George A. Little
Steward Par Excellence
Inducted in 2010
When he looks in the mirror every morning, the first thing George A. Little thinks of is retirement; not his own, but the more than 8,000 others’. As vice chairman of HDR Inc., Little feels his primary responsibility is to be a good steward and to secure and assist in the growth of HDR’s employee-owners’ retirement. As president and chief operations officer of HDR Engineering Inc., Little is responsible for the growth and strategic direction of the company, as well as daily operations.
Strategically, HDR, under Little’s direction, has further developed specialization in areas such as transportation, water and wastewater, energy and natural resource management. Services range from planning and consulting to sustainable design and design-build, to name a few. National high-profile projects include the Hoover Dam Bypass, Everglades Restoration, and consultant for New York City’s ongoing solid waste work. In Alabama, HDR’s most recent project involves developing plans for the 80-acre Garrow’s Bend Intermodal Rail Transfer Facility in Mobile.
A 1981 University of Alabama at Birmingham engineering alumnus, Little is proudest of the role he has played in the sevenfold growth of the company in the last 12 years to $1.3 billion in revenue through 185 offices, and its positive impact on the growth of stock value.
Since HDR is employee owned, company growth relies in part on mentoring its young professionals. In 2006, a young engineer, Katie Duty, started the Young Professionals Group at HDR’s Tampa office and shared the idea with Little. He encouraged Duty, and now 60 offices have active groups. His ongoing involvement is a perfect demonstration of his open communication style and commitment, which makes him a true leader and mentor. She said, “There are probably many executives out there who say their door is open; George really means it.”
Another person to whom Little’s door is open is Dean Linda C. Lucas of UAB’s Engineering School. As a member of its Engineering Foundation Council, Little, she says, “responds to any request I might have … his advice and counsel [are] valuable to me. He has a great love for his home state of Alabama, and he demonstrates this through his efforts to constantly improve education here.”
In 1996, HDR again became employee owned when Little, one of the company’s key investors, provided money for the financing that allowed HDR to buy itself back from foreign ownership. Little has said, “We’ve had great success with our ownership model. The reason is that our employees take personal accountability for the long-term growth of HDR.” As a result of this philosophy, the company has grown significantly and completed more than 40 acquisitions. To manage this growth, in 2004 Little led the reorganization of engineering into a regional format to integrate the many services and better serve clients.
Current Chief Executive Officer Richard R. Bell has tapped Little to fill his spot upon future retirement. And what about Little’s retirement? “I have a number of years before that will happen, but when it is my turn to retire, I hope everybody can say, ‘He made a difference.’”