Civil Design, Inc., Creating a Company Culture – St. Louis, MO.

  • Published: Thursday, April 11, 2019

Collaborative, family, community, innovative, impactful. Is this how you would describe your workplace? Maybe not, but these are the words that the employees of Civil Design, INC. (CDI) have chosen to describe their company and these five simple words have shaped CDI’s company culture.

CDI was founded in the basement of CEO, Vicki LaRose’s, home in 1996. Within ten years, the company would grow into a locally and nationally recognized civil engineering firm with offices in Missouri, Illinois, and Kentucky. Their specialties include everything from surveying to bridge building and mapping through GIS. The company has become a favorite of government agencies, like the Missouri Department of Transportation (MODOT), because of their dedication and excellent work.  

While CDI continues to thrive, LaRose feels the need to point part of the credit for CDI’s success back to the company culture. 

“We wouldn’t be where we are today without our culture,” LaRose says. 

Built on simple principles, like trust and respect, the company’s distinctive culture began as a desire to make CDI feel inclusive. LaRose and her husband, Dennis, decided that they wanted their company to feel like a family and to improve upon the typical atmosphere of most civil engineering firms.

“Engineering is a whole different beast, and it can be a little stuffy, but we wanted to be different from that,” explains LaRose. “We try to focus on the idea that what we do will help someone in the future, and we try to have fun while we’re doing it.”

LaRose began developing the ideas behind CDI’s company culture with Greg Tucker, a former business specialist for the Missouri Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in St. Louis and the current State Director of the Missouri SBDC. Tucker assisted the company with strategic planning and marketing. 

“When I sat down with Vicki to begin strategic planning, I asked her what she wanted the company to look like,” Tucker recalls. “She wanted it to be relaxed and open and she has been careful to cultivate that culture.” 

The comfortable and inclusive atmosphere that LaRose has strived for is manifested in almost every aspect of CDI. The company office was designed as a large, open space centered around a kitchen area and a table capable of seating close to thirty people. Tucker points out that even CDI’s hiring process begins and ends with maintaining this friendly culture. 

“Rather than looking at degrees or worrying over their class standing, Vicki has always looked for particular personalities to help build that relaxed and open culture,” explains Tucker. 

These methods have allowed the company to be founded on a community of respect and the employees of CDI have continued to pursue LaRose’s initial vision of a workplace family. 

“We treat everyone like they have value and thoughts,” says LaRose. “It’s like the Golden Rule, and it really works.”

This use of the Golden Rule extends beyond just the office walls. In 2014, the company’s non-profit, Civil Giving, was established to focus on service beyond engineering and on providing for the needs of both local and international communities. The foundation is located within the company and helps charities that are selected by CDI employees.  

“CDI is community-oriented and dedicated to serving their friends and neighbors,” says Kevin Wilson, the regional director of the Missouri SBDC in St. Louis and the Associate State Director of the Missouri SBDC. “Vicki and her husband have always encouraged their employees to give back to the community.”

Tucker adds that LaRose has always been eager to serve and help others: “To her, it’s more important than profit.”

Through Civil Giving, CDI now has a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club and hosts an annual wiffle-ball tournament that brings together their partners for a good cause and ultimately gives back to the community of St. Louis. 

“Our second office in Louisville, Kentucky is actually having a bowling tournament to benefit a group-home for young women,” LaRose says. “We have a focus on STEM and women issues, and just general needs.”

The priority of the company, LaRose adds, has always been its employees and the individuals who are benefited through CDI’s projects. 

“The people come first and the projects come second,” she explains. 

Because of this ideal, and the many other values at the heart of their organization, CDI recently became a finalist for the St. Louis Business Journal’s Best Places to Work Award. The winners of the award will be announced in early March and for those hoping to create a better workplace, LaRose’s advice is to be dedicated to the development of an open, family-like atmosphere. 

“I would encourage anyone starting a company to think about your culture and about what you want in a company,” LaRose advises. “It takes time and it takes effort, but make sure you take time to figure out what is at the core of your company.”