Meg Tidd on Disrupting an Industry
“Incremental change. In my experience, it’s the small steps that anyone can take that make a huge impact. It’s the intentional choice to do what’s best for your people without needing to make it into a huge campaign…“
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, we had the pleasure of interviewing Meg Tidd.
Meg Tidd, CEO of VIP Companies, is responsible for VIP’s day-to-day operations, long-term strategies, and company-wide initiatives, which throughout her tenure have included re-branding mission, vision, and purpose, institutionalizing standard operating procedures, improving data collection and analysis, and a cultural shift driving integration and collaboration across the enterprise. Meg holds an MBA focusing on Corporate Strategy and Marketing from the University of Rochester’s Simon Business School and served as Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Operating Officer for eight years before taking on the Chief Executive Officer role. Meg currently serves as a board member and Vice President of The Gifford Foundation, and is a member of the Young Presidents Organization (YPO), a Central New York Business Journal 40 Under Forty Honoree, and a graduate of Leadership Greater Syracuse.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Like so many backstories, it’s not a straight line! If you had asked me 15 years ago if I would be CEO of VIP Structures right now, I would have laughed and said there was zero chance. I grew up just outside of Syracuse, NY, the youngest of 3 daughters. Music was something I’d always been good at, so I pursued a degree in classical vocal performance and graduated from the Boston Conservatory in 2009. I studied with the head of the voice department at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, while working at a non-profit in various roles ranging from receptionist to communications and PR. I had started to realize that the life of a successful opera performer might not be for me — I loved it, but I didn’t love it the same way my peers did. My boss at the time saw a business spark in me and encouraged me to apply to the MBA program at the Simon Business School so I applied to both the music school and business school. My dad was Chairman and CEO of VIP Structures at the time, and my sisters and I were never expected to grow up and run the company, so the topic had never really been broached before. Upon applying to graduate school, he asked if I would want to join him and my sister at VIP. I got accepted to business school and found a passion I didn’t know I had. It turned out I loved music, but I loved business more, and I loved VIP even more than that. My career trajectory from start to finish at VIP was intern, then digital marketing, to chief marketing officer, to chief operating officer, to my current role as CEO. With some music sprinkled in there.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
There’s something to be said about being a female CEO in and of itself. Female CEOs are not a dime a dozen, even in 2023. So, a big, huge kudos to all the women out there who are making great things happen. But in my particular case, I’d say it’s twofold.
The first disruptive aspect of our work lies in being a fully-integrated Architecture, Engineering, Construction, and Real Estate Development firm based in Syracuse, NY. Unlike traditional companies in the building industry, we have broken down the silos that often exist between these sectors, seamlessly integrating them under one umbrella. This approach streamlines processes, enhances communication, and fosters collaboration between different disciplines, resulting in higher-quality, efficient, and cost-effective projects. So, as we’re facing a changing world — one where we’re spending more time thinking about the well-being of our workforce, the impact of our decision-making on the environment, and what good we could be doing for our clients and people in our community — we are making decisions and progressing with a unified culture as one while operating in very different sectors of the building industry with their own norms and expectations.
The disruptive nature of our work also emerges from the fact that the world is rapidly changing. We understand the need to adapt and innovate continuously, exploring new technologies and embracing emerging trends in the building industry. The very nature of fully-integrated design-build is that we are not and have never been traditional, but the speed at which the world is changing has emphasized that. What works for others isn’t necessarily going to work for us, which brings me to the second disruptor.
“Our tagline has long been A Better Way; it used to be about a better way to build, but now it encompasses so much more than that. We’re not stopping when we’ve hit the new status quo. We’re constantly pushing to see how we can do better. We’re improving employee benefits, taking a hard look at our supply chain, and making sure we align with our vendors…”
VIP partnered with ChaseDesign to create an immersive office tour with 8 different stops (each with a sign) that demonstrates the small decisions that made in the design of our office that are making a big impact and honoring our vision.
When I started as an intern, I needed to get photos taken of one of our jobsites. Photography is my jam, so I thought I for sure had this one in the bag. I hired the photographer, worked with the superintendent on timing and we were off and running. After about an hour on the site, a very disgruntled gentleman came up to me and said “I never sanctioned this photoshoot and I have no idea who you are!”.
Turns out, this gentleman represented the client and ergo represented their clients’ products that were going to be in these photos. Thankfully we talked it out, I properly introduced myself, apologized and took it on the chin, offered him the ability to see and approve any and all or no photos — and he and I are still in great standing today. Two lessons learned, always ask first, and make sure clients are okay with you talking about their business/representing their business as they have clients too. Accept responsibility, own up to mistakes, and don’t be too stubborn of a person to miss your opportunity to say, “I’m Sorry”. Oh right, maybe 3, make sure to properly introduce yourself!
“Accept responsibility, own up to mistakes, and don’t be too stubborn of a person to miss your opportunity to say, “I’m Sorry”.”
I have had numerous mentors through the years. Formal coaches, groups of professionals, self-selected mentors, and of course my dad. One of the moments that truly stands out was early on in my career at VIP. I had been toiling with some very big decisions with regard to personnel changes. I was talking through some of the changes I thought I needed to make, but was second guessing myself every step of the way. By second guessing myself I also found myself “woe-is-me’ing” all over the place. One of my mentors at the time said something along the lines of “Listen, you’re great at what you do — you know exactly what needs to be done, so just trust yourself, put on your boss pants, and do what needs to be done already!”.
