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Mile High Climber: Sarah McGarry, Principal, Senior Project Manager with Stantec

Mile High CRE is excited to announce that December’s Mile High Climber is Sarah McGarry, principal, senior project manager with Stantec. Mile High Climbers are industry professionals who innovate, inspire, collaborate, and take risks. They are future leaders and change-makers, and they deserve to be celebrated.

During her time at Stantec, Sarah has evolved into a key role that allows her to wear many hats. She leads and oversees project design and the design team itself, as well as the project management from concept and programming all the way through construction administration. Sarah is also part of the leadership team for interiors and leads the businesses development for Stantec’s Denver interiors studio.

1. How did you start your career in the AEC/CRE industry?

I studied interior design and architecture in college and after graduation I knew I wanted to start my design career on the commercial side. I started with an A/E firm in Cincinnati, Ohio where I fell into focusing on corporate workplace interiors. I found myself loving the corporate side and when I relocated to Denver in 2007, I was looking for a firm that had a workplace interiors practice with opportunities to be exposed to other sides of the industry.

2. How many years have you been in the industry?

17 years

3. What have been some of your favorite/proudest projects or career accomplishments?

Of course, moments like when my team won the highest honors (the Best of the BEST award) for our BPX HQ project at the annual IIDA BESTawards tops my list as a proud career moment. As does seeing my work published in magazines. But in all honesty, (even after this many years) the biggest sense of accomplishment comes from walking into a project right after completion and hearing the excitement from the client and those occupying the space. It’s living proof that the challenges, teamwork, and creative thinking were all worthwhile.

4. What have been some of the biggest challenges in your career and how did you overcome them?

In 2017 the firm I had worked for my entire career in Denver (RNL) was acquired by Stantec and simultaneously my boss and mentor for a decade retired. It was a lot of change all at once but also a lot of possible opportunities for me. I had several challenging projects I was leading and with my boss’ departure, I was moving into a role where I was expected to take on a lot of business development for my team. Not to mention I had a new baby and a 5-year-old at home. So finding balance with my family was another challenge. It was a “sink or swim” point and at times an overwhelming amount of pressure!

During that time, I worked to ground myself by relying on the solid foundation my old boss had instilled in me (in fact I still reference her wisdom regularly!) and started by calling on my established network to build BD connections. As cliché as it sounds, I think staying positive and always believing in the moment was also critical – don’t underestimate how much your attitude can drive success. After a few years of hard work and sticking with it, I was made principal at Stantec.

5. What advice do you have for an emerging AEC/CRE professional?

Be authentic! I’m a firm believer that always being your true self in the workplace is the only way you can ensure you’re on the right path. If you are yourself, you’ll be more confident, your career relationship will be genuine, and you will enjoy what you do. If the culture of a company doesn’t align with who you are, then maybe it’s a sign that it’s not the right fit.

Be a sponge! Sit in meetings and listen. Observe those in roles you aspire to be in. Be open to learning as much as you can early on. Find a mentor and ask lots of questions.

Be proactive! Early in your career, no one expects you to have all the answers, but those who show creative thinking and come to the table with ideas for a solution (even if it’s not right) always succeed faster than those who sit back and wait for someone else to tell them what to do.

Build your network! Ultimately people want to work with those they like and trust. So establishing meaningful relationships in your career is so critical. These are the people who will help support you throughout your career.

6. What are some of your goals for the future?

After a few years of laying low amidst the pandemic, I hope to do more community involvement and get involved in giving back to a couple of non-industry causes I’m passionate about.

Continue to build and lead a team that will push and innovate with design, and provide my team opportunities to learn and grow. Oh, and find balance… I’m still working on that!

7. What trade associations or non-profits have you actively been involved with throughout your career?

IIDA (International Interior Design Association) – I served on the board for seven years including the Chapter President role.

CREW – I have been involved in their mentorship program

CoreNet – I was involved in their young professional’s committee and have continued attending events over the years. Including participating in their 2020 Virtual Hackathon.

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