Miroslav Grajewski is a second-generation entrepreneur who is maximizing his B.S. in Civil Engineering from the University of Connecticut (2012) as a leader and Vice President at Zuvic, Carr and Associates. The Connecticut-based engineering firm was founded by his parents 30 years ago.
Miroslav spoke with Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price about his experience transitioning into his family-owned business and honing his entrepreneurial skills.
NAN PRICE: How have you seen the company innovate and evolve?
MIROSLAV GRAJEWSKI: That’s an intriguing question, because civil engineers don’t often think of themselves as working in an innovative field or in a company that innovates. We’re small and nimble enough to challenge that assumption. For us, the innovation component really lies in how we provide a trusted service in a different way. That’s the core differentiator. And we can do that with our people, who are exceptional civil and environmental engineers.
Zuvic Carr’s evolution story is counterintuitive, too. Going to work for my parents, I realized they had gotten to where they are by creating great relationships. As some of our clients’ companies grew, such as Coca-Cola and Goodwin College, they expanded their facilities and all the work came to us because we had already established those relationships.
Because we were growing as our clients were growing, it seemed natural that we would move into the direction of being a one-stop shop. Or rather, a small collection of specialists at the forefront of their practice who can parlay their skills into being great generalists, too.
But, as we have grown, we’ve come to realize that new clients don’t trust that same message. They don’t necessarily believe a small company can do everything. So, the evolution part for us has meant taking a step back to take a step forward.
That’s been a pivotal change for us, that transition to really understanding what and how and where we add value to our clients instead of trying to fill every role. We do not have enough people to do everything. Nor do we want to. It is hard to innovate or make large changes quickly in a huge company. Instead, we can allow our civil and environmental engineers to focus on what they really enjoy doing without forcing them to wear too many hats and spreading them too thin. And, for them, that’s solving complex engineering problems and delivering results for challenging projects.
NAN: How has your background helped you with the role you’re in now?
MIROSLAV: I grew up in a family of civil engineers. I didn’t necessarily think that was my calling. I always wanted to focus on business, using the other side of the brain and looking at the big picture.
I went into engineering with the idea of it being a foot in the door for business in the long-term, not knowing what that was going to look like. It did help me find myself, especially once I connected with friends, professors, and mentors like Nerac President Kevin Bouley. Kevin and I met during the Entrepreneurial Senior Design Program and really connected after graduating in a period when I was doing a lot of soul searching.
I remember in one of my study groups at UConn I was trying to figure out what value I added to the group. I always knew who was good at solving the problem. I could always find the right person. Once I started picking up on that, I realized that was the value I was bringing: I didn’t need to know how to answer every question as long as I could connect the people who did. That’s how I helped the group succeed.
When I graduated from engineering school, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I decided to join my parents’ firm thinking: I’ll do this for a little while and see what happens. If I like it, I’ll stay.
I grew up seeing my mother and father, as business owners, doing everything they needed to do to make this company succeed. And so, if a need arose, I worked to fill it. In the beginning, I basically did every job—from surveying to drafting and design to ordering equipment and interfacing with our IT specialists.
It can be a double-edged sword of being the bosses’ kid. They know you can’t get fired—but they know you won’t leave either.
NAN: And you haven’t left!
MIROSLAV: No. I took on more responsibility and eventually was managing small teams. The thread through all of this is always finding the right people to do the right job. Because I’m not trying to do it all, I’m able to evolve. And I’ve been able to find the right people over time as the company evolves.
I need to constantly grow so I can then help our leadership team grow and we can work together to help the firm grow. It helps that I have a foot in both worlds: Engineering and business. I have to help the leadership team understand what they need to learn and how to keep growing themselves while they’re focused on their civil and environmental engineering departments, helping their own people grow, and making sure projects are done within a certain budget.
They need someone like me to push them to keep growing and learning, taking classes and seminars, reading books, and getting out and spreading the message about what we do. We all play different roles on the team.
NAN: In terms of leadership, what lessons have you learned on your journey?
MIROSLAV: I’ve always talked to people and picked up on trends of what works and what doesn’t. I’ve learned that successful business owners have a lifelong learning mentality. They’re continuously trying to push themselves—not just coasting.
I’ve also learned to focus on what I’m good at. I don’t have to be the best at everything—and I can help other people be the best in their individual areas. I’m lucky enough that I work at a great company with engineers who are curious, want to develop, and are open to new ideas.
NAN: What’s next? Do you plan to take over the company at some point?
MIROSLAV: Yes, the plan is for me to take over in the next couple of years. My parents will phase out over time. They’re still involved right now, and their mentorship and perspective is indispensable.
And then we’ll keep growing the company by continuing to do what we do well. There’s a lot of work in Connecticut—and a lot of work outside of Connecticut. Eventually, we want to expand into Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New York. We’ll always keep the company based here in Connecticut. This is our home.