural engineering was the cheapest engineering like school, but did you know, you always wanted to be an engineer?
Anna: Well, I was really into fashion and doing my hair and, you know, I was like, oh, I’m going to go to a big city and I’m going to do all these things and be into fashion is what I thought when I was younger. But then I was just so good at math and I loved building things, like all the other women were in home-ec classes and I was an industrial arts and I was the only kid that was a female in the industrial arts classes.
And so all the teachers were like you should be an engineer, you should be an engineer. So it just got, kind of got with me. And then when you have to write that paper, when you’re in seventh grade about what you want to be when you grow up, I went to the library and looked up what type of engineering made the most money, it said chemical engineering.
Okay. So I was like, I’m going to be a chemical engineer. And then, I was in the industrial arts and I won a balsa Wood bridge competition, which is where you build a, a tiny bridge, you know, it’s maybe a foot long, and whatever bridge holds the most weight wins the award. And my bridge from forever ago is still the one that held the most weight, to this day. I’m super competitive.
Courtney: Claim to fame right there.
Anna: Yeah. So that teacher really pushed me into structural engineering and I interned for an architecture firm in Iowa my senior year. And I’ve told this story so many times, but this architect, I was just basically doing drafting and running blueprints and, you know, doing the, getting coffee. This guy would come to these meetings to meet with the architect and he had a Mercedes and I’m like, so what is, what does that guy do? He’s like, oh, that’s a structural engineer. I’m like, well, you drive a Honda. So,
Courtney: I think he’s getting the better end of this.
Anna: I think I might need to be a structural engineer. I found this degree, which I didn’t know existed, which is architectural engineering, and with that degree you basically learn everything that goes into building design. So you learn mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, plumbing engineering, geotechnical engineering, civil engineering, architecture, and structural engineering.
So I could have done any of those, but my senior year we did, we designed a building and you had to do everything. And I just always, I loved the structural side of it because you get to be creative. But I’m also analytical. So the right brain left brain balance, I think I was born with it.
Courtney: I think a lot of architect type people are
Anna: Architects are creative,
Courtney: but not the, they’re not, they’re not the analytical.
Anna: So that’s what we’re for, yeah. So the structural engineer comes in and they’re like, that’s a really cool idea. We want to make that happen. But these are the three things that you’re going to have to get up, to make it happen. It’s still going to look beautiful.
Dana: Yeah. Did you, are you ever really nervous walking into an engineering, whether it’s architecture or whatever, being a female, like, did you feel that you were a minority?
Anna: Oh, the infamous question. No.
Dana: Yeah, that’s great. What gave you that confidence?
Anna: I Just don’t care what people think, you know, no one ever told me I couldn’t. Yeah, you know, so I had a lot of cheerleaders. Yeah, until I got to college and they actually, the Dean of the engineering school told me I should switch my degree to fashion.
And my immediate response was I’m going to be the best engineer ever existed and then I’m going to call you and tell you about it. So, I guess I started being challenged in college, on engineering, you know, and I, yes, there was only like three females in my entire class and they ended up switching to like accounting.
Courtney: So no engineers?
Anna: No, no.
Anna: Two women stayed. They graduated the year after me. So one of them’s an engineer at this point, so it’s very rare. but now, I guess when Dave, Mike has hired me, his wife is a software engineer and she’s in her sixties. So she was the trailblazer, right.
So he, he respects women. He’s just such a good guy. And so he was like, he didn’t see me as a female. He saw me as a great engineer. And so I think that helped build my confidence also. So I, didn’t never worked at a firm where I was treated less than ever, you know? And now I’m building a company where it’s we’re right now are 40% female.
Dana: I think it’s for me like that, I have a daughter and she loves art and loves drawing and I’ve talked to her many times and, she likes fashion, but it’s just not her thing. Like she’s kind of quirky and, you know, but she loves just making models and stuff. I was like, you really should think about being an architect.
Like I think you would love it. And she, for some reason, in her mind, she’s like, ah, you know, I just want to be like an art teacher and I’m like, that’s admirable. Not going to lie, teachers make the world go round. That’s fine. And I was like, but I really, just think outside the box, think about something that is, I don’t know, different. And I hope that when she’s in high school and college or whatever, that she has someone that challenges her and gives her that, like, I hope that’s changing for the better that we’re no longer than minority and such great strides. Like, it’s not like you have 10% of the think I heard, like in the past, like 20 years, it’s almost the female workforce in engineering has gone up like 25, 30%
Anna: Maybe. I Think it’s, it’s tough. It’s tough. I mean, and getting women to stay after having kids, providing that work-life balance and just promoting them to understand that they can do both. Yeah, and you don’t have to be perfect at everything because I think females just, they’re so hard on themselves and coaching them out of that so that they can find,
Courtney: Is that a lot of what you do at your company?
