On March 20, Mike Clay joined ABES Engineering, leaving behind a position he once considered his dream job.
As chief of the Hydraulics & Hydrology Branch of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the Memphis District, Clay supervised a team of 40 professionals with “extremely advanced capabilities.” The team worked on huge projects affecting 350 river miles of the Mississippi River and its tributaries along that reach. “We were a part of all conversations related to water,” he says. “It was exciting, high pressure for sure … but I felt a great deal of purpose and satisfaction.”
So why did Clay leave his Corps of Engineers position to join ABES as its newest Engineering Manager?
It all started during a lunch with ABES Engineering Manager Brad Davis. Clay, a Memphis native, had first worked for Davis early in his career at a different consulting firm and the two became friends. When Davis casually suggested that Clay would be a great asset to ABES, Clay admits he didn’t give it much thought.
Later, when both Davis and ABES founder/CEO Emmanuel Tuombe approached Clay again with the idea of joining the growing firm, he found his interest piqued. While he loved his current position and the people he worked alongside, he couldn’t ignore the feeling that ABES offered him something special.
“I felt a gentle nudge inside of me. I would call it the Holy Spirit,” he says. “It made me think, ‘let me listen to what they have to say.’ ”
The more he listened, the more he liked what he heard. And the decision to leave his federal job became easier. “I went home and took some time to think about it,” he says. He talked with his wife, Ashley, and “both of us felt drawn to be a part of ABES.”
“What excited me about ABES was I didn’t feel like I was going to have to trade in my sense of purpose to work with ABES,” he says, noting that he’ll still be helping to maintain safe, healthy communities and doing it in an environmentally sustainable way.
He liked the idea of coming aboard a firm that’s growing. “When you look at what the team has already built, it’s something pretty incredible. And there’s still so much opportunity to grow. It’s exciting to be a part of something like that.”
In just seven years, ABES has grown from one employee to 14, taking on large municipal projects in the Memphis area and expanding to both Nashville and Louisville, Kentucky. Future plans for ABES include expanding into the federal market and launching a construction company.
Clay also liked ABES’s company values. “It’s a good company for everyone at the company. It’s a spot where everyone inside ABES, as well as the clients, are valued and the decisions are for the benefit of all. That’s a massive draw.”
While any federal position comes with a certain level of bureaucracy, Clay likes the idea of being more agile at ABES. “Another thing I think ABES offers … the ability to flex when we need to flex,” he says. “We don’t have as many bureaucratic steps … we can go straight to a solution. We can maybe even move a little more directly.”
As Engineering Manager, Clay is being tapped to help lead ABES’s continued expansion into Nashville and Louisville as well as into the federal market. “We want to look at larger projects beyond regional efforts – state and federal projects.”
Tuombe is extremely excited about what Clay brings to the ABES.
“Hiring Mike is monumental for us, and we are now set to perform at the next level,” says Tuombe. “Mike’s expertise in hydrology and hydraulics aligns well with our current core services of flood risk reduction and stormwater analysis & design. We are currently involved in many stormwater projects in Memphis and Louisville and having someone of Mike’s caliber, who understands the Mississippi River and large riverine systems better than most people, is a great asset.”
Davis says Clay brings a wealth of expertise to ABES, but he also offers something else. “I’ve known Mike for almost 20 years,” he says. “I can’t think of a person I would trust more to take ABES Engineering to the next level. Mike is not only a very competent engineer, but he’s also a great guy and manager. He has a combination of technical and people skills that is VERY hard to find.”
As CEO of ABES, Tuombe has always had significant goals for the firm. Bringing Clay aboard takes those goals one step further. “I feel that with the addition of Mike to our team we have a solid foundation to build one of the best engineering firms in the mid-South – a firm that will have an impact beyond Memphis, Nashville, and Louisville,” he says. “We are well set to make a bigger and broader impact.”
Clay sees the same future for ABES. “I’d very much like for us in 10 years to be serving all the clients we’re currently serving … in addition to new clients and on a different scale,” he says. “A larger scale, projects that improve living conditions for hundreds of thousands of people.
“I’m really looking forward to what the future holds for this company, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”