Cardinal Cadence Fall 2012
With the flow: From living room to leader
Preparation, planning and a healthy dose of caution—courtesy of his wife—are at the heart of the career success Alan Plummer ’64 has enjoyed. The engineering firm he founded in 1978, Alan Plummer Associates Inc. has grown into a leader in environmental engineering and water resource management. The company’s projects have included water and wastewater treatment plants throughout Texas and innovative constructed wetlands and water reuse systems. But when Plummer first broached the subject of starting his own consulting engineering firm, his wife, Peggy (O’Pry) Plummer ’65, did not embrace the idea.
At the time, Plummer had a good job at a national engineering firm, and the couple had two young daughters at home. After completing his civil engineering degree at Lamar, where he and Peggy met, Plummer began his career with the firm Forrest and Cotton before earning a master’s degree in environmental engineering from the University of Texas. He gained additional experience working for a decade at Forrest and Cotton, the Trinity River Authority and the national firm Hydroscience before suggesting to Peggy that they start their own company. Never a risk taker, she demurred, and he waited. When he brought up the idea again, she agreed they could pray about it. “We did, and some doors opened up that really gave us the confidence that that’s what we should do,” Plummer said. Alan Plummer Associates Inc. opened for business in the living/dining room of their Arlington home. Alan’s engineering department occupied one side with Peggy’s secretarial and administrative department on the other, separated by bookcases.
An English major at Lamar who had experience as a teacher and secretary, Peggy served as the firm’s secretary, bookkeeper and editor for numerous reports. “She made some real contributions in the early years of the company,” Alan Plummer said. “One of the specific principles she emphasized, not being a risk taker, was she wanted us to be on a cash basis. She initiated that operating principle, and the firm has continued to benefit from that.” She initially agreed to help Alan get the company started for the first year or two. After eight years, she decided to leave the company and return her focus to their family. “I really got in trouble with her when she found out how much it was going to cost to replace her relative to what she’d been paid,” he said.
When they started the firm, Alan envisioned growing into a small company with about six employees. After about six months, they hired their first part-time help. A year later, they moved out of their home into leased office space, where they expanded to a staff of six. The firm now employs more than 90 people. Many times over the years, Peggy has reminded him that he far exceeded his initial goal.
“We have a mixture of both engineers and scientists. Being in the environmental field, I feel like it’s extremely important to have both the scientific skills as well as the technical skills to meet our clients’ needs,” Plummer said. Along with experts in chemical testing, the scientific staff at Alan Plummer Associates includes biologists with expertise in aquatic plants. One of the areas in which the firm has become a leader is designing and constructing natural systems or constructed wetlands for wastewater treatment and water reuse. “That’s proven to be an extremely beneficial approach. The natural polishing that goes on in the wetlands is beneficial for cleaning the water. At the same time, it provides a habitat for wildlife so that the wetlands have served multiple purposes. These wetlands are frequently used by hunters and birdwatchers.”
Plummer was an early advocate of using such innovative methods as part of developing a sustainable water supply in Texas. About 30 years ago, his firm developed and designed a water reuse project working with the Trinity River Authority and the Dallas County Utility and Reclamation District to provide water for golf courses, landscaping and water features at Los Colinas, a large development in Irving. Since then, he has worked with numerous other clients and water planners throughout Texas on developing plans for water reuse and conservation. Technology from 20 to 30 years ago produced reclaimed water suitable for non-potable uses such as irrigation and industrial needs. Now, professionals are studying how to expand water reuse technologies to cautiously supplement strained drinking water resources, something Plummer sees as the next step. “The treatment technologies have greatly increased over the last 30 years. Also the level of recognition of the value of water has increased. People just took it for granted that it was going to be there, particularly in the East Texas region with heavy rainfall.”
Plummer’s leadership in his field has drawn the recognition of his peers. He was an original member of the North Texas Section of the Water Environment Association of Texas and served as president and vice-president of the state organization. The group honored him with its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009 and in 2011 established the Alan H. Plummer Environmental Sustainability Award, naming him the first recipient. Plummer is also a longtime leader of the Texas Water Conservation Association, having served as president, a board member and on multiple committees. The association dedicated its 2004 convention to him in recognition of his contributions. He is a past president of the WateReuse Association Texas and winner of its award of merit. Plummer shares his knowledge with his alma mater as a member of Lamar’s College of Engineering Advisory Council and previously served on the civil engineering advisory boards for both Lamar and for the University of Texas at Arlington.
Now 71 years old, Plummer has stepped back from his managerial work. He currently serves as chairman emeritus of the board of directors of the employee-owned company he founded. Another Lamar engineering alumnus, Alan Tucker ’83, serves as president. “I’m focusing my attention on getting involved in some of the technical aspects of projects and also helping with business development and just being available to some of our clients,” Plummer said. “I’m enjoying being away from some of the administrative aspects of the business.” He’s also enjoying having more time for his family.
The Plummers’ daughters, Jamie and Patti, and their families live nearby, allowing the couple to spend time with their grandson and three granddaughters. Alan has been an avid runner for about 30 years, logging three miles a day at 5 a.m. Monday through Thursday and six to eight miles on Saturdays with his running group, the Dawn Patrol. His daughter Jamie and 15-year-old granddaughter Macenzi often join the group. “It’s pretty special to have three generations running together at 5 a.m. We’re really blessed to have them so close.” Plummer also has three half-marathons to his credit. The most recent one, to celebrate his 70th birthday last year, was a family affair with Jamie, three out-of-town relatives and Dawn Patrol members joining him in the run.
Alan and Peggy Plummer credit Lamar not only with providing them a good education, but also with helping them find each other. Additionally, he credits Lamar for providing a good foundational education to his two brothers, Edward Plummer ’67 and Ralph Plummer ’67, which has been critical to their successful careers in sales. Alan and Peggy met when she served as student secretary in the civil engineering department while he was a student. Soon before they started dating, a staff secretary in the department predicted that Peggy and Alan would marry. Back then, social time often meant studying together at her house after their classes and his part-time job at Mobil Chemical. “Both of us were focused on working and schooling,” he said. “I think we were encouraging each other to do what we needed to do to get through school.”
That encouragement and partnership have continued for nearly 50 years, leading to success in both business and their personal lives. They strove to operate the company they founded together based on the principles of their Christian faith. The logo for Alan Plummer Associates shows “a tree firmly planted by streams of water,” a passage from Psalms 1, from which they took inspiration. That foundation—combined with planning, preparation and appropriate caution—seems to have served them well.
by Beth Gallaspy