Anna: Yes, I coach a lot. Looping back to your question though. I’m a trailblazer. That’s my DNA. So I am just like, I’m not asking anyone to go anywhere, right I’m not looking for anyone to tell me I’m good or I’m bad or whatever it is. I’m just like, get the hell out of my way. I’m going. That’s me yeah. So I think that I’ve been that way since I was born, like in third grade, I was telling teachers what to do so that I could get the best grade, like what they should be teaching me. So,
Dana: Do you think that came from parents? They was just, you said it’s in your DNA, but do you have siblings or it was, it was just literally just, you were probably like born that way of this is just what you wanted?
Anna: It’s in my DNA.
Dana: Take life by the balls or by the ovaries. We like to say, by the ovaries.
Anna: Every, everything I’ve done since I was a kid, I was the trailblazer.
Courtney: Okay. DO you have siblings?
Anna: I do, I have three sisters. I’m the third.
Courtney: Oh, so you’re a middle,
Anna: I’m a middle child, yeah. Two of my sisters worked for me.
Courtney: Okay, nice.
Yes, they are not trailblazers. We are all completely different. Yeah, so I don’t know. I don’t know how we all ended up different. I also am obsessed with why people are the way they are. And I know like personalities
Courtney: and they have the same origin story. You’re like, why are you so different than me? Like, why can’t I just say something? And that like resonates with you? Like we have the same past, you know?
Anna: We have what we’re born with too. Can it be influenced and pushed? Yeah, sure. Yeah, no, but yeah, my DNA is the trailblazer.
Dana: And I think you’re a good Testament to someone fostered that. Like they didn’t push it down. I mean, I’m sure you had struggles and you hit roadblocks, but you did have, like you said, it was amazing cheerleaders.
Anna: Yeah. Cause I’m like, oh, okay. You want to tell me no? I’m also a challenger.
Dana: I would have loved to been your friend in high school. Would have been a ton of fun.
Anna: I bet you got in enough trouble.
No, I was perfect. I really was like; I was the kid that no one invited to parties. Like I didn’t drink till I was 21. I was very serious. I wasn’t screwing around. Like I was going to be successful since third grade nothing was getting in my way. So if anyone wanted me to do something bad, I’m like, you go do that. That’s okay. I’m not judging you. I want everyone to do what they need to do to be happy. What I want to do to be happy is focus on my education.
Dana: So kind of switching topics a little bit, a lot of what your company does, is it really focuses on, you talking about the way that the engineering industry is with the work environment. So you talked, you kind of touched on it a little bit like that work-life balance. So how have you tried to change that culture within your company?
Anna: I think it starts with the person. You understanding who you are as a whole person is really important to provide happiness to you. I think that employees tend to blame their companies for the lack of work-life balance.
And so what I do and what the firm does is really help the person understand who they are and then who they want to be and where the gaps are. When people find that their position or their role matches their DNA they find true happiness. And when you see that, when that light switch goes off, it’s pretty epic.
Yeah. So getting people in the right position, getting them to understand that’s the role for them based on their DNA and who they are, getting them out of their egos. You know, engineers are usually pretty smart right there the kids they’re like, hey, you should be an engineer, a lawyer or a doctor because you’re so smart, right. So they’re like the 4.0 kids, whatever it is now, 4.9. I don’t even know anymore. So those kids get pushed and they’re told they’re amazing and you’re the best, you’re the smartest, and then they come work at Lynch Mykins and I’m like, well, your ego’s really big.
Like we need to work on that. No, I’m just really good at everything. And I’m like, well, you’re actually not good at this. And then they shut down, they break down and I’m like, okay, go through that process. But we’re going to train you on how to not shut down when you get critical feedback, because that is going to be so integral into the success of your own happiness, not success in your career, in your happiness. And I think that people just aren’t given that feedback because it’s scary and it’s uncomfortable. And the more that I can do that to help people find happiness is, is what I live for.
Courtney: Yeah. I love that because like, when we talk about, we’ll do team training or talk about growing your team or scaling your business, like having that human first approach, like you first hire humans before hiring employees. Right? So I think you’re speaking right to that. You know what I mean? Like these are people they’re not just my employees. They have stuff they’re bringing to the table that may or may not fit, right?
