Q&A with Tom Furgason


October 12, 2018

Tom Furgason discovered his love for the environment in a real-life, hands-on way. During his time as a river guide in the Grand Canyon, Tom’s love for the environment began to flourish.

Since then, Tom has gained more than 20 years of consulting experience for a variety of projects for private industry, state and local entities, federal agencies, and Native Americans. A relative newcomer to Olsson, Tom Furgason joined the firm in 2018 to lead the environmental practice.

We caught up with Tom to learn more about his background, his vision for Olsson’s environmental practice, and his time spent on the Colorado River.

When did you decide you wanted to work with the environment?

One of my early aspirations was to be involved in radio or television, but after spending 12 years as a river guide in the Grand Canyon, assisting researchers and teaching/studying natural history, I grew fascinated with ecology and geology. I moved on from guiding to pursue a formal education in ecology and evolutionary biology. Still, those 12 seasons on the river were formative in my appreciation of the natural environment, and ecology—how the different biosystems work together and how they’re influenced by human impacts.

Going back to your roots as a river guide, what experience stands out the most?

There isn’t one experience that stands out above others; however, the overall support of fellow river guides has set the standard for community in my life since I left the river. The guide community was rooted in a genuine care and understanding of each other and formed through shared values, sense of place, and understanding of the responsibilities that we enthusiastically accepted. This was visible in many small ways such as competitors helping each other out in a bind with short supplies or communicating changes along the river corridor.

What is one thing that Olsson can do to help solve our clients’ biggest challenges?

Anything that creates uncertainty for our clients is a big challenge. Within the environmental practice, we need to diligently track proposed changes in the regulations and provide our clients with insights as to how those changes may affect their projects.  We can then deliver meaningful value to our clients when we foresee the impacts of proposed changes and develop strategies that eliminate or minimize delays.

How has Olsson’s environmental team changed to keep up with our clients’ needs?

Through my time here, I have seen the practice come together to establish reporting and graphic standards for projects that are large enough to support multiple teams working on them. This effort fits in nicely with where we are taking the new branding initiative. 

Which of Olsson’s environmental practices attracted you to the company?

I was primarily attracted to Olsson through previous working relationships with Olsson staff. I’m most comfortable with the portion of the practice surrounding National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act, but the most attractive portions of the environmental practice are the other regulatory arenas where we work, such as compliance, remediation, and air quality. 

What’s your leadership philosophy?

My leadership philosophy is focused on empowering people—finding the right people for the right job. By finding out what your team needs, it helps you understand where people are coming from, how they approach work, and how you can create a career path for them to succeed in.

What is your favorite part about your job?

I enjoy connecting people to different opportunities whether they are new projects requiring new skills, working with new project managers or teams, or taking on new clients.

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