Because in his new role as regional managing principal for AECOM’s buildings and places (or B+P) division, Ted Kollaja will look to grow the division’s architecture practice by strengthening its design and innovation reputation and scaling up offices in the company’s Gulf Southwest region.
Kollaja came to California-based AECOM—a global infrastructure company with $17.4 billion in annual revenue—last fall, making the move from his role as principal in Gensler’s Dallas office. “Really, it was a kind of leadership opportunity for me to kind of build and grow a region,” Kollaja says. A resident of Richardson, he travels frequently, checking on projects his teams are working on. “[My region] goes from pretty much Alabama to Arizona and up to Utah, so it’s a large geographic area. But really it’s currently a modest practice of 150 people or so,” Kollaja says. He also plans on taking advantage of AECOM’s services, specifically its construction and financial divisions—a model known as DBF (for design, build, and finance). “I had a lot of clients who wanted more of a one-stop shop, and my prior firm was a good one-stop shop,” he says. “But this is even more so in terms of engineering and building and financing.”
AECOM’s scope of business is broad, touching on all aspects of placemaking, but Kollaja feels his past serves as enough preparation. His last 10 years have been spent doing a number of things, “so it really kind of prepared me for running a business,” he says. Right now, he believes the markets in his region may only recognize his new employer for its infrastructure business, such as roads, bridges, and rail projects. It’s something he would like to change by stepping up the complexity and quality of projects AECOM is known for in places like Europe and Asia. “That was really the compelling challenge for me,” he says, and “why I chose—after a long career at other places—to really take on almost an entrepreneurial opportunity here.”
“We don’t want to be afraid of getting in there and trying to … help be a part of the solution for [issues].”Ted Kollaja, Aecom
Kollaja grew up in Portland, Texas, near Corpus Christi, and studied engineering at Texas A&M University. While he was successful in his math classes, creative classes caught his attention. Additionally, Kollaja attributes his brother’s studying architecture—and bringing home his design projects—as an inspiration for his career path. After graduating from Texas A&M’s College of Architecture, where he eventually was named an “outstanding alumni,” Kollaja started working at SOM (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill) in Houston in the 1980s.
There, he spent the first part of his career working on high-rise buildings before transitioning to a job in Los Angeles. After a few years in California, he and his family moved back to Texas, settling in Dallas about 25 years ago. One thing is apparent—Kollaja enjoys the relationship-building part of his job, specifically client relations and mentoring others at the company. “It starts with relationships, and it’s all about relationships,” he says. As past president of AIA (American Institute of Architects) Dallas, it’s important for him to stay involved. “We want to be known in each city we’re in as kind of leaders,” he says, “and that’s in all senses—even community leadership and involvement and engagement in the big kind of questions of the city.” In Dallas-Fort Worth, he says, AECOM is involved in larger issues such as the Trinity River project, high-speed rail, and Fair Park: “We don’t want to be afraid of getting in there and trying to … help be a part of the solution for those things.”
Kollaja has a penchant for problem-solving, which he aims to utilize in AECOM’s B+P division. His team of planners and designers, for example, led the conceptualization of Elon Musk’s Hyperloop for Texas. For Kollaja it’s about “repositioning AECOM in people’s minds around design innovation—that’s No. 1.” And it’s not just pushing the envelope of design in pioneering projects like hyperloop, but also bringing a new focus toward expanding the company’s corporate and commercial markets. And Kollaja says the firm has already started moving to strengthen this platform. “We want people to hire AECOM for our design capability—not just because we’re a big company, but because we also have fantastic design chops,” he adds. “That’s one of my personal passions.”
Over the years, Kollaja has worked on iconic structures, and being able to show projects to his children has always been a point of pride. As an architect, he says, it’s a unique feeling to see his work built and, hopefully, be around for a long time. These days though, he’s set his sights beyond just a single project.
“If I can look back on this … and have built a successful business on the backs of great design,” Kollaja says, “that will be the biggest achievement for me.”
Ted Kollaja is Regional Managing Principal at Gulf Southwest Region, for AECOM