Math and science always appealed to Mike Pohlman. Sitting at a desk all day did not. That’s why he was glad to land a job as project manager for Pickering, a 66-year-old firm that offers comprehensive engineering and architectural services.
“I started here in 1979 with Energy Management Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Pickering,” says Pohlman. “That gave me an opportunity, as a mechanical engineer, to design systems. But I gravitated toward getting out and learning about all the disciplines. You have to do that to get better at everything you do. I enjoyed being project manager, and I furthered my education.
I learned about building teamwork. That’s the only way you can get a job done.”
That furthering of education proved beneficial to Pohlman, who was promoted to CEO of the firm in 1998. One thing he learned was when to bring in other professionals. “My first project was Wang International, at Malone and Shelby Drive,” he says. “That was the first time we hired an outside architect. That means we didn’t work for them, they worked for us. That way you control your own schedule.”
Another project accomplished under Pohlman’s leadership was the Riviana Food expansion. “They’re rice makers in the inner city, and they chose to expand right where they are,” says Pohlman. Among other major clients is Kroger’s Delta Market. “We’ve done new stores as well as ‘inside-the-walls’ renovations for them, including the one at Sanderlin Centre. And we’ve designed the expansion of the Poplar Plaza store.” Pickering is also responsible for extensive work at Memphis International Airport and for FedEx Ground, based in Pittsburgh. “We’re a player in their $1 billion expansion,” says Pohlman.
This 54-year-old Memphian — who moved here from Cincinnati with his parents and their seven sons when Pohlman was 5 years old — is a strong civic supporter who likes helping the city recruit business. He says the firm played a part in bringing Electrolux here. “We did all the paving and draining work for them as well as for Mitsubishi Electric,” he says. While he was glad Pickering got the jobs, he’s even more glad those firms chose to move to Memphis. “I want to grow the company and the city.”
With a desire to improve education and build the local workforce, Pohlman sits on advisory boards for the University of Memphis and Christian Brothers University, and he also supports the Jubilee Schools of The Catholic Diocese.
At work he’s motivated daily to “keep everybody fed and happy.” He stresses the team approach instead of “the boss syndrome.”
“We set a goal and a schedule, and we’re all in it together,” he says. “Our goal is to make our clients look good and set ourselves apart from the competition.”
Another goal was to reach $20 million in net revenue. “We came close,” he says. “Last year we reached $22 million in gross revenue.” He also started an employee stock ownership program. “Everyone wants to see the company perpetuate, so we’re training the next generation of leaders. I love to see people succeed.”
Not surprisingly, Pohlman’s penchant for teamwork extends to sports: He coaches basketball at St. Louis Catholic School. As for motivation, the husband and father of four laughs and says, “Nothing will motivate you like educating your children!”
Name: Mike Pohlman
Company: Pickering, Inc.
Address: 6775 Lenox Center Court, Suite 300
Services Provided: Engineering and architectural services
How Long With Company: 33 years, 14 years as CEO
Number of Employees: 140, with 95 in Memphis and the rest in five Mississippi offices
What makes a good CEO: “To listen and process other folks’ ideas, and keep our egos in check. Remember that clients are king, and their projects are what are important.”