The Evolution of a Law Degree: The Non-Traditional Career Path of Michael Salmon ’80
October 4, 2012
“Be likeable” is the secret to success according to Michael C. Salmon ’80. “It’s not just quality and brains that employers and clients are looking for; they want to work with someone they like,” said Salmon.
Salmon is senior vice president for ITSI Gilbane Company, an international design and construction firm specializing in military base construction and environmental projects. It is a subsidiary of Gilbane Building Company, which provided construction management services for the Law School’s new and renovated facilities in Carlisle and University Park.
“I love the culture here at Gilbane,” said Salmon. “It’s a family-owned company. The owner’s name is on the door, which means that if you don’t satisfy and pay attention to the client, it’s taken personally. Everyone who works here has tremendous loyalty and commitment to the company. While it’s a large organization with over 2,500 members, there is much camaraderie.”
Salmon spends most of his time with marketing and sales. “My primary role is to expand and grow our company in environmental and energy markets,” said Salmon. “We focus on where the money is. From the government’s perspective, money is being invested into energy efficiency and renewable energy, so we are pursuing that niche market, and maintaining work from the Army, Navy, and Air Force.”
According to Salmon, Gilbane offers energy services in two main areas. “The first type is lowering energy demand through building improvements,” said Salmon. “We help our clients save money by upgrading windows, light fixtures, and heating and cooling systems to be more energy efficient. This takes a long time to pay off, but the payback is proven.
The second type is building and operating renewable energy sources, such as solar panels, wind turbines, and geothermal. The government expects to achieve fifty percent of its energy savings by utilizing renewable sources of energy. In addition to the environmental and energy markets, we are continuing to take on larger and larger infrastructure projects, and we see our international opportunities growing rapidly.”
Salmon didn’t initially pursue a non-traditional law career. “I wish I could say that I saw the opportunity that a non-traditional career offered but circumstances were far more determinative of my career choice than strategic planning on my part,” said Salmon. “When my class graduated in 1980, we faced economic conditions that were similar to, and in some cases worse than, conditions we’ve experienced in the last few years. I was fortunate to have an associate’s position when I graduated due to my clerking at a firm during my second and third years. I had to leave the firm and re-locate due to a personal situation which left me unemployed. Luckily, a friend of a friend introduced me to an engineering firm that was rapidly expanding into construction, real estate development and environmental. My law degree and real estate experience were instrumental in getting me hired and my role was a mix of both lawyer and manager. Eventually, international and environmental project assignments provided me with increasing management responsibility and my reliance on my professional status of a lawyer became less important to my career.”
The benefits of his law degree
Having a law degree initially helped Salmon by establishing an educational foundation that was viewed as being equivalent to a post-graduate business degree. “I was able to understand the legal aspects of managing and operating a business and I gradually learned the financial side,” said Salmon. Business school graduates have a similar learning curve in understanding the legal side so law school graduates have as good an educational basis for successfully pursuing a business career as business school graduates do.
In addition, many businesses and markets are highly regulated. Understanding how those regulations affect them is important in planning and executing a business plan. My career in the environmental market was certainly helped by my ability to interpret regulatory schemes to identify alternative solutions for clients facing limited, and expensive, options.”
At Gilbane, Salmon’s law degree has helped him in understanding the company’s contractual obligations to their clients and in applying government regulations related to environmental compliance and worker health and safety. “Gilbane employs several lawyers who are experts in construction and environmental law so I have plenty of support but it helps to be able to engage with them, and with our clients, so that terms and conditions don’t over-ride the fundamental purpose of the contractual arrangement,” said Salmon.
Salmon was hired two years ago by Gilbane to head its environmental services construction business. Prior to joining Gilbane, Salmon helped pioneer the environmental brownfields remediation market which accelerated the cleanup of contaminated properties for economic redevelopment and beneficial re-use. His other environmental remediation project experience with all major environmental regulatory programs include the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and many state voluntary and Brownfield programs.
Salmon has conceived and implemented several of the largest and most complex redevelopment projects in the United States, including the Portland Bangor Waste Oil Superfund Site, which was the first private party buyout of responsible parties to implement a CERCLA cleanup and gain a complete release from future liability; the First Avenue Redevelopment Properties, which included the decommissioning demolition and environmental cleanup of a power plant and nine acres in mid-town Manhattan to enable a $3 billion redevelopment project; and the cleanup and site restoration of the Feed Materials Production Center, a Cold War era strategic nuclear weapon facility operated by the Department of Energy.
Salmon’s creative ideas and solutions come to life because he hires the best and marshals the experts to assist him in getting those solutions accomplished. He is not afraid to ask for help. “Project management involves having modest knowledge of everything, and applying people with better skills to help meet those specific requirements,” said Salmon.