May or may not need to be worked out here, but just kind of like recognizing that, I mean, even recognizing like the minority or the struggle going through an engineering program and being a woman that’s coming to the table as an engineer, like that’s a different, different animal than when you’re hiring a man for that position, right? They had different experience. I think that’s really amazing.
Anna: What’s interesting, I’ve seen over the years is as we hire all these women, now we’re hiring women into a firm that’s a bunch of women, right? So they’re used to working at other firms where they are the minority. And so people tiptoe around them.
They’re not honest with them. They don’t want them to cry. They don’t want to give them feedback. Then they come out to Lynch Mykins, and we’re, we’ve got women everywhere right? So there are no longer special, right? So we also are coaching them out of thinking that they are special because they’re a female.
Dana: No, but I could totally see that because I think that there is also probably a part of that, where I was like a, like a, a suit of armor that they had to wear to get through whatever time that was and being and I mean, I can only make, so I’m a very emotional person and, but sometimes it doesn’t, it doesn’t make me bad at what I do. It makes me actually really great at what I do, because I can feel things deeply. I can put myself in somebody else’s shoes. I can diffuse any situation cause I can understand what that person’s going through, but for so long, you’re being told that you’re too emotional. Like don’t get upset, you, don’t make you cry, you know, don’t be whatever. And so you, you just wear the suit of armor and you and it hinders so much of your growth and hinders so much of, yeah holds you back so much.
Anna: We put walls up and you, you put yourself in a box.
Dana: And you start believing it, yeah.
Anna: Yeah, so we break down the box. So we say there’s no boxes here. Like cancel culture, you know, this whole, everyone should be the same, right, is absolutely intolerable to me. Everyone is different. Some women have emotions, some women are direct. Some women, some men, whatever it is, I don’t care. Everyone’s different. And we’re all not going to be the same because we’re going to lose who we are, right. And then we’re going to be miserable and then we’re going to hate our lives and what’s the point of living, right?
So breaking down those walls, figuring out who they really are and letting them be who they are. Like, it’s just so simple, but.
Courtney: I’m so interested in sitting in on your interview process.
Anna: Oh, it’s entertaining.
Courtney: I’m sure it is. I know.
Anna: They think we’re going to ask them about engineering.
Courtney: Now I can only imagine.
Anna: And I actually, we for references we call a family member.
Courtney: Oh, really?
Anna: That’s required. I love calling people’s kids. Yeah, those are the best. Oh yeah.
Courtney: Tell me about your mother. Tell me who she really is.
Anna: I know.
Courtney: So how did you end up purchasing this company? Obviously your story, like your journey that we land, you were hired there. So obviously you didn’t start off as the owner.
Anna: Well, the trailblazer, you know. So I started there as a structural engineer at 21 and then the economy tanked in 2008. So I was there five years. Yeah, and then everyone started getting laid off and I’m still there. Yeah, I’m like, why am I still here? There’s better engineers. There was. I had a different talent, right. It was connection with humans, being able to communicate, have conversations, all those.
Courtney: Which is probably a rare find engine engineering.
Anna: That’s right, yeah. Right, so all the clients loved working with me, right so they couldn’t let me go. And they had promoted, Dave Mykins moved up to the Virginia Beach office, which was our headquarters. And there was a man running the Raleigh office.
It was tanking and he wasn’t winning work and, you know, and I was like, okay, there’s an issue here. And I respect Stroud Pence immensely, the firm I bought. I mean, the fact that they hired me without a master’s degree, I was the first one to ever hire. And I owed them a lot and I, I just don’t give up on anything.
And so I was like, okay, let me help you save this office. And so this is me at 26. And so I went out, I just went out and I went to the chamber events and I just was social, and slowly we started bringing work in. So about a year in, 27 years old, I went to Jeff and I was, and Dave Mykins and Ed Pence, the owners, And I said, I’m going to leave and start my own firm.
I was like, I know how to win work, I think I can do this. Thank you so much for everything. And they said, you can run the Raleigh office. You can be a partner in the firm, you can be an owner. And I was like, well, I don’t know. I think I want to do it on my own and they’re like, no, you can do this. Like, we won’t bother you.
Courtney: It was like an offer you couldn’t refuse, yeah.
Anna: And I had this business idea and I had already written the business plan and it was engineers with communication skills, hard skill training equal to soft skill training. Right, and I was like, okay, well I presented my business plan to them and I said, this is what I’m going to do in Raleigh.
