This year, Christian Dunaway joins Gresham Smith as the new Market Vice President for our Water + Environment market. Specializing in operations management, business development and project delivery, Christian brings 24 years of experience in the water industry to our firm, including his tenure as Vice President and Manager of U.S. Infrastructure Operations at Tetra Tech.
Based out of our Alpharetta office, Christian has been brought on to lead our W+E market’s day-to-day operations while providing professional growth and development opportunities for staff. We recently sat down with Christian to learn a little more about his professional journey, along with his thoughts on the water industry and his vision for Gresham Smith’s W+E market.
Gresham Smith: What attracted you to a career in the water industry?
Christian Dunaway: Growing up, I always lived fairly close to the water—whether it was the beach or the lake—and I always enjoyed working outside. I also had an incredible desire to design and build things, and I knew that I wanted to do something where I could see things move from a concept to a built product.
Around my third year in college, I began to take hydraulics classes and fell in love with the water side of civil engineering. After graduating from Auburn University with a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Science in Civil Engineering, I went to work at an engineering consulting firm designing water and wastewater plants, as well as conveyance systems.
An avid fisherman, Christian forged a lifelong connection to the water having grown up close to the lake or the beach.
Gresham Smith: After almost a quarter of a century working in the water industry, what is it about our firm that appealed to you?
Christian: There are a number of things. But to be totally honest, after spending nearly 18 years at my previous firm, which has close to 22,000 employees, I simply woke up one day and thought to myself: It’s time for something new. I was ready to move away from the big-firm culture that I’d “grown up in” since graduating college.
However, it wasn’t just Gresham Smith’s midsized, regional-firm culture that appealed to me. It was their culture of “people first.” That was a huge drawcard because when you put your people first, it makes it pretty easy for them to put the client first.
“Gresham Smith’s culture of ‘people first’ was a huge drawcard for me …”
Gresham Smith: What are some of your career highlights so far?
Christian: There are two projects that really stand out to me. During my time at Tetra Tech, I served as client manager and project manager on a $100 million water treatment facility for Huntsville Utilities. One of my former bosses once said that as an engineer, you will have one marquee project that makes you who you are—and this was it for me. The stars aligned with a once-in-a-lifetime client, an incredible contractor, and an amazing design team. The contractor finished construction a year ahead of schedule, about 10% lower than our construction estimate, and our team completed the project under our design budget. We were actually able to give money back to the client.
My next most memorable project was working on the upfront pieces of an acquisition of an international firm in Australia. Both professionally and from a cultural perspective, it was an incredible experience in which I spent the course of a year mostly in Sydney and Melbourne. It was interesting to observe how the Australian business culture is way more relaxed than what we’re accustomed to in the United States. Australians generally work so they can have fun, whereas in the states, it’s generally the other way around!
Gresham Smith: What are some of the biggest challenges you foresee in the water industry as a whole?
Christian: Two challenges come to mind. The first is sustainability, which is a worldwide buzzword. We are constantly moving toward solutions that help us live in and thrive in our natural environment, and our W+E work falls 100% in that natural resource world. Our challenge will be to continue to apply our technical expertise but in new ways that help our clients meet their sustainability goals.
The next challenge I foresee is digital solutions. As technology evolves at such a rapid-fire pace, our clients have years of data on many—if not all of—the system infrastructure. So, a twofold question faces us: “What do we do with that data and how do we utilize the data within an engineered solution to provide value to our clients?
Gresham Smith: What is your vision for the firm’s Water + Environment market?
Christian: I think it’s pretty simple. We need to build on the successes that Gresham Smith has had with its water, wastewater and environmental clients. We also need to continue to grow our footprints in the markets where there’s a need for water and wastewater services. Ultimately, that means doing things the right way, which is the Gresham Smith way—putting our focus on our clients. As long as we keep our people at the forefront, everything will fall into place with our clients.
Christian and his wife, Stephanie, get in a little family time at Disney with the kids.
Gresham Smith: What else should we know about Christian Dunaway?
Christian: Outside of work, I’m a husband and a father of three. When I look back at all the things I’ve done professionally, it’s mostly because of my family and their incredible support. And that includes moving to Atlanta back in 2012 and now taking on this new role at Gresham Smith. We enjoy traveling and have been to over 15 European countries as well as Costa Rica, Canada, Mexico, Tanzania, Kenya, Australia and New Zealand.
In what little spare time I have, I’m generally on the water fishing, or hunting in the woods. I’ve also been known to hit a golf ball here and there. And you can almost always find me either listening to, watching, or in Auburn at a sporting event.