Stream would like to start by thanking Mike Burnett, National Senior Vice President of Building Operations, for his 20 years of service at Stream. Lee Belland, Co-Founder and Co-General Partner of Stream, said “Mike McVean and I have known Mike for over 20 years. He represents the best that Stream has to offer. He is one of the best in the industry at his profession. Most importantly, he is a world-class human being. Mike would offer the shirt off his back to those around him. He is thoughtful, caring, hard-working and always willing to lend a helping hand. We’ve witnessed this consistency first-hand over the last 20 years. Mike, thank you for sticking with us the past 20 years at Stream. We love you man!”
In light of his tremendous professional accomplishments and dedication to Stream, we are excited to focus this edition of Stream Spotlight on Mike Burnett.
Mike’s career has always been in engineering, and this passion started early when he was a kid. During these unprecedented times, it is always interesting to get the perspective and wisdom from those with immense experience. The successful ones all share a common view in that they see the current challenges as a time for opportunity and change. It is refreshing to speak with Mike to hear about how he has pivoted his career, embraced change and always stayed true to his passion of engineering.
You graduated with a degree in computer science. How did you get into engineering?
I started my career in the ‘80s in the apparel industry working as a mechanic on sewing machines. I was in my 20s and loved working with my hands, so I enjoyed the job. I was there about five years when we started seeing the apparel industry in Texas migrating to overseas for labor. I knew it was time to pivot so I went back to school to get my degree in computer science and worked for the Carpenters at Williams Square as an EMS programmer.
How did you go from programmer to engineer?
That is a great question. Again, it was the mid ‘80s so we saw the savings and loans collapse, and our country went into a deep recession. I had worked for three years as a programmer without a raise or overtime paid. As a programmer, I programmed energy management systems for HVAC, lighting, etc., but I did not have the real hands-on experience of the things I was programming. A position in the engineering department became available that paid more so I took it. I spent a few more years there and then got an engineering job at Trammell Crow Company (TCC) at Chase Tower, formerly known at Texas Commerce Tower. The job at TCC gave me the chance to better understand mechanically why I was programming and doing what I was doing. That was a very valuable lesson.
While it wasn’t my first choice to go from programming back to engineering, it helped immensely knowing both sides to the operation. Being flexible on my career has proven invaluable experience and helped me scale quickly in my field. It was imperative to understand electronics and how they could benefit us in the engineering world. Programming has given us remote capabilities that has exploded since the mid ‘80s. Because I was skilled in programming and the hands-on approach, it made me pretty good at what I did – at least in my own mind (laughs).
When did you start at Stream?
I started at Stream in 2000. I worked at TCC for 12 ½ years and my manager left and joined Stream in 1998. I followed him two years later. A special thank you to my former manager for helping me chart a new path and to Mike and Lee for the growth opportunities.
You are celebrating your 20-year anniversary at Stream. Can you give us a little insight on the past 20 years with this company?
A lot of people think that in 20 years you need to have all these title or role changes to be satisfied. I started as a Director of Building Operations and now I’m a Senior Vice President of Building Operations. Not much of a title change, but where I’ve found satisfaction in my career at Stream is by taking part in tremendous company growth. When I started at Stream, we managed 3 million square feet in one city. We now manage 250 million square feet across 12 cities. As the company has grown, my role has expanded, and I learn more and more every day. This growth extends from professionally to personally.
What makes you passionate about engineering?
I’ve done this a long time and I still love what I do. I think it’s the challenge. No two days are exactly the same. Every day, we learn something new. It’s exciting to me. I love a good challenge. I believe there is a right way to do things and a wrong way to do things. Sometimes, the right way takes longer to do it. Some people always find that hard to process or follow through on. My experience really helps with that. I’ve seen a lot of things in my career and not many surprise me anymore, but there are intricacies to every problem that I have to think through to come up with the best solution.