And I just, it’s a test, right. And in my mind, I was like, I’m going to do it for five years. I’m going to learn everything about business, because I didn’t know what AR was. I didn’t know that stuff, right. So I committed to five years and the Raleigh office grew to the largest office. We were the most profitable.
I learned everything about business and the other offices just weren’t willing, they were losing money. So my profit was saving them, right. And they just didn’t want to hear anything from me. Like, I’d go to the leadership meetings and I’d say, this is what I’m doing, and this is what’s working.
And if you guys do this and this, and they’re like we’ve been doing this for 30 years. So I think that you just need to stop talking, right? Yeah, so I made it five years. I don’t know how I made it. And I said, peace out. I told Dave Mykins; he was a CEO of Stroud Pence at that time. I gave him notice.
I didn’t even tell my husband I was quitting; cause I didn’t know I was; it was like a Friday and Dave Meekins happened to be in from Virginia in Raleigh. And I was like, I got, I’ll give you a month. Thank you so much for everything you’ve done for me. The only reason I was still there was Dave Mykins.
I mean, he almost walked me down the aisle at my wedding, right. So, and he called me on Sunday. So can I go with you? He’d been with the firm for 30 years. Never worked anywhere else since he was 21.
Courtney: That’s vote of confidence.
Anna: And I’m like, oh my God, I’m I must know what I’m doing. Or I don’t know?
Courtney: Or David really doesn’t know what he’s doing, or he really hates his job.
Anna: Right. He’s in the wrong position. He was miserable. So, we went to the owners of Strauss Pence and said, we’re leaving together. And they said, well, you might as well buy the whole company because if you leave, it will go under. I said, great. Let’s make an offer. So we negotiated out, bought the firm three months later, had 30 employees, never owned a company before.
Yeah, that was a 2017. So this year is our five-year anniversary. $2 million company when we bought it. And we’re 10 million, we finished this year out of 10 million. So amazing. It’s been a crazy ride.
Courtney: Nice to go up at digit.
Anna: I’ve learned a lot.
Dana: What do you think has been your hardest lesson? Is kind of like, we call like our, your oh shit moment, like where you felt like everything was coming up, like falling apart and,
Courtney: you’re like, what did I do?
Anna: Oh, man. I’m really bad at looking back on negative things. I don’t have that. I mean, my biggest regret is I’m like, I have none. Like, what do you mean? I’m like, I just learned something from everything. I don’t know.
I think the oh shit moment was probably the first year where everything kind of aligned and I’m like, huh, it wasn’t negative. It was just kind of like, this actually works, and then this year, holy Moses, like I hit my five-year goal at four and a half years. You know, what’s next, right? And so as a trailblazer, it has to be something next. Otherwise I am not happy, right, and I’ve learned that about myself over the last few years. And so there has to be a what, what next? And the oh shit moment is what is next for right now.
Courtney: Yeah. We, we interviewed Jess Ekstrom and she was talking about how much scarier it is to do the next thing when your first thing was so successful, like it’s actually more scary, cause you didn’t really know what you were doing at the beginning, right, when you got this company dropped in your lap, you’re like, okay, that worked and we’d make this, make this work. There was no like expectation of how it was going to go, but now you have so much expectation on yourself. So what’s next comes along with a lot of expectations. And I think that can be really hard.
Anna: And now I have 70 people,
Dana: Yeah, they’re looking at you too.
Anna: So a lot more people looking at me a lot more people listening to me, a lot people, a lot of families, depending on me, you know, it’s just I didn’t really think about the amount of people versus revenue right. I know that sounds crazy.
Right. So I don’t care how many people we have that was never a goal. I’m not like, oh, we need to be 300 people. I just want to keep the culture and I want to keep the investment in people on the soft skills. Yeah, so if I lose those things, then this company is not worth anything to me, right.
That’s because that’s what I would, what I love to do, and that’s what makes the company completely different. So how do I do that? And scale the company at the same time?
Dana: Cause there’s probably a lot of cost involved in that.
Anna: There is. Other CEOs, when I tell them how much we invest in people, they fall out of their chair. Like culture is expensive. You don’t just say you have culture and then everyone gets along and they’re family. No, you have to invest in it and provide opportunity to, opportunities for them to become that.
Courtney: I remember someone specifically asking about office snacks. We have office next and they’ve like evolved over the years.
