George Psomas' work almost always goes unrecognized. He wouldn't want it any other way. A civil engineer, Psomas is in the infrastructure business. When the job is done well, walls are straight, foundations are solid, sewers do their job, highways are smooth--and no one notices.
Psomas has been successfully avoiding attention for 47 years. Now his company, Psomas & Associates, occupies an entire building on Ocean Park Boulevard near Santa Monica Airport, and also has offices in Costa Mesa, Riverside, Downtown Los Angeles and Sacramento.
George Psomas, 75, is giving some thought to retirement, and he can do so with the knowledge that he leaves behind not just his projects, but a tradition of excellence and two of his children to carry on.
Psomas started out as a surveyor. On his early surveying expeditions, he often took his son, Tim, along. Tim loved it.
"I grew up with the memories of those outings and the wonderment for the surveying instruments," said Tim Psomas, 52, now the president of Psomas & Associates. "I never questioned what I would do with my life."
The business has grown far more complex over the years, father and son agree. When Tim Psomas started working with his father 30 years ago, one file drawer was generally all that was needed for each project. Now each job requires an entire file cabinet.
It requires "the patience of Job to get things done in the city of Los Angeles," Tim Psomas said. "You're dealing with employees who have a responsibility to administer rules and regulations of which there are an increasing number. I learned patience from my father. He has patience with everyone."
Civil engineering is an exercise in teamwork. Every project is unique, and it has to be done right the first time. Architects, landscapers, developers, contractors and public agencies must work together.
And, of course, there's the matter of money. At Psomas & Associates, that is the realm of Vicki Psomas, director of finance.
"My father took me away from Carl's Jr. when I was 17, where I alternated between flipping hamburgers and working the cash register," she recalled. George Psomas hired his daughter as a file clerk and messenger. She took accounting classes and her natural abilities for finance flourished. Today, she is part of the triumvirate that runs Psomas & Associates.
"Where Vicki really shines," said her father, "is when a project audit is requested. It's really important for us that everything is presented expertly and she does that."
At one time, all four Psomas children were employed in the business. Stephanie is now a landscape architect, and Julie and her husband own a finance company. To George Psomas, there's no great secret to working successfully with his children.
"I love them all," he said. "We're close. We have respect for one another."
Ask him about retirement, however, and he admits having some reservations. Besides, there is something he would like to accomplish before he leaves: "I'd like to see Playa Vista completed. It's been 10 years. At least I'd like to take people out there and say 'We did this.' "
Playa Vista is the massive residential, office and hotel project that developer Maguire Thomas Partners proposes to build between Marina del Rey and Westchester. Psomas & Associates has been deeply involved for five years in the engineering and planning of the project, which is designed to house nearly 29,000 residents.
So perhaps retirement isn't so imminent after all. George Psomas still wants to get a closer look at the future.