Executive Spotlight Q&A: Darius Bonton, Bonton Associates
(Photo by Don Kadair)
Name: Darius Bonton
Position: Principal, Bonton Associates
Hometown: Jennings, Louisiana
Education: Bachelor’s in civil engineering, Southern University
What were your career aspirations when you were in school?
Since elementary school, I’ve always wanted to be an engineer. My dad studied civil engineering at Southern University, as did several of my uncles, so it was a natural progression, I guess.
How did previous career experiences prepare you for your current role as principal of Bonton Associates?
After graduation I worked as a structural engineer for Northrop Grumman at their Avondale Shipyard. Beginning my career in a process-driven environment provided me with an early appreciation for process development and optimization. I was able to understand how to quickly identify key indicators and metrics within a given process and discern how they impacted desired outcomes. This has carried over throughout my career and is the cornerstone upon which Bonton Associates operates.
I was also fortunate enough to have a mentor early in my career, Jim Joffrion, who exposed me to true project ownership. From direct interface with the client, to the management of project budgets, the experience I received while working with Jim truly empowered me as a project manager very early in my career. I still carry those lessons with me today.
What are some of the projects your team has executed that you are most proud of?
We’re extremely proud of the projects that we’ve managed and delivered under the East Baton Rouge Sanitary Sewer Overflow Program in partnership with CH2M Hill. In total, Bonton Associates has provided project delivery services on a total of 22 large capacity wastewater pipeline and lift station projects valued at nearly $300 million. Services provided by Bonton Associates include project definition, design management, bidding, construction management and administration, and final commissioning and delivery.
We’ve also recently partnered with AECOM and the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans on the design of electrical improvements at the East Bank Wastewater Treatment Plant. Specifically, Bonton Associates provided structural and architectural support for electrical upgrades and substation expansions.
We’re also looking forward to entering a new market and partnering with Burns and McDonnell and Manchac Consulting Group on the revision of the Water System Masterplan for the City of Shreveport.
Bonton Associates has worked with globally recognized partners all over southeast Louisiana, and you currently have plans to expand your work into the Shreveport/Bossier area. What is your secret for forming partnerships with both private and public entities?
From the very beginning of my career as a consultant, I’ve always placed an extremely high value on peer interaction. Once I decided to start Bonton Associates, I was able to leverage those relationships and positive experiences in partnership with many of the same firms I’d worked with in the past. Being successful in this industry is as much about relationships as it is about technical competency.
What do you do to set your company apart from other civil engineering consulting firms in the industry?
The Bonton Associates mission statement reads: “Bonton Associates shall be built upon a foundation of processes that support a CAPABLE & SUSTAINABLE professional consulting organization providing civil engineering, planning and environmental services to our municipal, state and federal partners across Louisiana and the Gulf Coast.” It’s not only the foundation of processes that the company is built upon that sets us apart, but it’s also our culture and our willingness to continuously monitor and control our internal processes—ensuring that we’re delivering our services in the most efficient and equitable way possible for our clients. Nothing we do is arbitrary.
Your services include the development of transportation infrastructure. What are your thoughts on the state of Baton Rouge’s traffic infrastructure? Has Bonton Associates developed, pitched or supported any solutions for the city’s congestion woes?
When we think congestion woes in Baton Rouge, we usually think I-10 and I-12, and rightfully so. During peak hours these corridors operate at a level of service well below what’s considered acceptable. However, addressing these assets comes at great cost and at great impact to the surrounding communities. While our local, state, and congressional delegations consider ways to fund and implement mega-projects like new bridges or regional loops, we can focus on short term solutions like signal timing adjustments on some of our major surface streets and arterials, or capacity improvements at some of our LOS-D (and below) intersections. These types of projects represent the low-hanging fruit and can often times be funded through capital outlay.
Do you, personally, have a favorite sector that you like to work with? If so, what is it?
Transportation is always fun—it’s gratifying when you can engineer a solution to a problem that everyone identifies with like traffic. However, I’m partial to hydraulic design at the moment. Whether its storm water, potable water or wastewater, the management of water has always presented a unique challenge.
How has Baton Rouge changed throughout your career?
As we say in the construction community, “we’re moving dirt now.” Hotels, residential and commercial developments are being built, critical infrastructure is being upgraded—things are happening, and we’re excited to be a part of it.
What has been the most fulfilling moment in your career to date?
Becoming a licensed engineer. It’s an extremely valuable and respected credential in our industry.
What is a great piece of advice you’ve personally received? Did you have occasion to put it to use?
I had a mentor who use to tell me all the time about the three C’s—communication, communication, communication … If you can effectively articulate your position in a collaborative way, you’ve got half the battle won.
How many employees do you have?
Currently we’re working with a staff of seven design, construction and drafting professionals. We also have strategic partnerships that we tap when the workload demands additional staff.
What are your next goals for the business?
We’re excited to roll out our transitional growth model the first quarter of 2016. We’ve retooled our sales and marketing processes to dramatically increase our nonfederal pursuits, while dramatically reducing the amount of resources and time to respond with quality proposals.
What are some of the biggest challenges that come with working in your industry?
The biggest challenge is finding a balance between providing exceptional service to your clients and dedicating the time and resources to growing your company.
What other leadership roles do you hold in the community and/or what volunteer efforts (if any) do you support?
I served on the East Baton Rouge Planning Commission for four years. I’m also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., which spearheads many initiatives in the community.
What is your favorite way to spend your time?
Miesa and I love to get away to New Orleans for the weekend. But most of all, we love spending time with our two beautiful daughters, Ryan and Sadie.
Where is your “go-to” spot in Baton Rouge?
Chelsea’s Cafe—the people there are genuine and they just get it…
What is an item on your “bucket list”?
Take my family on an extended trip through Europe, Africa and South America … not at the same time though…
What gets your workday off to a good start?
A good workout or a hazelnut latte from Garden District Coffee…