Generous heart fuels oversized life, business success

Ed Vick in NCSU tie

Ed Vick’s generosity overflowed toward God, church, family, business, and alma mater. No big surprise when Kimley-Horn got a logo in Wolfpack red!

If you come from the North, as I do, everything in the South seems overgrown — the pine trees with their 12-inch needles and thorny cones that attack you during yard cleanup; the seemingly delicate wisteria that escapes its arbor to wrap its arms high around neighboring trees; the 30-foot magnolias with their shoe-leather-thick leaves and Jurassic blooms.

Characters grow large here, too, and one of the first big Southern characters I got to know was Ed Vick.

Ed and his wife, Laura Anne, raised their three girls in the same Raleigh subdivision where IBM planted my husband’s family in the 1960s. One of the first glimpses I had of Ed was in his office at the company he helped to found, where I worked for a decade. One long wall was completely covered with award plaques. The opposite was completely covered with family pictures — vacations, four-ups of grandbabies, and, closest to his desk, wedding portraits of his daughters and a portrait of him and his wife. Between all that framed personal and professional paraphernalia, Ed sat at a desk that could have been original to the firm’s founding. That is to say: it was a good quality executive desk, but it was a great many years out of style. Along the edge closest to a guest, an absolute litter of crystal doodads glittered in the light from the window wall behind his chair.

Ed’s office broke every rule of executive decor except one: have enough chairs for visitors. If I remember correctly, there were two at his desk; two more, plus a small leather sofa, arranged around a small rectangular table closer to the entry.

While Ed was known as a co-founder of Kimley-Horn and Associates, technically the firm predated him. Transportation engineers Bob Kimley and Bill Horn, the guys whose names were on the masthead, were already working together when they asked Ed to join them. Bill had known Ed for years. Ed had been one of his grad students at North Carolina State University, earning 50 and 75 cents an hour for technical assistance on some of the transportation studies that would define the future of the Research Triangle. Carbon copies of a few of Ed’s invoices remained in the corporate archives, which I managed into the early 21st century.

Ed’s value as a member of the team was obvious to Bob and Bill, who offered him a partnership. The company would be “Kimley, Horn, Vick, and Associates.” What did he think about that?

I don’t know how long it took Ed to say no. He was a decisive man. One company legend he loved to stoke involved him providing an instantaneous “NO!” and a ear-ringing hang-up to a competitor’s offer. Still, I can’t imagine him making this decision without consulting his wife. However much or little time it took, Ed’s decision reflected his faith both in God and in God’s teaching that the worker is worth his hire.

Don’t put my name on the door, he told Bob and Bill. Let me earn my share of the business. And let others earn their share, too — as many as we can grow the firm to support.

When Ed Vick retired 33 years later, Kimley-Horn and Associates had about 1,000 staff in more than 30 offices nationwide and some 80 shareholders who, like Ed, had earned their piece of the business. The firm had begun its long run on Fortune‘s list of top companies to work for. And, as Ed chortled, when he sold his shares, they were worth “way more!” than his one-third ownership ever would have amounted to.

Kimley-Horn grew valuable by what it gave to its team and what they, in return, gave the firm:

  • Every staff member, from the chairman to the least senior administrator, was eligible for and usually received a cash bonus each year based on personal and team performance.
  • One out of three staff members attended a company-paid training program every year. That’s not 1 in 3 senior staff or 1 in 3 managers or 1 in 3 associates. That’s 1 in 3 staff.
  • One in three staff members served as a project manager each year. The firm constantly encouraged younger team members to test their mettle as leaders.
  • Non-salary compensation included a corporate contribution into employee retirement accounts that exceeded 15 percent of compensation (based on annual profitability) each year I worked there. Employees were fully vested after five years.

Ed Vick, Bill Horn, and Bob Kimley structured Kimley-Horn on the faith-filled confidence that as they were generous with the staff team, the staff team would be equally generous with skills, creativity, and professional drive. Together, that commitment to God’s generous ways made a great firm.

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38)

In memoriam C. E. Vick, a great leader and champion.
Board member of Associated Baptist Press
Co-founder of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship

About Carlene Byron

Writer, editor, publicist, communications project manager ... I've written technology and infrastructure; I used to edit New England Church Life and The New England Christian and I've freelanced to publications ranging from Commonweal to Christianity Today. I'm now living in my hometown in Maine and am speaking about global perspectives on suicide prevention.
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