As leader of Houston’s second-oldest civil engineering firm, Jim Russ is inspired by the past and the future. He is part of a rich legacy linked to the names of EHRA Engineering founders Edminster, Hinshaw, Russ and Associates.
Modest about his role as president and CEO in EHRA’s success, Russ wants his associates to feel empowered by their role in the firm’s work. “We don’t use the word employees – our associates are a team,” said Russ. “My family instilled in me that opportunities are unlimited and that’s what we want our associates to know.” This approach is vital to Russ because creating a family atmosphere was integral to the company’s roots and founding. It’s the foundation of EHRA’s values today.
Russ is a firm believer in ‘best teams’ approach and being a ‘doer’ has guided his work for 20 years. Afterall, his firm executes public infrastructure, transportation, hydraulics and hydrology, land planning, land development, land surveying, construction phase services, and landscape architecture projects. EHRA’s work supports needs in those areas for city, county, state, governmental agencies as well as retail and commercial development. “Anything is possible when you put your mind to it,” said Russ.
Next generation: In founders’ footsteps of a rich company legacy
From 1906 to 1920 Truman C. Edminster, Sr., traveled the world as a surveyor. He founded Edminster Engineering in 1936 in Houston. Subsequent founding partners Conrad Hinshaw and R. Terry Russ joined in 1969 and 1978 respectively to establish the firm as it’s known today. Terry Russ, Jr., Jim’s father, became 100 percent stockholder in 1984.
Transition to EHRA: a logical next step
Russ spent summers in EHRA’s surveying department while majoring in construction at Texas A&M University and worked in civil construction after college. He knew he wanted to follow in the footsteps of Truman Edminster, his great grandfather and firm founder, his uncle, and dad, but didn’t know when. After a construction company where he worked folded, the moment came for Russ to join his father in 1998. He met with his father and his business partner about becoming manager for construction services. His cousin, Truman Edminster III, joined a year later. Russ’ father’s long-term vision of bringing the business back to the family was realized with a new generation of ownership.
With the younger Russ onboard, the firm gained added strengths by bringing his contractor’s perspective to the construction services practice area.
“I learned civil engineering working on civil construction projects. In 30 years of being in the working world I’ve only had three jobs with this being the third,” said Russ. “My father had reservations about me joining because he wanted me to experience other things in life, working in another industry, getting outside experience rather than just come directly into a family-owned business,” said Russ.
Russ is still in awe of how it all came together. “My father was a surveyor, Truman an engineer, and I was a contractor, so we had a really great team,” he said. “For projects involving land development, road engineering and construction I feel blessed about understanding how it all works. The transition provided an opportunity for my father to retire.”
“My dad was always a true mentor of mine,” said Russ. “I learned hard work and determination from my dad and I owe everything that I am to my parents, the man upstairs, and to Texas A&M who made it all possible. They taught me the value of a dollar and selfless service, and to lead by example.”
Russ values accountability on his team. “As a business owner and what I share with our next generation of leaders is this is the hardest job you will ever love…you’re responsible for running the business. Anything is possible when you put your mind to it. Work hard at it and do it better than the next person,” said Russ.
From this influence comes EHRA’s core values, which are known as ‘Jim-isms’:
- Keep it fresh
- Work hard
- Be a good person
- Always do the right thing
“I believe if you follow these principles you will succeed in anything you do.”
Not looking far for leadership models
Two leaders Russ admires who he sees exhibiting these values are Jim McIngvale known as Mattress Mack and owner of Gallery Furniture and Scott McClleland, president of H-E-B. “McIngvale is an inspiration for a lot of people. I’ve been in his stores and seen that man emptying trash cans. He’s a selfless servant who gives back to those in need. And, at H-E-B you can see how their associates at every level feel empowered,” said Russ.
EHRA committed to Westchase District
Russ joined the Westchase District Board of Directors in December 2019. He’d previously been on Westchase District’s Advisory Board, serving five years as its chair. “My commitment to Westchase District started more than 20 years ago,” said Russ. “I wanted to do everything in my power to help preserve the incredible presence and reputation Westchase District has always had as the premier business district in West Houston. We are excited and happy to have our firm here because it feels like home.”