When Suzanne Puccino went to work for Parsons Brinkerhoff, now WSP, over 25 years ago, she likely wouldn’t have been able to imagine the company’s destiny for change. Over the course of her career, she’s seen WSP acquired two different times, which inevitably evolved her role and responsibilities. Two different executive committees have asked her to stay throughout the transitions. They simply didn’t have someone who could match her institutional knowledge or wide breadth of capabilities.
While Puccino can say she’s stayed at the same company for a quarter of a century, it’s both absolutely true and categorically false. The now SVP and director of workplace strategy at Canadian-based WSP has helped streamline both acquisitions of the company and countless acquisitions by it as well, all the while and all too often finding herself the only woman in the meeting.
Puccino says she was willing and excited to grow as her original employer both evolved and expanded its scope—in fact, that growth was encouraged within the company culture. “From the very beginning, we talked about ethics all the time; we talked about why it was so important to be transparent and truthful,” Puccino says. “When you’re surrounded by other people who believe that and who believe that it’s the right decision for the client, for yourself, and for the company, it’s an absolute win-win.” That commitment to transparency has remained and is kept in plain site by WSP’s president and CEO, Alexandre L’Heureux.
Adaptability is in Puccino’s DNA. From one day to the next, she can tackle corporate services, travel programs, and administrative functions, policies, and procedures. “I’ve always been a change agent, and that applies to myself, too. In making these changes over the years, my goal has always been to get the most value out of those new opportunities.”
combines her appreciation for the power of change with her ability to bridge gaps between the existing company and its new acquisitions, which makes her uniquely suited for a company that continues to redefine itself.
While rethinking the possibilities of her own role, Puccino has had to confront some of the harsh realities of being a woman in a male-dominated industry. “There are certainly times in my career when I’ve been challenged by aggressive people, people who feel they have the right to fly off the handle, or people who feel like they have to create pressure to get what they want. I think you will find me pretty even-keeled in most situations,” Puccino says. “Over the years, I’ve had much more success with trying to cultivate respect and kindness and developing relationships.”
In often having to represent an entire gender in a meeting, Puccino found herself always working to be overprepared. “Especially when we were having construction meetings, the basics like being able to read a plan and have a basic understanding of what is being discussed were absolutely crucial,” Puccino says. “Early on, I did a lot of listening, learning, and homework.”
Puccino says that not being seen as passive served several purposes. “It requires you to be actively engaged and understand what’s going on.” And while she says she was keenly aware of her minority status in the room, she refused to let it dictate her own basic approach to her work.
The SVP says her eyes are always fixed on WSP’s three-year strategic plan. Two projects in particular are passion points for Puccino. “I’m on the sustainability task force, and our overall goal is to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions,” Puccino says. “What we do internally with our buildings can play a big role in that and help us be better global citizens.”
Diversity and inclusion are also high-priority matters at WSP. “As culture has evolved, I see many more young women in the workplace, which I think is great—but our diversity is not just gender,” Puccino says. “I’m really optimistic that not just WSP, but the world is willing to take on that mantle.”
Puccino offers simple but power advice to those hoping to follow in her footsteps. “This may sound trite, but you need to be prepared,” Puccino says. “Your general retention of issues is imperative, so when people ask you a question, you have an answer. I think it’s incredibly important.”
Puccino also reemphasizes the need to consider what should be fundamentals of corporate and human interaction. “While you may not treat people at senior and junior levels exactly the same, you do have to do it with respect,” Puccino says. “Nobody does less, and they shouldn’t be spoken to as if they do.”
Most importantly, Puccino says that for many women, there will be ugly times. “But you can’t let that stop you. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve had people who supported me, and it’s really important to find those people for yourself.”