Business Council of Alabama member Selena A. Rodgers Dickerson was on a job interview when she was asked where she wanted to be in five years. It’s a pretty standard question asked of a prospective employee.
While her answer was not a standard answer, it was the right one.
“I said I will have my own company,” Dickerson said in a recent interview. “I had a dream of having my own engineering company.
“They gave me a contract,” she said. “The worse they could have told me was no, but they were forward thinking enough to allow me to work with them and be mentored.”
Dickerson is the president and managing member of SARCOR LLC, a civil engineering firm in Birmingham. Its name contains the three initials of her name.
The Birmingham native worked her way through college, graduated with a civil engineering degree from Tennessee State University in Nashville, worked for the Alabama Department of Transportation, and then a private firm where she learned the business end of engineering. Along the way she earned an MBA in project management but then lost her job during a downsizing. That was in 2010.
“The economy was shaky then but a friend of mine believed I had the capacity to get contracts and asked why I wasn’t doing this on my own,” Dickerson said. “I founded my company and quickly realized I knew nothing about running a business.”
Fast forward seven years. SARCOR LLC’s civil engineering division does work in sanitary sewer evaluation, water system evaluations, engineering design, and erosion control services. The company provides engineering services, customized management solutions, and low-impact, environmentally sensitive, efficient, well designed solutions.
Services include chemical and mechanical treatment process design, detention pond analysis and reservoir routing, design of stormwater detention and water quality enhancement facilities, sanitary sewer evaluation studies project planning and execution, design of erosion control BMPs, transportation planning, parking and roadway design, site feasibility studies and utility design including water, storm, and sewer systems, site grading and site development plans for permitting, cost estimating, project management, mechanical engineering, plumbing and HVAC design, and other energy and industrial process services.
That’s quite an impressive list of services for a young engineering graduate who, after founding a company, knew virtually nothing about running one. She educated herself, took workshops in marketing, and started making business calls.
SARCOR has five full-time employees and five independent contractors. An important hire was a veteran in the business with over 30 years’ experience who makes sure projects are the right fit.
While Dickerson occasionally does engineering work, she mostly manages projects and seeks out new business while running a business that has the same challenges as any.
“That can be anything from having a cost-effective health insurance plan for employees based on the size of the company to managing cash flow,” she said. “The more the company grows there are different challenges.”
Dickerson’s business philosophy is to remain commercially agile while instilling her message and brand on employees and clients.
“You have to be persistent about it and build a strong enough vision for the company,” she said. “It’s a team effort, making sure the team sees our vision.”
To answer the where-do-you-want-to-be-in-five-years question, she said she wants a strong footprint in Alabama as well as in Georgia and Tennessee. “And I want to share in the ownership versus being all by myself,” she said.
Dickerson said she believes that employee ownership, which she has been researching, is an incentive that instills pride and reduces employee turnover. “They’ll have the opportunity for ownership and a legacy they can be proud of,” she said.
Dickerson sees herself as a role model and mentor in addition to being married and a mom to a 3-year-old.
“What I find is lot of entrepreneurs especially in my community, we talk about we want to do, but don’t have action,” she said. “As a black woman in engineering, “I’m an example in my community that didn’t have a lot of black business owners, engineers, commercial property owners.
“I also have a fiduciary responsibility to the community to show other young men and women that the environment you live in doesn’t have to be what is in your head,” she said. “I want to emphasize leadership, teamwork, communication, and strategy.”
Dickerson was recognized as the Upsilon Eta Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2014 and 2017, is a member of the Birmingham Charter Chapter of American Business Women Association, a graduate of Leadership UAB Class of 2013, and the Small Business Administration’s inaugural Emerging Leaders 2015 class in Birmingham. She is currently in the 2018 Class of Leadership Alabama.
She served a term on the State of Alabama Manufactured Housing Commission, was appointed to serve on the board of directors for REV Birmingham and the City of Birmingham’s Planning Commission, and was chosen as a Birmingham Business Journal, 2016 Top 40 Under 40 Honoree.