Problem solving and challenges seems to be a big theme within engineering. Can you give us an example of a time where your problem solving surprised you?
When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, I remember having conversations with the engineering teams down there. Realizing the water was most likely going to rise, we contemplated several complex solutions and a very simple one consisting of sandbags and a pump. Initially, the decision was made to go with a more complex solution. However, two days after the hurricane hit, I drove to Houston and pulled up to the building. Water is flowing over the dam into the property. We rounded up 22 sandbags to put on top of the dam and it stopped the water. We got a pump on site and were able to keep up with water coming in and getting the water out of the building.
Thinking outside the box in a challenging situation is critical in engineering, and stressful times can hinder the urge to think outside. 22 sandbags is a pretty simple fix to a giant problem. The simplest idea can’t be discounted. Neither can experience. Sometimes in life, the solutions are as simple as 22 sandbags.
Describe yourself in four words.
Determined, proud, passionate and honest.
You mentioned training and mentorship are important in the engineering field. You followed your former manager to Stream because of this. Explain how you have applied that to the engineering program at Stream.
At Stream, we have built a curriculum for growth within engineering. It’s very deliberate, and every employee is aware of what they need to do to get to the next level. For example, for a Maintenance Tech to move up to a Building Tech, we have provided them with 2 ½ hours per week of training, which typically spans over a three-year time frame. If a person wants to accelerate the plan, they could technically finish it in 6 months. It would require a ton of overtime and a lot of work, but they could do it. It is up to each engineer to fit the program to their lifestyle.
As far as mentorship goes, I was very fortunate at TCC to have a manager that wanted to teach me what I wanted to learn. Being a good Chief Engineer is not just understanding the technical parts of the building, it’s also understanding the administrative parts of running a building, i.e. leases, budgets, etc. I’ve had many managers tell me it’s not part of their job to teach engineers that. At Stream, it is part of your job. Your capacity is key. Not everyone wants to do that, but the good engineers do and that is how I’m able to pick the leaders out of the bunch. They are not intimidated to share their knowledge and they never hesitate from helping someone with less experience learn what they need to ensure success. I always tell people – it’s our job to find our replacement and teach them everything we know. I want to find the people that want to take my place and put in the work to do that.
With the advancement of technology in building engineering, where do you see it transforming in the next 5 to 10 years?
The current pandemic has shifted my previous thoughts about what would happen, specifically in office space. You could view that negatively, or you could see it as a unique challenge for all of us to figure out. Companies still need to operate and there will always be office buildings. Now, how those office buildings operate may be different five years from now, as more companies are encouraged to be flexible with their workforce and allow working from home. I want to solve this challenge in an effective way for landlords and tenants, but I don’t want to share my answer just yet. Remember, the simplest solution may be the right solution (laughs). I think there will always be a need for hands-on building maintenance and engineers.
20 years is a long time with one company. What has encouraged you to remain with Stream?
Well, I needed a job (laughs). I was as high as I could go at TCC without unseating the Director of Building Operations, which wasn’t going to happen. I had to pivot and find a new opportunity if I wanted growth. When I notified my boss at TCC of my resignation, he told me it was the biggest career mistake I could make. Two things went through my head. One – I had to prove him wrong. Two – “I wanted to build something that I could be proud of and provided great careers for others. To go from 6 building engineers and 3 million square feet to 200 engineers and managing 250 million square feet is pretty amazing. I wanted to build something I could be proud of and that provided great careers for others. And that is what we have done at Stream and continue to do.
One of the biggest reasons I’ve stayed with Stream is because it empowers people. No idea is too small. They really look to us to deliver and give us the flexibility to do that. The people I have answered to over the years have always been supportive of me, personally and professionally, and I think that is systemic in our company.
I could go anywhere if I just wanted a job and be miserable (laughs). I want to stay at a company where I enjoy the people I work with and the challenge at hand. Stream has afforded me that, and for that, I’m really grateful.