Right. I mean, we literally have just tons and tons of snacks in the office and LaCroix, and I remember like this first couple of years, we’re like, it is two cases of LaCroix per month. Seriously, you can bring your own water. And now it’s like, you know, unlimited and we’ve graduated to RX bars. We go through boxes of RX bars every weekend, you know, those things are not cheap, but they’re good.
And everybody loves them and whatnot. And I remember talking to somebody about how would you create a similar culture like if you couldn’t afford office snacks. I’m like, you can’t not afford office snacks like you want the people to be there. You want them to stay, you want him to be happy, like invest in your people. And it doesn’t have to be the RX bars right now, but it can be, you know, bags of pretzels,
Anna: We just did a flash mob. And so hired a choreographer, hired a video crew, everyone in the company did it, it was voluntary. You know, everyone was practicing in the conference rooms and everyone had different dances and all this stuff.
It was like a huge thing. And I can tell you, no one in the company knows how much that costs. Right, and then getting the video together, pulling it all together, using it as marketing, like, you know, $50,000 later, you know? And they’re like that flash mob was fun. And I’m like, you know what it actually got us?
It doesn’t matter what the video is, all right. I can tell you, everyone’s still talking about it. How much fun it was, who they met, how much they love this person, how they’re talking now all the time. It just builds that camaraderie. That’s just priceless.
Courtney: Yeah. We just took our whole Bradford team to The Bahamas for a weeklong vacation and a conference. We didn’t even kill each other.
Dana: I was ready to be home after a week, yeah. But yeah, it was great.
Courtney: That was great. I mean, but just like things like they’re like, oh my God, it was so expensive. Like I could never, like, that’s a goal, but you really, I think the point is, I think in today’s day and age, and where hiring is now, and we’re like that work-life balance is, work life integration is so important to people though so important. Like you can’t afford not to do it cause you’re not going to get, you’re not going to catch those people that love what they do and are amazing at what they do and want to do it for you. So I think, yeah, talk a little bit more about like, what you do is our company culture.
Dana: Practicality things. And obviously not everyone who’s listening is a $10 million company, but like, what are just some your suggestions, if you’re trying to be better about that company culture, and even just start that conversation, like, what would you suggest?
Anna: Listen to the people. What do they want? Because you can just create things. Oh, let’s get snacks. Oh, let’s do a flash mob. Well, let’s do this, and you create all this stuff, but is it really impacting them to provide balance? What do they actually want? So we survey people once a year and say, what does culture mean to you? What do you wish our culture had? What do you wish it didn’t have?
Courtney: What’s been one of the biggest things that you’re like, I never thought of that?
Anna: I guess providing yoga in the office, never really thought about it. Not a big yoga person. So that, and like we started a wellness, so started think tanks. So think tanks are so that everyone in the company has a voice on what the company is doing. So that was a great idea for culture because they have a voice. So they care now. They have ownership. So we started a wellness think tank. They come up with ideas like we did, we bought class pass for everyone in the company for two years, all the way through COVID, so people could work out at home with all the videos and stuff.
Yeah, and then we do the yoga once a month in the office. We have a meditation at each office. We, so a lot of wellness stuff came through that therapy. Like not a lot of people want to look it up on the healthcare that we have.
Did that all for them, gave them the number, right. Make it easy. You know, asked everyone to talk about going to therapy, so everybody knew if they were going to therapy. So it made everyone comfortable with going to therapy. So like creating that culture of it’s okay to be real. That mental health matters.
We started a culture club. If you’re obsessed with culture, you’re in the club and they come up with ideas. And so we had a company-wide Olympics. We rented out a farm in Virginia in the middle of nowhere, and it was awesome. Dave Mykins got injured. He was bleeding, but he’s okay. And he was the one I was like, do not get injured.
Courtney: I’m like, what’s the liability of this idea?
Anna: So the think tanks honestly, are probably where we get most of our ideas because when they come from the people, I don’t know, like more people are bought in. If it’s just the CEO saying, hey, I want to do the company wide Olympics everyone is like, oh, here we go.
And then the balance piece, you know, everyone wants to work from home because of COVID and I didn’t let them, if they had a good reason, absolutely, but I’m like, hey guys, we are culture related company. This is about culture. You cannot have culture and human connection if you’re not together. The entire company is built on that.
If you want to sit at home and do engineering you’re with the wrong firm. And we ended up hiring, I think around 32 people from other firms, ones that wanted to be around people. So, and then we lost a few and they went to the analytical engineering company at sure. So, we gave everyone laptops, we went to the cloud and we said, hey, we’ve never micromanaged your time, ever.