I think about this moment often, and to this day it gives me the kick in the boss pants that I need.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
In it’s second generation of leadership, CEO Meg Tidd carefully balances the nearly 50 year history of VIP, while always searching for A Better Way. Shown above; VIP Structures featured as one in a 1985 issue of America’s Fastest Growing Private Companies.
Oh man, this is such a tough question! I tend to be a “but why not?” type of personality. I like shaking things up, I really like disrupting, BUT…
Disruption can only happen when there is paid respect to history and roots. I’ve seen many companies want to shake things up, but they haven’t done the research or paid respect to those before them or the industry they’re in. The best disruptions are brought on by those who have done the work, pay respect to learn the history (but they don’t need to respect the history), and at that point register that things are due for a shakeup. This also helps get buy-in from those around them.
“The best disruptions are brought on by those who have done the work, pay respect to learn the history (but they don’t need to respect the history), and at that point register that things are due for a shakeup.”
When you can say “I know, and understand why this was always done this way, BUT there is indeed a better way”.
Instinct is key at these moments, but so is research and data. Disruption is positive when you’ve done the research and can put your money where your mouth is. This is something I worry about with our company. I believe in social impact, supporting our community, and adhering to sustainable ideologies BUT just because I believe in this does not mean everyone else as the company does. Often, heads of companies use big ideas, big words, and ideologies to land business, but when you pull back the layers of the onion — the core does not align with the ideology. This is not disruption; this is an act. If you’re going to disrupt, do your research and commit — dig in hard and make sure your entire company is showing up in the way that is presented to the world.
VIP celebrated the move to our new headquarters in the historic Post Standard Building with a ribbon cutting event in March 2023. The 24,000 SF space demonstrates the little design and construction decisions that can make a big impact on employee well-being, our community, and the planet.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
- Take the Vacation: I give this advice — Take the Vacation — life is short, COVID reminded us of that and yet that is slipping. Take the damn vacation, invest in yourself, you are so much more than the work that you do. For example, I took one singular week for my honeymoon. I was a receptionist and was worried about leaving the company in a lurch. I fretted during our entire honeymoon. I WISH I could get that time back because time is fleeting.
- Put your Boss Pants On: I second guess myself often, but also know with crystal clarity what needs to happen (I attribute this to my dyslexia). I was once told to trust my instincts and suck it up, I knew what needed to be done and the company would be better for it.
- Trust your Instincts: I realize this is similar to Boss Pants and (a V8 slap yourself on the forehead moment), BUT it does not matter how much data and information you have, emotions are a part of leading and let them be. This instinct, awareness, and common sense is rare, so embrace it and trust yourself. This advice has been given to me a million times!!!
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
Incremental change. In my experience, it’s the small steps that anyone can take that make a huge impact. It’s the intentional choice to do what’s best for your people without needing to make it into a huge campaign or force it down anyone’s throat. I look at the standards set by WELL Building Institute or by B-Corporations and think about what we could adopt that feels natural and feels like the next right thing. When we designed and built our new office, we included setting up a composting program, installing dual-flush toilets, and sourcing art and furniture that was locally crafted. Our next step will be to look at all the buildings we currently own and manage and make those same changes from a cost and environmental perspective, and then take a look at how we can monitor the systems in those buildings to track usage and find problems before they start. There are a ton of options out there for smart technology that could lead to huge cost and energy savings, but it hasn’t been explored much in the commercial sector in our area. I also want to keep pushing on how to improve employee benefits. We’ve given fully paid family leave, more holidays, and an increase in 401K contributions in recent years, but we’re going to keep pushing to see what we can do for our people. As I said before, small steps make an impact.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
I’ll speak for myself as opposed to all women. I find that there are a few things that have been hard to grasp/are not exemplified by male counterparts.
- Empathy, I spend so much time focusing on people, their behavior, how they interact with one another, and what role I play in balancing, challenging, and setting expectations for the group. My male counterparts have asked me point blank “why don’t you get more angry?”, “Why didn’t you speak up?”, or they’ll offer me their solutions. What they don’t understand is every move I make when it comes to people is so carefully thought out. I’m calm and focused when others are frenzied, I come down hard when others are too relaxed and we need results. My job is to read the situation and react accordingly to generate the best outcome so folks feel like it’s their idea and they fully buy in.
- Girls/Young women are generally raised to be caregivers, so as a result there’s a very real “mom” guilt that comes from ourselves when we’re trying to change the world in the workplace and also be there for our families in the way we want to. There’s a lot of pressure to show up as your best self in all arenas, and it’s a heavy burden to carry.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
Elevated Economics by Richard Steel. I had the opportunity to hear Richard Steel speak at a Construction Industry Conference right when I was beginning my path as CEO. I had a hunch that I was on to something with respect to our industry — the building industry — that there was a place for purpose-driven work.
His book and his words confirmed that our industry was ready for disruption. As a historically underrepresented industry that produced a significant amount of the world’s waste, I knew it was time for us to do better.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” — Jane Goodall
It comes back to incremental and intentional change. There’s no such thing as not having an impact on the world around you, and you have the choice of whether that impact will be positive or negative. You have a choice in how you show up. Some days it’s harder than others, but that’s life.
How can our readers follow you online?
Our company website is www.vipstructures.com, and you can also find me on LinkedIn.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
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