Jackie Robb | Crain's St. Louis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Jackie Robb

Background:  

St. Louis-based Vapor Mitigation Strategies, a Wellington Environmental company, offers vapor intrusion barrier solutions to both new building projects and existing structures where petroleum products and volatile chemicals in the vapor phase may migrate through soil into indoor spaces. The composite membrane system offered by VMS provides multiple layers of protection against vapor intrusion.

The Mistake:

Feeling as though I needed to know all the answers.

I've been in consulting here at Wellington for 25 years and before that for seven years. When I got out of engineering school, I thought, “My clients are going to expect me to know everything about everything."

I went into numerous situations where they'd have a question and I felt like I'd failed because I didn't have the answer right off the top of my head. That's pretty hard for a 25-year-old without experience to have all the knowledge. So I was putting myself in a position to not help myself or my clients very well because I thought I needed to be the one-stop shop.

I really wish I could go back to the younger me and say, 'You know, you don't have to be the one-stop shop.'

The Lesson:

What I've learned through the years is that no one expects you to know the answers as you're sitting there. It's nice to have those answers, but you really need to be able to find the answers. The way to do that is to build your networks. Build networks starting with your coworkers who have experience in areas you don't. So I went to colleagues who knew more. Then, as the years went by, I gathered more colleagues, vendors and coworkers with knowledge. It was a way for me to learn and for me to gather information clients needed.

My client doesn't care where I'm getting that information or how I'm getting the job done. They just want the solution in a cost-effective and time-effective manner. I really wish I could go back to the younger me and say, “You know, you don't have to be the one-stop shop. You just have to be able to find the answers because clients don’t want to have to seek out multiple people to solve this problem."

I think it was really coming here to Wellington from my old company that forced me into a new mindset. I was focused on soil sampling there but, when I came here, we had a client who had a Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District permit for wastewater discharge and I had to sample quarterly. I understood the basics of wastewater sampling, but didn't have any specialized knowledge. But my college roommate did. So I picked up the phone and said, “Tell me what I need to know about sampling for wastewater permits.” She spent a great deal of time, because she was one of my best friends, and really helped me, giving me details about what she knew and what I needed to look for and do. I also got involved with some great vendors – labs with people who could help me out. Now it's a service we've been offering for 25 years and I would say I'm a regional expert.

It's a really fun part of my job that I'm learning something new every day, because you never know what phone call is going to come in with that next question. It's great if a client calls with a problem. We don't say, “We can't help you.” We try to find the answer.

It's reaching out to vendors and going on the internet. There's a wealth of information there, but we have the base to use it. Anybody could get on the internet and look up information, but you have to have that regulatory and scientific background to be able to use the information effectively. It's always something new, something challenging. And it feels so good to be able to find the answer for the client.

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