“Diode began with a conversation.”
This statement is featured on the Diode Ventures website and other marketing materials, but what does it mean? This is how Diode began. In fact, Diode started with a lot of conversations. Conversations with partners, clients, investors, and Black & Veatch. From its origin, Diode has had a client-centered approach to asset development, which began with a conversation around our clients’ needs first. Founded in November 2017, Diode recently celebrated its third anniversary. Diode has grown a great deal in its three years, and we have created a name for ourselves inside our parent company, Black & Veatch, and outside to our clients, partners, and suppliers. The team has grown from two professionals to 17, with more to join in the future! In three short years, Diode has grown in so many ways, and we want to share our story.
Brad Hardin, President of Diode Ventures, created Diode when he was the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Black & Veatch. When he began to ideate around the concept of Diode, he thought about how interesting it would be to create a start-up inside of an already successful enterprise. Combined with a passion for Black & Veatch’s values and the support of the company’s leadership, he started to talk with those inside Black & Veatch, their clients, and partners. He knew an opportunity existed that could give Black & Veatch an edge to separate the company from its rivals. “The knowledge base within Black & Veatch runs deep; there just needed to be an avenue to think of risk in a new way and to use that knowledge and experience as a platform,” says Hardin.
“After all, it is hard to refute over 100 years of success.” Brad Hardin
The concept continued to come together after months of conversation and research. What Black & Veatch needed was a full-service infrastructure development company that could develop assets for clients in their desired markets and growth regions to help the achieve the scale they needed. Diode would work from Black & Veatch’s knowledge base in energy, communications, data centers, and water infrastructure. To set Black & Veatch and Diode apart from others in the space, Diode would use a client-centered approach focusing on their clients’ needs first. In other words, Diode would break the standard development model.
What’s in the Name?
A Diode is an electronic component used to convert an alternating current to a direct current, allowing energy to move only in the intended direction: forward. Diode holds the door open for new, forward-thinking ideas to flow through with the goal of empowering our clients to grow their businesses efficiently and effectively. Said differently, Diode helps overcome resistance in infrastructure funding and development by moving projects forward for our clients. And as with many startups, the journey – or venture – is a daring one, and so Diode Ventures was born.
Once the opportunity was identified, the next big task was getting Diode Ventures off the ground. “It took several meetings and strategy sessions with Black & Veatch’s leadership to launch Diode inside Black & Veatch,” said Hardin. He was surprised at how much it was like creating a start-up, even though it was part of a large, established, and successful company. It was unlike other start-ups, however, as he noted there were obstacles other start-ups would not face, like pre-existing notions, getting buy-in from partners, and assessing risk from a new point of view. Since Black & Veatch is a 100% employee-owned company, Hardin said there was another level of stress and excitement in knowing that the futures of those around him would be directly impacted by Diode. All of Black & Veatch had a stake in Diode’s future.
Hardin didn’t do it alone, though. Rachel Attebery, Director of Operations, joined Hardin as one of the earliest team members. Attebery was working with Hardin in the Chief Technology Officer’s group prior to joining Diode. Attebery, a former process engineer in Black & Veatch’s Oil & Gas business, had a passion for finding ways to modernize Black & Veatch and saw Diode as another opportunity to do that. “We [Black & Veatch] had all the tools and skills – we just needed to think how to use them in new ways,” said Attebery when reflecting on how Diode builds upon the history and expertise of Black & Veatch.
Both Hardin and Attebery acknowledged the importance and benefit of Black & Veatch’s leadership in guiding Diode, which has helped the young company assess new opportunities and risks, as well as avoid pitfalls. They also recognized the faith that the company put in them. Two of Black & Veatch’s core values are entrepreneurship and collaboration. These values along with the trust that Steve Edwards, Black & Veatch’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), placed in Hardin were some of the most important contributing factors in getting Diode from an idea to reality. Hardin noted that he loved the rush of it all, but there was an immense amount of pressure being a leader saying, “Follow me, we will do great things,” while still navigating all the unknowns like any other start-up. Hardin pushed through because he knew that Diode would create value for our clients and our communities.
Keys to Success
Hardin attributed the idea of radical transparency as one of the most important keys to Diode’s success. This idea is in everything from conversations with clients, processes, to even daily huddles with the Diode team. Hardin was surprised at how well clients took to this idea of openly discussing their needs compared to the rehearsed pitch of a standard developer as well as the issues that arise in the course of development.
Internally, the Diode team works hard to recognize issues early. John Michael Handley, a project manager who joined Diode from Black & Veatch in January 2020, says the team is comprised of so many different and brilliant people, but that radical transparency makes the difference in the dynamic.
“I think that radical transparency plays a huge role in how we communicate and how we support each other,” said Handley. “It leads to a different type of environment. Our team is so small and transparent that there are no internal politics or personal agendas.”
When thinking about the last three years, Attebery looked back on how Diode has grown. She has seen the team begin to build processes and relationships to create repeatable success. While an engineer, Attebery followed processes that were set in stone from Black & Veatch’s many decades of experience. She has a new appreciation for Diode and practicing radical transparency to acknowledge that creating a new process is an imperfect effort, but it is a journey to establish new ways of doing things better.
Handley talked about how we are a team without egos, but he noted that whatever the task, the Diode team can get it done. Maria Camila Palacio, a project finance manager who joined the Diode team in 2019, described the group as a very energetic team of go-getters who work tirelessly to find innovative solutions for our clients’ novel problems.
Looking into the future, the Diode team predicts success will come from the focus Diode’s leadership has on building a tight-knit team with the client’s best interest in mind. With the support and value system of Black & Veatch, hard-earned lessons learned, and past years’ successes, the future is looking bright for Diode Ventures. But Hardin defined success as something different than what others might expect. He said the three measurements of success that set the company up for repeat work are customer advocacy, a one-of-a-kind team culture, and creating a positive impact on the world. To sum it up, Hardin said he wants his team to be proud of the projects that they build.
“We can say with confidence that we are proud of our work and that Diode is here to change the infrastructure development world.”