Mark Urda's Story
Mark Urda’s dedication to the control systems and automation industry took the leap beyond professional commitment the day he founded Synergy Systems, Inc. For Mark, it is personal. His 35+ years’ experience in on-time and on-budget execution of extensive controls projects is reinforced by a genuine belief in the good of the services and solutions Synergy provides for American manufacturing. His efforts in projects involving Combustion Control Systems, Waste Heat Boiler Control Systems, PLC-based Burner Management Systems, and Adaptive Air/Fuel Ratio Control, among others, have produced results for clients that not only place safety center stage, but also translate efficiency into cost savings.
Mark’s enthusiasm for providing clients with safe, reliable, and efficient systems is infused into every project that Synergy completes. The positive results that Synergy delivers are inseparable from the heart and soul that Mark lends to a project.
What motivated you to start your own business?
After having three jobs in three years right out of college, I felt I had learned a lot of hard lessons about big business and also about how not to run a small business (particularly from an ethics standpoint). I was unhappy with the unethical approaches to business that I saw around me. I resigned from the third position that I held and began this journey which has become Synergy.
"The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This is the goal of systems integration."
What is the story behind Synergy’s name?
Synergy! It is a big, fancy way of saying “we.” What could be a better description of system integration? The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This is the goal of systems integration. You don’t just want one manufacturer; you want to provide the best possible solution using a best-of-breed approach. The concept of Synergy embodies that approach. When you put the words together, “Synergy Systems,” you get that we’re providing systems that are put together into this greater whole. Now, why the geodesic dome? The dome caught our attention and the more we looked into it, the more we discovered that a very important American was involved. Buckminster Fuller had popularized the word Synergy several decades ago, and he also is credited with theories on the geodesic dome. That’s why it’s sometimes called the Bucky Ball. He had a whole design concept about how it’s the most efficient form, which fit perfectly with the goals of our projects here at Synergy.
How do Synergy’s goals align with your personal beliefs?
One of the most important beliefs I have is in the idea that you can be both a good person and a successful person. Honesty and integrity are important. I have met a lot of people who are successful, but they accomplished what they did in a way that lacked integrity. Much like my beloved Norte Dame leads the country now in football and in academics with graduation rates for its student athletes, we are driven to be successful without sacrificing our values. My parents raised me to believe that if you do the right thing, good things will happen.
"We can help people take advantage of new ideas, especially when it is in the best interest of their business and the country."
What about Synergy’s future excites you?
The growth of new people entering the business excites me. We find out they can propel some of our main efforts forward. I have been flabbergasted by the growth we have seen in the past few years as we have brought in new people and have worked with a focused plan. I am also excited about the idea that we can do some good in the world, like the goal of pursuing American energy independence with our Energy Patriot pilot program. We can challenge some of those long standing, old ideas and say that just because your dad or your granddad did it that way doesn’t mean you have to. We can help people take advantage of new ideas, especially when it is in the best interest of their business and the country.
What is a specific accomplishment for Synergy that has made you particularly proud?
I am most proud of the relationship that we have with our employees. In 33 years we have weathered storms together as a family and that is an accomplishment. We have a lot of technical accomplishments, as well, like the relationships we have with our ally partners. I am also proud of our reputation for being innovative. We present our clients with a better way to do things instead of just an easier way. But it all comes back to our employees. I am happy that our relationship with them has been a good one. That’s very, very important to us.
What do you wish everyone knew about the industry?
I wish that everyone knew how much energy is within our grasp. The goals and the model of Energy Patriot (Conserve, Optimize, and Generate) are specific to energy and the things we all can do. There are proven, decades-old technologies with huge potential for dramatic and significant energy savings. It’s a matter of changing peoples’ minds. We are not asking people to be an early adopter; we understand you cannot risk your operation. We are trying to say that you can use modern technologies to help yourself and the country.
Can you describe your management philosophy?
As an entrepreneur, the hardest part is giving up portions of the business, because you start by doing everything yourself. It takes time to develop faith and trust and to get people together, but the reward is great. My management style has come to embody some of the management philosophies of my heroes. Men like George S. Patton, who led from the front. They managed by example. My management philosophy is collegial at heart, meaning that I believe primarily that you work among your colleagues. I follow a very collaborative style of management where communication is the number one goal. I also hope to build an organization that is very rewarding where people remain interested in their careers. My goal is to make it work for everyone, all the time.
What are your hobbies/interests outside of work?
Sadly, they are not nearly as much as they should be. I love my Notre Dame football. I am a huge Jimmy Buffett fan. I play golf – you wouldn’t recognize it as such, but I do enjoy it! I also spend time riding my bike. Other than that, it comes back to family – I love to spend time with my family.
Is there a place you have always wanted to travel to but have not had the chance yet?
I would like to take my family to Hawaii. It would be fun to take a flight there and then get on the cruise at night and take it to the next island.
What is the best advice anyone has ever given you?
Wow, that is a tough one! I’m not so sure that in some ways, it didn’t come to me in the form of a challenge. This one still eats at me and it does motivate me. I was asked this question: If you’re so smart, how come you’re not rich? I was motivated by that because it is tied into ethics. We aren’t rich because we will not lie, cheat, and steal. I want everyone associated with us to live a comfortable life, not so much for the pursuit of money, but as a sort of repudiation of that question.
Who do you look up to as your role model or mentor?
My father was my role model and my mentor. We moved often when I was young. My father, a part of the depression-era generation, was fiercely loyal in business. He took a number of promotions that moved us state to state. I saw my father finally get his break when he started working for a small company where he could pursue his passion. This is what ultimately led to his success. He set a very high standard as a father, as a man, as a businessman. This is not to underplay my mother’s role, becauseshe and I are very alike. I realize more and more how much I am like my mom! They both instilled in me the sense that doing what is right is what is important.
30 Years of Automation Experience
Joined Synergy: July 1979
Alma Mater: University of Notre Dame
Specialties: Control system design, trouble shooting, communications with internal and external team
Favorite Quote: "All things should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler." –Albert Einstein
20 Years of Automation Experience
Position: Vice President
Joined: October 2007
Alma Mater: Southern Illinois University and Northern Illinois University
Specialties: Marketing, systems engineering, project management
Favorite Quote: "The factory of the future will have only two employees, a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment." –Warren G. Bennis