We want you here about culture. So we hope to see you here, cause we’re not going to micromanage you and we’re not watching it, but you make the best decision for you. During COVID we ended up paying for private school for all the children in the company. You cannot do engineering and watch your children. No, it’s too high-risk guys. Bad. Don’t do it.
Courtney: You can fill in the blank on a lot of things. You cannot do X and homeschool your child.
Dana: But I mean, but you’re talking about especially high stakes here. Like you struck, you put something wrong on a plan that’s getting built and the building falls down. Like this is like a,
Anna: they say that structural engineering is riskier than being a doctor because more people can die if we screw up.
Courtney: Talk about that in Miami this year.
Anna: Exactly. Yeah, we did. Yeah, those moments are where I’m like, okay, now I have to coach everyone to stay in structural engineering because it looks super scary.
Dana: Yeah, that was my, actually my question is how you handled COVID with company culture. And I really loved that you do what’s best for you. You know, and, and people making the best decision that whether day or family. Whatever it was. And I love that you incorporated that. Doing what you preach is filling in that gap. And COVID the gap was childcare. A hundred percent
Anna: And mental health. I think anxiety is a big issue right now. A lot of fear, a lot of anxiety. Coaching them out of that or giving them tools to get out of it. Right now, because it’s just, it’s not feeding us well, yeah. It’s not helping us, so we got to deal with it. I definitely went against the grain. I’m a challenger. I did not regulate. I did not put hand sanitizer everywhere I did. There was absolutely no fear at Lynch Mickens for COVID. I didn’t put any of it in front of their face. I asked them to buy everything local, do not buy anything on Amazon. Do not become lazy, sitting on your couch and have everything delivered there. We need to help the economy. We need to help our, our city. So let’s not become lazy, right. And, and only think about ourselves.
Yeah. And that fear let’s be healthy. All my snacks are like super healthy. They get annoyed when they start and then they start eating healthy. It’s really entertaining. so health is very important, but yeah, I definitely did it very different. We just won Business of the Year, Business North Carolina because of what we did through COVID and how we handled, handled our culture.
Dana: Yeah. And you just, you were named CEO of the year by Triangle Business Journal.
Anna: Yeah, Crazy.
Dana: That’s insane. And it’s such a huge congratulations.
Anna: Thank you. I can’t believe I won that.
Dana: I can, sitting here talking to you. I mean, you’re like, I think that, and I think that is it’s so refreshing, especially as small business, right? You, you do your best to be a good leader and there’s a lot of humanity behind business. And, but sometimes when you get, when you see these big companies, that CEO loses that human piece of it.
Anna: And it’s becomes about bottom line.
If it’s all about numbers, not interested. Yeah, and we’re really successful. And that’s what I, you know, the last podcast I was on, I said, you know it’s, and he was an engineer and interviewing an engineer and he’s like, you make me uncomfortable because you’re not obsessed with the engineering, you know, obsessed with the numbers. And I said, what we are doing with focusing on the people is providing a higher profit than any other engineering firm probably. Yeah, so when can we learn that lesson, right? Yeah. You know, I don’t, but again, I am very unique. And the way that I lead on the human side, I think that getting a CEO that doesn’t understand that and tries to do it probably wouldn’t be successful.
Courtney: No, I, I it’s totally like you’re speaking our language. I mean, our accountants, like you should not be paying 100% of these insurance premiums. Like you don’t have to do that. You’re like, but we need to have insurance. I need to have that, you know, like, so I, all of those things, I think, not doing things because you are mandated to do them, but because it’s literally what’s best for the people who work for you.
You know, I think it’s getting to that mindset. I think in our industry it’s totally not that way. Like, no. And I think that, you know, in the events industry, hospitality, it’s a lifestyle. It’s not just a business, cause it’s just not nine to five, right. You know, like it’s very all over the place and abstract.
So I think more than anything in that industry, it is so important that you take care of your people because of huge, huge high burnout, like people who don’t stay there for a long time. And if you want to retain those people who are amazing at what they do, we just see them as people and not just, you know, expendable basically.
Right. So I think that it is definitely the wave of the future. And I think it’s the direction that people need to go. And I think that the new generation of employees are demanding that. You’re just not going to get the people.
