The Risk Mitigator

Mike Yost

Like many engineering-consulting firms, Terracon Consultants, Inc., based in Olathe, Kansas, has faced challenges over the past few years due to the economy. But the hard work of employees such as general counsel Mike Yost is paying off. Engineering News-Record recently ranked Terracon 38th in its list of the top 500 design firms and 88th in its list of the top 200 environmental firms. Below, American Builders Quarterly talks with Yost about how his work for Terracon contributes to the company’s lauded success.

What is Terracon’s speciality?
Mike Yost: Terracon specializes in an area of civil engineering referred to as geoprofessional services, which handles engineering related to the environment, soils, and materials. We have four service lines: geotechnical engineering, in which we study soil conditions to determine what building structures can be placed on a given piece of land; construction materials engineering and testing, in which we monitor and inspect materials [such as steel or concrete] as they’re being installed in a building; environmental consulting, in which we use geological and engineering principles to improve the natural environment; and facilities consulting, in which we examine buildings to assess their conditions and determine whether they need repairs. We do around 45,000 projects a year.

How did you end up as the general counsel?
MY: I took an atypical approach. I didn’t come from a private practice; I was a state prosecutor for nine years since graduating from law school. I was looking to move from the public sector to the private sector but as in-house counsel because I liked the idea of serving one client instead of 100, which is the case with private-practice work. Given that goal, it was just about finding a fit with a company.

How did you choose Terracon?
MY: At that time I was looking for an in-house counsel position, Terracon was looking for a claims attorney. I knew little about the industry and had to do some homework. When I got into it, I realized that the people who run the company, with whom I’d be working closely, were bright and ethical. Additionally, Terracon is 100 percent employee-owned, so everyone who works here has the opportunity to buy stock and be a part of the company’s destiny. So I accepted the position as a claims attorney. Through attrition of people above me, over the past nine years my responsibilities have expanded to include a general counsel role.

What’s involved in your role as general counsel?
MY: General counsel means different things at different companies. At Terracon, I’m one of five attorneys, each of whom handles different legal issues, such as risk management and contract negotiations. I handle risk management, with claims prevention and management being a big part of that. In the engineering field, professional liability claims—which stem from charges that a professional was negligent in some way—are significant.

What does your average day look like?
MY: One of the most interesting things about this job is that what you think your day is going to look like is rarely what your day ends up looking like. We’re there to respond to the needs of an internal team, which consists of our operations people, and their needs are constantly changing. But I like that; the dynamic nature of my day-to-day responsibilities makes the job a rewarding career choice.

What’s your favorite type of project to work on?
MY: Because I come from a litigation background, I enjoy the strategy behind litigation. While I don’t go to court, I work closely with outside counsel, which does. I’m very involved in the plan to get to the resolution.

What do you like most about the job?
MY: For me, the most rewarding part of the job is the fact that I can garner the trust of and work effectively for the operations people, who really fuel the machine and power this company. When operations people have problems, I step in and help them. But when I steer them through minefields and they can get on with the work they like to do, I feel a sense of accomplishment. ABQ