Desire to give back to Tech, next generation unite newest members of School’s advisory board

Friday, November 10, 2017
Richard Hummel, Founder of Commodore Investments and Co-Founder of Federal Holdings Inc.
Richard Hummel
BCE 1989
Founder, Commodore Investments
Co-Founder, Federal Holdings Inc.
Orlando Mendez, chief operating officer and project manager for redevelopment at Dorado Beach Resort
Orlando Mendez
BCE 1991, MSCE 1992
Chief Operating Officer, Dorado Beach Resort
Donald Paul, retired
Donald Paul
BCE 1980
Retired, Georgia Pacific & The Home Depot

Meg Pirkle, chief engineer of the Georgia Department of Transportation
Meg Pirkle
MSCE 1997
Chief Engineer, Georgia Department of Transportation
I.J. Scott III, president and CEO of Scott Bridge Company
I.J. Scott III
BCE 1974
President and CEO, Scott Bridge Company

The School of Civil and Environmental Engineering added expertise in bridge-building, transportation systems, investing, IT, and real estate development to its External Advisory Board this fall.

Five alumni joined the board in October: Richard Hummel, Orlando Mendez, Donald Paul, Meg Pirkle and I.J. Scott III. Each will serve six-year terms as outside counselors to the School’s leadership on everything from curriculum and student preparedness to fundraising and alumni outreach.

“Georgia Tech really helped prepare me for the opportunities and career that I had,” said Paul, who earned his bachelor’s in 1980 and spent his career in consulting and information technology with what’s now Accenture as well as at Georgia Pacific and The Home Depot. “If there is anything that I can do to help pass those opportunities on to others through their Georgia Tech education, I wanted to do that.”

Paul started his career working on petrochemical projects for Brown & Root Construction Company and said he carried his engineering skills through every job.

“In [civil engineering], you solve problems. There is not one single way to solve a problem, there are many,” he said. “The way to best understand what problem you are trying to solve is to ask questions. Without asking questions, you can solve a problem, and it may be an OK solution. If you ask good questions, you can often [develop] a really good solution.”

Engineering offered Hummel a similar framework for his career, which started with the Shell Oil Company, but branched out into investing after a few years.

“I always think engineering,” said Hummel, a 1989 graduate who is the founder of Commodore Investments and co-founder of Federal Holdings Inc. He drew a parallel between the kind of value investing he might do and how engineers approach a project.

“Value investing … basically, it's all about looking for your downside and making sure that if you make an investment, you have a large margin of safety if you are wrong,” Hummel said. “That's what engineering is all about.”

Mendez has made his career in construction and real estate since he left Tech. He’s now chief operating officer and project manager for redevelopment at the Dorado Beach Resort in Puerto Rico, a luxury resort community with private residences and high-end hotel. He also helped manage the $100 million reconstruction and remodeling of the San Juan Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino. (Since Hurricane Maria, he has been involved in recovery and rebuilding on the island and couldn’t attend the board meeting in Atlanta.)

Pirkle and Scott, meanwhile, blend their careers in transportation and structural engineering, respectively, occasionally even working together on projects. Pirkle is chief engineer of the Georgia Department of Transportation, and Scott’s eponymous Scott Bridge Company does substantial work for the department.

“I just love building bridges,” said Scott, the latest member of his family to run the company. The firm builds bridges for DOTs across the South as well as railroad companies like CSX and Norfolk Southern. “I can remember my granddad carrying me around to bridge jobs in the summertime at the youngest age, and [I was] just fascinated by it,” Scott said.

“What’s there not to love about bridges? As they say, that’ll preach. You can preach a sermon about bridges: Bridges to life, bridges to here, bridges to there, bridges between people, bridges between nations, societies, cultures.”

Scott’s company spans four generations of his family. Now he’s looking at the next generation of family members who will assume the mantle of leadership, tackling the challenging projects Scott said have become the firm’s specialty.

That also gives him a bit more time, he said, to give back to the alma mater: “I wouldn’t be where I am today without my education [at Tech].”

Pirkle earned a master’s degree in civil engineering in 1997 and is a licensed professional engineer, a combination she said has proven valuable in her work at GDOT.

“I think it adds a level of real credibility when people hear you have a master's degree from Georgia Tech,” Pirkle said. “They immediately in their mind think, ‘Oh wow, she can do anything.’”

“I'm so proud of Georgia Tech and to be a part of it, so I love the idea of giving something back [as a member of the advisory board],” she said.