Anna: Yep. You’re not, or they’re going to come and they’re going to leave because they want what they want. And what they want is freedom. And structural engineering has been the same forever, right? You should be here at 7:00 AM and you should leave at 7:00 PM and you should work all the time. And that’s the way it is because you need to care about structural engineering and that’s it. But it’s just the old way of doing engineering just doesn’t work at Lynch Mike. And so if we hire someone with 20 years of experience and they’re used to grinding it all the time. And I’m like trying to coach them out of it.
And they’re like, but you’re making a ton of money if I work at like dah, dah, dah, and that my bonus is going to be bigger than that. And I’m like, if you care about money and that’s your number one, this isn’t the place, right. Because we’re going to spend 50 grand on a flash mob. Like you have to care about that because I just, I don’t want to hire people like that because it just goes against what I’m doing and you’ll never be happy.
Right. We put, you know, we, we add things and we take them away too. I think that’s key too, because if people just expect things all the time, then they become just normal. So then you lose, they lose that, how they forget how different it is and how valuable it is until they leave. So it’s like trying to get them to stay.
I’m like, hey, just so you know, not everyone does half day Friday. Right. Well, this firm said, they’ll let me do half-day Fridays. And I’m like, okay. And then, and then what? Like, what else are you going to want? It’s just like reminding them that this is very different. What we did through COVID was different and what’s, what’s the new firm going to give you? I don’t know.
Dana: I love that approach, because I think it, whether applies to our industry or any industry, I agree that it is definitely the way that it’s going. And I think it, I think overall, I think COVID has taught us is that that’s just, if your only identity is your job, And then it’s just, it’s not a, that’s not a whole life and you’re not a whole person.
And there’s so many companies, the CEOs that that is how they want their employees to be, is they want their whole life to be this job. And it is sad. And, and a lot of it, it’s not because it’s because they don’t care. You know, like when we talk about The Bahamas and you look at like the bottom line of it, you know, I like, yeah, I probably could have taken an extra $25,000 this year, but instead of taking the thing, but it’s so worth it on so many more levels that we spent that money on them.
Anna: You’re impacting people’s lives, and that’s why I do what I do.
Courtney: Right. I want to show up to work and love where I work, right. I want to love the people that I’m working with and I went for them to love working with me. So it’s all very, not 100% altruistic, you know, like
Anna: I want have fun. Our core value is fun. If it’s not fun why do it. I don’t know, yeah. That’s what I always say. I was like, if we’re not having fun, then I’m not working here.
Courtney: We implemented office tequila during COVID. We’re like, all right, hard conversation. Shot. Let’s talk another dad off the ledge..
Anna: I might take that one.
Dana: Oh, you needed it. Oh man. You just get berated. And I was like, you can’t even shake it. I’m like to rattled and yeah. But yeah.
Courtney: So what advice would you give someone that’s looking to make a change like within an industry that maybe they think it’s too far gone? Obviously like structural engineer was the way that it was the way that it was the way that it was for years and years and years before you. Like, how would they be able to make that first step?
Anna: I would say just step back and look in, I think that a lot of people get stuck in the weeds and the day to day and they just, they can’t see what could be, you know, I’m naturally a visionary, but I think that any, if you take the time or schedule the time to look at the company and what’s really working and what’s not, not ignoring what’s wrong.
Right. and actually confronting the leadership or your, your team or whatever it is about the issues and throw ideas out there. I mean, honestly, that’s kind of where I got to this point. I read a book about right brain left brain and how engineering, it was talking about engineering and, you know, coding and all this. That computers can do, like AI is going to be able to do what we do. Right. Who knows when? 10, 50 years? I don’t know if I’ll be alive. What value we bring is the human side.
Okay, so I’m like, what if I built a company that was focused on the human side. So then if AI comes in and can-do structural engineering, we were still in business. Right, but then I look at all the other engineering firms and I’m like, all they care about is the analytical side. So what are they going to do? They’re not going to be in business. So it’s like seeing what could happen. It’s like thinking 10 years, 15 years, 50 years down the line, or just like what you hate about your job, what is it that you see that’s just like that irritating the thing that you’re like, why are we doing this? You know, and actually talking about it. I think a lot of people see them and think about them and chew on them and hate them and anxiety, fear, anger, then they quit. Yeah, and I’m like, what if you could create something or fix, help them fix what they have and be a part of that.
Courtney: Starting a culture of like honesty. Like just starting by actually just speaking up.
Anna: Communication. Yeah, it’s so simple, but that is like my keyword and like, hey, communicate, communicate, communicate. You know? And they’re like, well, it’s not my job. It’s not my place. And I was like, no, no, this is Lynch Mykins.
