// Photos by Sierra Breshears
“With the economy, life changed quite a bit,” says Barkouli, adding that the company’s tagline in 2007 was “one company excellence.” When he took over, “it was clear we needed to do something to translate this nice slogan into something real.”
Barkouli says the post-recession reorganization was “painful” but successful. DEA was forced to become better at collaborating internally and pulling together to focus externally. However, that meant a strong, consistent corporate culture was indispensable.
The company’s ethical grounding and continual quest for excellence felt solid, Barkouli says. But expectations, communication, accountability and trust in leadership needed more attention. So the DEA team came up with six “cultural drivers” and 24 corresponding actions — for example, openly admitting mistakes when they happen — to reinforce the drivers.
In addition to making cultural drivers part of employee evaluations and encouraging leadership through an internal program, Barkouli sharpened his own perspectives by going back to school for a Ph.D. in leadership and change from Antioch University.
“It is partly to learn but partly to give back,” Barkouli says. He adds that DEA wants to retain its employee ownership and independence, especially now that he feels a recovery is underway. “We’ve started to see demand firm up,” Barkouli says. “It’s a gradual climb, and it’s going to take time. But it’s not going down, so that’s good.” Barkouli says a measured increase in private-sector land development will help the company grow its workforce 10% this year.
Barkouli, the father of six children ages 8 to 13, is clearly a patient man. That patience may help DEA on one of its current endeavors — the firm is oversight engineer on the controversy-laden Columbia River Crossing project. Getting asked about the CRC is the only time during questioning when Barkouli pauses a bit longer than seems his norm.
“Do I think it is going to get built?” he asks. “Yes, I hope so. It’s an honor for us to be involved in the project. But it’s probably also something I should just not say too much about.”