Looking Back…a conversation with Karen Jehanian

By Emily A. White 

What drove you to start KMJ?

I was raised in a community of entrepreneurs. My father owned his own business, and my Armenian immigrant grandparents had a powerful work ethic. By the time, I was in 7th grade I knew I wanted to own an engineering firm. I landed in Civil Engineering at Drexel University. The co-op program provided a source of inspiration and real-world understanding. As I progressed in my career, I knew that I wanted to have a different work experience and provide a different cultural experience for others as well. So, I sought out opportunities to learn the business side of the business. When the opportunity to take this leap presented itself, I seized it! This wasn’t always a walk in the park but it has led me to where we are now almost 20 years later!

How has your leadership style shaped KMJ?

My leadership style has evolved over the years. Growing up I was a ‘bossy’ kid, and I realized there is a different way to go about things. The attitude I put out as a leader is the attitude I will receive. I care deeply about people, how they work and how they can achieve their own goals. We are a collaborative team, and I give my employees a sense of autonomy and trust. I like to promote an atmosphere of supportive camaraderie among the staff.

What is the culture like?

One of the main reasons I started KMJ was to create a friendly and creative environment and I believe we have achieved that. At KMJ we have a Lunch & Learn series where employees are encouraged to lead a topic they are passionate about in our industry. We are not just growing as a stronger team, but growing individually as well. We work hard to make it work but it’s not hard work.

What does being a civil engineer mean to you?

In our field, we are given the choice to perform our civic and civil duty. Associating our work to real-life situations makes this work very meaningful. For instance, designing ADA Curb Ramps. You may not think anything of it when you are talking a walk around town but for those in a wheelchair this is a vital resource. When you get to the heart of it and understand the ‘Why’ behind these plans and studies there is a real benefit to our society. This is very powerful and I keep it at the forefront of our work. It is not just the plans and studies but much more.

What is one piece of advice you would give those entering the work force?  

Be the “go to” person! Be indispensable! This is an attitude and a mindset. It means being growth oriented and solution seeking in your area of influence.

What is your definition of success?

Many people define success as attaining a particular stature or earning financial rewards. For me it has always been about achieving a just goal with integrity. I have found that in doing so, the other elements fall into place.


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