It is your job, and it is your place, your place. If you don’t communicate, then you don’t work here. So it’s like, it’s okay to communicate. You don’t always have to be right. Not everything has to be thought through a hundred percent. Yeah, so, okay. And then that fear of people judging you, fear of people not being friends with you, fear of you not being part of the group.
Like all those natural instincts that we have that makes it make us not communicate. That’s why I’m like put all that aside, right, because you’re actually helping. We call it mind fucking yourself. That’s so in the, in the office someone’s like, I’m mind fucking myself.
It’s like this constant thing. I was like, stop it. You’re overthinking it, spit it out, spit it out, but this is what I do. Spit it out, but yeah. And then they spit it out and like, It’s a dumb idea. Let’s go next one.
Courtney: You’re right. You should have kept that to yourself.
Courtney: But thank you. Now, it’s out.
Dana: Yeah, no, I love that though.
And I think the impact is great on your employee, but just think about the generational impact on their children and them seeing what healthy, what a healthy life looks. And breaking this, the cycle that I feel like we’ve had that really came about, I feel like with the baby boomer generation, honestly, of, of that. And I think that’s just absolutely amazing and I love that you’re trailblazing that
Anna: I do too some days. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but especially in engineering. Engineers are very analytical, but. It’s a lot more coaching than you would think. You know, and it’s a lot of being able to communicate in a way that they can hear.
So we do a lot of personality exams. One of the personality exams is disc. It’s all about communication. How you communicate, how other people like to be communicated to. Oh man, did that help a lot because everyone found out how they like to communicate and then they had to learn everyone else’s. And now it’s like, if a, if a very direct person goes to a very sensitive person, they’re like, hey, I know I’m direct.
I know you’re sensitive. So I’m just going to, like, I’m going to say it a little different, so let me try it out. And then you tell me if that was delivered okay so you don’t put a wall up, right? It’s crazy how much it changed the way we were communicating with each other. There’s no drama. There’s no anger. There’s people can actually work things out, right. It’s just stuff like that.
Dana: It gets down to intentions. I think when you have, because I think that’s what, that’s, what gets lost in communication is intentions.
Anna: Good intent. Everyone has good intent. If you don’t, you don’t work here. We actually have on our column in our office, it says no assholes. If someone is an asshole, I fire them. Because again, you want to work with people that you like, right? Yeah. Your family, right. You can be rude. That’s fine. But if you’re an asshole, you can get out. It’s a whole different level. You have to realize that everyone has good intent. When you are with a family that everyone is thinking about the enterprise or you and helping you grow and providing critical feedback, you have to realize it’s all good intent.
Otherwise everyone takes everything personally and shuts down. So that takes years to build, to get people to understand that it’s going to, and I am super direct. Like if anyone said, if, if you asked anyone in my company, who’s, who’s the biggest asshole here? They’d say Anna. Okay. because I, I have no filter, you know, I walked in here and told you guys exactly what I thought, you know, you know, most people are like, oh God, she’s, she’s kind of a,
Courtney: I was thinking this is going to be a good interview,
Anna: but I am who I am. And I’ve, I’ve been through a ton of leadership, coaching, communications coaching, and changed my tone quite a bit to dial it back a little bit. And it’s helped a lot in my leadership skills through the company and growth, but everyone can’t get along with Anna Lynch. And that’s okay, it’s okay.
Dana: Thanks everyone for gathering with us today to talk about the hustle. For our episode of Anna we are drinking DeLoach Pinot noir, a biodynamic red wine. We hope you get the chance to drink it this week and cheers to amazing company culture. To learn more about Anna and Lynch Mykins. Visit lynchmykins.com or follow them on Instagram at lynch_mykins. You can also find a connect with Anna on LinkedIn.
Courtney: to learn more about our hustles visit canddevents.com anthemhouse.com. thebradfordnc.com and hustleandgather.com or follow us on Instagram @ canddevents, at anthem.house at thebradfordnc, or at hustleandgather. And if you liked the show, be sure to subscribe and leave us a rating and review. This
Dana: This podcast is a production of Earfluence. I’m Dana
Courtney: and I’m Courtney.
Dana: And we’ll talk to you next time on Hustle and Gather.
Hustle and Gather is hosted by Courtney Hopper and Dana Kadwell, and is produced by Earfluence. Courtney and Dana’s hustles include C&D Events, Hustle and Gather, and The Bradford Wedding Venue.