PMA People

Q&A with our People

Dr. Gui Ponce de Leon

, Ann Arbor

Why did you choose to start Project Management Associates/PMA Consultants?
In July 1969, I was fortunate to be offered an internship as a scheduling consultant with Townsend & Bottum, Inc., (T&B) then the largest Michigan contractor. They had just purchased an IBM 360/30 computer and couldn’t make heads or tails of the scheduling software, which was known as Project Control System (PCS). There were sample schedules provided with the software that included Start-to-start & finish-to-finish logic, and the T&B scheduling knowledgeable personnel had been schooled on traditional CPM/arrow diagrams, and, of course, couldn’t understand the sample schedules.

By the spring of 1970, it occurred to me that if such a huge construction company couldn’t figure out the future of computerized CPM scheduling, perhaps I could develop a career consulting on that. I was already on track to get a PhD in project networks and this provided a pathway for my research. After T&B declined to join me in this endeavor, I set up a company, DBA Project Management Associates. In July of 1971, having learned that Bechtel had just taken a building permit to build a tower down the road from its building, Bill Bottum reconsidered and offered me the opportunity to incorporate PMA as a subsidiary to T&B so that they could remain competitive with Bechtel in the area of computerized project scheduling and project controls. The initial incorporation of PMA, Inc. was as a subsidiary of T&B.

What do you feel has led to PMA’s growth and success?
Some contributors happened without design. Included is our uncanny ability to attract incredible talent who are passionate about what PMA does. Another is an exceedingly conservative approach to managing our finances, something that I picked up from Bill Bottum. We desire to always do the best for our clients, in some cases way beyond what is reflected on the invoice. We take pride in doing good work that is successful for the client.

Be that as it may, in fall of 1988, after nearly crashing like clockwork every four years, starting in 1972, I decided we would not grow again from the 14-15 people in PMA at that time until I figured out the one ingredient that would make our practice sustainable. After 41 years of nonstop reading, I had a ‘eureka’ moment while reading Stanley M. Davis’ Future Perfect: when I realized that it was all about relationships, relationships, relationships. The relationship is where the PMA world intersects with the clients’ world. So we developed a whole new way of thinking founded on seeking strong client relationships, making them stronger and taking a long-term perspective. It is by following relationships that PMA evolved from a scheduling-dominated practice to a full-fledged project management service provider with strong project controls and scheduling expertise that spilled over into claims analysis and expert testimony.

Who has been your influence for directing PMA?
Early on it was clearly my mentor, Bill Bottum. While there are some marked differences between how Bill and I lead, there are also substantive commonalities. Bill was supremely client driven, such that T&B, a David among Goliaths, got beyond their share of the market. He was also always pushing the envelope adopting cutting-edge technology; he was into 3D modeling in the mid-1970s! And of course with the presence of yours truly, a force to reckon with in computerized project controls. Bill and I read pretty much the same books and always stuck to our word.

What type of future growth do you see for PMA? Succession planning?
Starting in 2009, we began planning our future in five-year intervals. We are right on track as to growth in the current 2014-2018 planning cycle. But a key driver toward growth is an intent to grow revenues 5% to 7% annually.

As is well known, Dax was named CEO-elect last November, and we are on track for him to take over as CEO after 10 years in the CEO-elect role. We have also initiated steps to transition leadership from first generation to second generation leaders.

What is your career highlight so far?
Too many to choose from and, to be fair, I would have to rack my brain so that every five-year interval is fairly considered. But if I look back after our last relapse (again in the fall of 1988), I would have to include the Central Artery/Tunnel project in Boston as a sub to Bechtel (1989-2006); the opening of the Chicago and New York offices in 1996 and 1997; the decision to become an innovator in 2000; the Visteon Village and JW Marriott projects (2001 & 2007); the publication of the FSBOK in December 2010; our first patent on the graphical path method (GPM) in 2012; our amazing schedule analytics IP so well captured in our new software offering, Schedule IQ; and the decision to turn over the reins of the CEO office to Dax Ponce de Leon in 2025.

Not to go back too far, but the opening of the Orlando office in 1984 and the Detroit office in 1985 were significant highlights in our history.

What is something new or innovative happening in your industry?
In the project management space, definitely our new scheduling method, GPM; BIM modeling, including 4D modeling; risk analysis; and more progressive strategies to well-established alternative project delivery methods.

What university or college did you graduate from?
I received a PhD from the University of Michigan in May 1972, and an MS in construction engineering management in December 1969. I did spend one year at Vanderbilt University in structural engineering before coming to Michigan to pursue a degree in construction management, and I received my BS in civil engineering from the National University of Engineering in Lima, Peru, in December 1965.

What is your favorite local establishment/feature (restaurant, museum, stadium, etc.)?
I eat way too often at the West End Grill and Chop House. Clearly, while I don’t partake much anymore, going to the Big House for a home game in the fall is an amazing experience. While hardly local, being one hour away from Lake Huron and two hours away from Lake Michigan is an amazing Ann Arbor feature. Anyone who hasn’t been to the shores of any Great Lake needs to fix that. Let’s not forget canoeing in the Huron River, not to mention running along the river.

Fun Fact!
I love getting from home to work in less than 10 minutes. Whenever I meet people on the plane and they learn I am from Ann Arbor, nine out of ten times they ask, “Do you teach at the U of M?”