As a father of seven — not counting his two pets — Eric Johnston said having so many kids makes him a better leader. “I often find that I apply work-management rules at home and parenting roles at work as I manage our staff,” the Auburn resident said with a laugh. “The biggest challenge is getting everyone where they need to go at different times, with soccer and music and different schools. Maybe being a transportation engineer helps me manage those logistics.”
Johnston is the chief operating officer at SCJ Alliance and oversees all of the firm’s construction, planning, and engineering projects in the South Sound and beyond from the firm’s Lacey office.
Born in Rwanda, where his parents worked at a small college, Johnston later moved to California to study at the University of California, Riverside. “I knew I liked building things, and I figured I’d be an architect or an engineer,” said Johnston, who noted that engineering aligned with his passion for woodworking.
When Johnston joined SCJ Alliance in 2008, the company employed only 10 people. Over the past 13 years, it has grown to a team of 120 and expanded into eight offices and multiple specialties, such as cable-propelled transit and landscape planning.
In 2014, the company helped plan and construct the 550-foot-tall High Roller Observation Wheel in Las Vegas. It was the world’s tallest Ferris wheel at the time. Though SCJ manages between 300 and 500 projects at a time, Johnston mentioned a town center project in Wilkeson as one of the highlights.
“If you like variety, it’s a great place to work, because every week brings something new,” he said. “If you like computer work, you get time to do that. And if you like walking through a site and tromping around through trees and brush, there are opportunities for that, too.”
Additionally, Johnston has the unique opportunity to mentor budding engineers and watch them advance in their careers. “That’s what I enjoy most,” he said of SCJ’s intern pool and young talent. “That’s what our growth is driven by.”
6:45 a.m. The day begins with breakfast. Our family likes to eat meals together. Even the dog (Quincy) and cat (Bandit) have picked up on this. Bandit joins Quincy in his breakfast each morning.
7:15 a.m. With seven kids, mornings can be hectic — or they used to be. Currently, all but two of our kids are in college or beyond. Tessa, our youngest, gets plenty of attention as she heads off to school.
7:30 a.m. An early virtual check-in with our SCJ executive team to see if we have a handle on the week’s challenges.
8 a.m. My world is managed through my calendar, which gets really full. I spend time shuffling meetings and trips to each of our offices, as well as site visits to check out potential projects or work in progress.
9 a.m. I try to grab a little time here and there to assist our project managers with their projects. Here I am working on a concept for an improved civic center in Chewelah.
10 a.m. Living my best Zoom life, I don my “public hearing shirt” to take part in a virtual public hearing as the engineering expert for a project in development in Tumwater.
11:30 a.m. I check in on Bandit to ensure his nap is going well and then head out to check in on our staff and projects across the state.
1:30 p.m. My wife and daughters have raised guide dogs for the blind, and Quincy was the first. Now retired, he sometimes still accompanies us to work or school. Here he is taking a bathroom break on Snoqualmie Pass as we head east.
3 p.m. We make a quick visit to a project site in Union Gap, where our landscape architecture team helped with the new City Hall design.
4:30 p.m. Checking out new outdoor eating ideas before heading home. Our planners, engineers, and landscape architects have been busy helping clients re-envision public spaces in response to COVID-19. With expertise in corridor design, streetscapes, and park planning, our team has stepped up to the challenge.