Q&A: Jim Thomson, Senior Vice President of HNTB Corporation

"Ive climbed Mount Rainier, but one of my greatest experiences here in the Northwest was climbing the south rim of Mount St. Helens and then skiing back down."

December 31, 2018By Seattle Business Magazine


Tell us what your company does and what attracted you to this business.

HNTB is an infrastructure solutions firm that assists clients with their largest and most complex projects by providing a range of professional services. This includes award-winning planning, design, program and construction management.

The thing that most attracted me to HNTB is that we get to work on the most complex and complicated infrastructure projects and the ones that truly make peoples lives better.

For instance, weve worked on the design of Seattles State Route 99 Tunnel (a world-record tunnel), major freeways, new airport runways, multiple light-rail projects, a suspension bridge (the second Tacoma Narrows bridge) and light rail construction on a floating bridge. Very few people have the opportunity to work on so many large-scale and exciting projects.

My previous job was with a developer building new homes, but Im most passionate about projects that will benefit the largest number of people in our community Infrastructure like this make peoples lives easier.

Consider the express toll lanes on I-405. Our work makes it easier for people to get to, say, their childs day care center or a doctors appointment faster versus being stuck in traffic. HNTB was instrumental in the design of those lanes.

I look back on my decision to join HNTB and realize how lucky Ive been to end up where I did.

What book/TV show/podcast are you reading/watching/listening to and why?

Im currently reading Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande. Dr. Gawandes book addresses the realities of aging and death. Its been helpful for me as I consider my parents experiences. Its also an important reminder about living a high-quality life all the way to the end.

Whats your favorite spot in Seattle?

Thats a tough one; there are so many! My favorite is likely Alki beach in West Seattle. And then, I used to bike a lot when I first moved here. I got to know Seattle on a bike and I used to do long bike rides. We did the STP (Seattle-to-Portland) ride and RAMROD (Ride Around Mount Rainier in One Day), a tough one but a great Northwest thing to do.

Ive climbed Mount Rainier, but one of my greatest experiences here in the Northwest was climbing the south rim of Mount St. Helens and then skiing back down. It was in April and a 75-degree day, so it was really nice out. That said, on a sunny day if youre out on Alki and look across the water with the ferries and the Olympics in the background, its pretty hard to beat.

What kind of car do you drive and why?

I drive a Lexus RX450-H. Its a hybrid. I drive it because its a smaller SUV and easier to get around town. The SUV part is nice because I can put my bike in the back and be ready to go at a moments notice, or I can put skis in there, or the dog. I also really like the idea that I have a hybrid and am not sitting burning gas in traffic.

Tell us something people dont know about you.

If I wasnt a civil engineer, I think I would be a doctor, or possibly a biomedical engineer. I started my academic career in chemical engineering, then switched to civil engineering.

What are you passionate about outside of work?

Looking back on the last 20-plus years, Ive spent a lot of my time, and am passionate about, raising our three sons. While I spend a lot time with my job, my most important job is making sure that Ive raised them in a way I can be proud of and that theyre going to succeed in a way that we as parents are proud of. Thats taken a ton of time.

Our oldest is 22, the middle is 20, and the youngest is 17. I love doing a wide variety of things with them, whether its boating or riding bikes or hiking or skiing. Were pretty active outdoors, but they are also active in sports. Over the years, Ive been very involved with coaching their teams. With three of them all close in age, it was sometimes very busy, but also tremendously rewarding.