Dejando Huella en el Futuro: Meet Robert Gonzalez

Lillian Minix By: Lillian Minix

I remember my first conversation with Robert well. In November 2020, news broke that he would become a Principal at the firm, and I called to congratulate him and learn more about his expertise for a writeup regarding his new role. We spoke for ten minutes and he told me about his experience in his (at the time) three years at Timmons Group.

While I’m never shocked that each of our employees has a particularly interesting background, Robert’s story came full circle for me when we sat down in September for a much longer discussion that was sparked by my reaching out to him for a Hispanic Heritage Month feature. We talked about everything from his A/E/C background and family influence to his leadership style.

Robert is the head of our Dallas office and leader of our renewable energy practices in Dallas and Richmond. He originally focused his engineering background on land development and construction before he shifted to renewable energy. He has a bachelor’s in civil engineering from Brigham Young University and is a Licensed Professional Engineer in Arizona, DC, Idaho, Illinois, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Washington. He’s spent years growing the Dallas engineering and survey practice and also oversees the quickly expanding Richmond renewable energy group, totaling over 40 individuals at the time of writing.

As you can imagine, with all those employees (on several teams in different localities), Robert is very involved in his team members’ needs and places an emphasis on giving everyone tools that can help them succeed.

Robert and his Dallas team collected food in March 2021 for North Texas Food Bank.

Robert’s engineering team members exercise their proficiency in designing solar farms, an ever evolving and vital part of the renewable energy industry.

“From an engineering standpoint, both the teams I work with have different overall focuses and needs,” Robert said about the Dallas and Richmond practices. “In our Dallas practice’s work, there aren’t a lot of sensitive watersheds or forests to protect, so our goal in the Texas office is very private-focused. We produce a lot of renewable energy designs for large undeveloped areas or farmland. The biggest challenges are volume, managing large data sets and doing it all with tight schedules. In our Richmond office, the renewables team has similar challenges but with the added responsibility of working with municipalities and agencies to meet stormwater management and natural preserve goals.” Each team also handles certain technical design aspects differently, like how to engage with underground utilities or trees and power poles that may prevent solar panels from receiving sunlight.

Robert says it can be interesting to manage each team’s design needs, but it’s a challenge he welcomes. “It’s an interesting dynamic, that our teams are niche to the regions they serve, and it’s exciting to see them flourish in those areas.”

Alongside the renewables engineers in both states, Robert manages a survey practice in the Dallas office. This team’s focus is surveying the land that solar and wind farms will be constructed on.

“Our surveyors go all over the country, mostly focusing on Texas and the west,” Robert said. These team members’ day to day jobs include surveying thousands of square miles to ensure that a utility development client has everything in their back pocket to bring their renewable energy dream to life. His surveyors’ careers are demanding, and Robert knows that the key to any successful team is to nurture a culture of commitment, trust, and boundaries (pun intended).

“These individuals are so invested in their work, they travel a lot and they’re very focused. They spend weeks in the field going from site to site and manually surveying large plots of land. One of their biggest challenges is a quick turnaround for large projects.”

Whether he’s overseeing his engineers or his surveyors, Robert says that one of the keys to leadership is placing an emphasis on his employees. “As a leader my goal is to give them all the tools, structure, and company culture that they need to prosper. Having a company behind you who’s listening and putting an emphasis on their employees is amazing, and we’re grateful that Timmons Group provides those things for us. Because, when you find someone good, you really want to hold on to them.”

Robert’s Dallas team recently moved into a new space and celebrated with matching Timmons Group tees.

Robert is an advocate for all his employees, but being a good leader is something he had to work for. He attributes some parts of his leadership style to anecdotal experiences and borrowed mantras from books like The Speed of Trust by Stephen M. R. Covey, but he also attributes a lot to watching his Hispanic family pave their own way in America when he was young.

“When I was growing up, I remember thinking that to make a difference in my life, I had to apply myself—my character and the things I knew I was capable of. My dad is from Mexico and I grew up fairly poor, so I knew I had to get an education. I had examples in my life that I could follow. Watching them while growing up I realized, ‘Oh, it is possible, I just have to work hard and recognize my potential.’”

It came as no shock to me to learn that Robert harnessed examples from his family to build his own success, but he did tell me about three particular individuals that heavily influenced his motivation to thrive in life.

The first was his great grandfather, Manrique Gonzalez. “I could go on for hours about him but simply put—he was a very hard worker,” Robert said. Manrique began work at a very young age for very little. He learned English, got a degree in the United States, and became a professor of Agriculture at Utah State University and then New Mexico State University, where he went on to develop the New Mexico Pinto Bean.

Manrique Gonzalez, Robert’s great grandfather and inventor of the pinto bean.

Robert’s great grandfather’s oldest son, Ernesto Gonzalez, is another family influence for Robert. Ernesto taught medicine while serving in the military and earned several masters and PhD degrees before becoming a brain surgeon and practicing as the chief of staff at The French Hospital in San Francisco. “I didn’t meet him until I was 19 but I’d always heard stories about him and figured if somebody born in Mexico, could come to the United States and become a brain surgeon there was no reason I couldn’t be whatever I wanted to be.”

The third influence, and the greatest, that Robert recalls is his uncle Manrique “Manny” Gonzalez, who was born in Mexico. He earned an associate’s degree in humanities from a community college, then moved to Oregon with family directly after graduation to work in construction. “While still in his twenties, he and a coworker decided to buy a backhoe and a dump truck and start their own construction company, T&M Pipeline Construction, after Tom and Manny. The company struggled and Tom left, but my uncle persevered,” Robert told me.

Robert said that every summer between the ages of 15 and 23 he worked for his uncle’s company in Oregon, starting as a construction top man, someone who stands at the top of the trench and hands things down to workers below.

“When my uncle and aunt passed away in 2003 in an airplane accident, I took over the construction company and their estate. I was only 27. I knew enough about the company after spending 7 summers, literally in the trenches.” Robert eventually turned the business over to a cousin when he was ready, but the experience provided a sound platform for which he built his leadership skills on.

Manrique and Ernesto, Robert’s great grandfather and great uncle.

When I look back on my original conversation with Robert in November 2020, I recall the excitement in his voice to be discussing his new role as Principal at the firm. Now, when I think of my recent conversation with him, I also think about the way he built his career with so many influences from his Hispanic family and culture. 

Robert spent years watching and absorbing everything he could from these successful men in his life, their legacies helping him realize his potential to be a leader in his own right. Surely, they’d all be very proud to know that Robert is passing along pieces of their invaluable leadership skills and knowledge to his renewable energy engineers and surveyors as they build their own careers.