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News: Member Portrait

Member Portrait: Tyler Highfill - Focus on Service

Tuesday, June 13, 2017  
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Originally published in the Spring 2017 issue of NC Currents magazine.

Photo credit: Amber Tindall, Amber Ocean Photographic

In the early years of Highfill Infrastructure Engineering, P.C., Tyler Highfill and his business partner Ray Cox decided to focus on being the best possible water and wastewater design firm in the Southeast. To do this, they knew they had to act as problem solvers, and provide outstanding technical resources to their clients. “In addition to being highly technically capable,” explains Tyler Highfill, “what we were most passionate about was providing service, and understanding the needs of our clients to a depth and breadth that would enable us to provide a high level of responsiveness to their needs.”

Since then, service has continued to be the guiding principle for both Highfill and the company, attracting like-minded people to work for HIGHFILL. “All of our people are very involved in service outside our profession,” Highfill points out. “So it’s probably no coincidence that they enjoy providing service, because it’s ingrained in who they are.”

For instance, one member of the team spent some time in Guatemala on a service project, and another spent six months in Ecuador helping with water projects, while yet another volunteers at a soup kitchen. As for Highfill, outside of the office he devotes his time to coaching youth baseball as a platform for providing children with guidance and mentorship.

Highfill offers a glowing review of the team in his office, and the admiration is mutual. A request to describe the founder and President of the company elicited words such as “thorough” “appreciative,” and “sincere”, and phrases such as “driven yet empathetic,” “leads by example,” and “values everyone’s opinion.” Another member of the team described Highfill as, “a forward thinker who is always one step ahead of the game.”

It’s no wonder then, that the NC AWWA-WEA approached him to chair the newly-created Career Ladder Task Force from 2014-16. “It’s an exciting initiative,” says Highfill. “It has resulted in the creation of an organized group of training modules that will help operators advance their careers, which will in turn help employers and our entire industry.”

Highfill has found that helping members advance in the industry is a common thread running through all NC AWWA-WEA activities. Highfill first joined the AWWA in 1995, shortly after graduating from NC State University with a Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering. At the time he was working in the North Carolina office of Piedmont, Olsen & Hensley – later taken over by Arcadis.

Over the years, Highfill served on a wide variety of committees, including Computer Applications, Local Arrangements, Collection and Distribution, and Government Affairs. He was a member of the Board of Trustees for two years and a WEF Delegate for three, which also placed him on the national WEF House of Delegates. “I think when you get involved in some of these organizations, you get more out of it than what you put in,” notes Highfill, adding that NC AWWA-WEA brings members in contact with many different areas of focus. “When you step out of your office into a new environment, you see things from a different angle. I helped out with NC AWWA-WEA and I know they helped me a lot too.”

He points out that, along with opportunities for networking with other members of the industry, volunteering with NC AWWA-WEA is also an excellent way to develop abilities such as leadership, time management and presentation skills. “The first time I ever looked at a profit/loss statement was sitting on the board of directors of NC AWWA-WEA,” recalls Highfill. “That was long before I ever thought that I would be running a business.”

Indeed, these skills proved to be invaluable when he launched HIGHFILL in 2004, with a focus on drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater. Today, the company has grown from a one-person operation to a team of 18, with offices in Cary, Wilmington, Winston-Salem, and Columbia. What has not changed is the company’s commitment to serving clients, colleagues, and the community.

HIGHFILL offers the personal touch of a small firm combined with the technical knowledge and capabilities needed to serve some of the larger cities and towns in North Carolina. “One of the reasons we made it through the recession fairly well is that we had built these relationships of trust,” explains Highfill, noting that 90% of their clients are repeat customers. “I think it’s a measure of whether or not we’re serving them well.”

For instance, several clients have renewed their ‘on-call contracts’ multiple times. Instead of tendering for every project, some communities will contract with a pool of companies, turning to them on an as-needs basis for specific work, such as plant improvements, pipeline extensions, and pump station renovations. “Being able to continue doing that kind of work is indicative of client satisfaction,” Highfill reiterates. “If you don’t provide a high level of service, you don’t get work within the on-calls and you don’t get renewed.”

The sheer variety of projects has enabled members of the HIGHFILL team to develop a wide breadth of experience, which management has encouraged them to share at conferences and events. In recognition of the leadership role Highfill has played in encouraging this level of involvement with the industry as a whole, the NC AWWA-WEA has recognized him with numerous awards, including the Kasey Monroe Outstanding Service Award and, most recently, the William D. Hatfield Award. He is also a member of the 5S Society.

Outside the industry, Highfill continues to be heavily involved in coaching youth basketball and baseball. In 2012, he led his younger son’s team to the all-star baseball world series, joining teams from all over the world. His older son is playing college baseball this year, and Highfill is looking forward to travelling to different venues and watching him pursue his dreams.

He notes that the other members of his team are involved in similar activities with their families. “I want to build a sustainable company, with very dedicated, hardworking employees that also recognize the importance of balancing work and family,” he says. “When they find success, it feels good to know that you had a role in helping them get there.”

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