Cover Story II
From Homelessness to CEO
The Evolution of an Engineer
By Kayla Carnes
From humble beginnings to a formidable rise, Evolving Texas CEO Samantha Renz is living proof that corporate success and personal authenticity can go hand in hand.
“It’s been a journey in life to be able to accept myself for who I was created to be,” said Renz. “I think it’s important that there are role models out there like me so that people like me know, ‘It’s okay for me to be who I am’.”
Born and raised in Texas, Renz’s early years were shaped by the tragedy of losing her childhood home to a natural disaster. With her family forced into homelessness and without job security, 15 year-old Renz made the decision to quit school, attain her GED and secure a full-time job. Renz launched her career at the City of Sanger in 1998, where she received her Civil Engineering Degree at the University of Texas Arlington. Renz devoted the next 17 years to municipal government, directly contributing to community development work and policy creation.
In 2014, Renz received a call from John Cornelson of Evolving Texas, a Fort Worth-based civil engineering consulting firm committed to helping infrastructure projects of all sizes launch successfully and sustainably.
Cornelson extended an invitation for Renz to join the company’s expanding team, which Renz accepted. Four short years later, Renz was inaugurated as CEO and majority shareholder at Evolving Texas, where she currently serves with Cornelson as her business partner.
“Our tagline is ‘Ideas to completion’, said Renz. “We take a client’s idea — multi-family project, subdivision, commercial building — and can assist with locating the land, perform site investigations, and help the client determine if the project is truly viable. Our team performs all planning and entitlement procedures from conception through construction, until the project is complete.”
Cornelson currently serves as President of Evolving Texas. Cornelson’s versatile business background brings a wealth of industry knowledge to Evolving’s overall messaging and brand strategy, stemming from his early days as a designer and success as lead project manager to Wal-Mart Stores, INC.
“After 21 years in the industry of civil engineering, there were several things I’d encountered that I wanted to change or do differently,” said Cornelson. “One thing I continued to run into over and over again was a corporate culture that didn’t value its people. When I founded Evolving, I was focused on how to do company culture differently.”
With a clear focus on “relationships, clear communication and doing what is right”, Evolving embodies this holistic approach to business by placing people and partnerships at the forefront of its endeavours.
“My goal was to create a company that would operate differently from tradition,” said Cornelson. “The choice to be inclusive has always been a key part of my decision making. After years of trying to change the course of tradition, I made the decision to change my own course, instead — and Evolving was born.”
Renz says Cornelson elevates their partnership by complimenting Renz’s leadership style with big-picture thinking and business development finesse.
“We differ in leadership styles, but we each bring what the other needs,” said Renz. “John sees into the distance, where I act as the mentor and day-to-day leader of our team.”
This dynamic approach to leadership directly influences the empowering company culture of Evolving Texas, which Renz refers to as “a place people want to be and stay.”
“In this day and age, employees have a lot of room to choose where they live and work. At Evolving Texas, we want to retain top talent. It’s important that our people feel what they are doing is valuable, important, and making a difference,” said Renz.
A proud member of the LGBTQ community, Renz maintains that authenticity and relationship are key components in developing and sustaining independent businesses of any size.
“Here at Evolving Texas, we are setting the stage for the next generation of people to be comfortable with who they are,” said Renz. “And not just individuals within the LGBTQ community. We apply this truth and acceptance to every minority group: that they are wholly accepted and loved.”
One of the many tangible ways in which Renz lives out this belief system can be observed in her inception of Soul Tea, a personal project turned mission-focused tea company offering rehabilitation and mentorship programming opportunities to the greater Fort Worth community. Known amongst the Soul Tea community as the “Chief Love Officer”, Renz founded Soul Tea on the basis that every person — regardless of income, social stature or education — is deserving of love, respect, and a second chance at life.
Soul Tea’s pop-up events and monthly cohorts consist of encouraging gatherings which allow community members, low-income individuals or those transitioning out of homelessness the opportunity to take on part-time work in exchange for a living wage. This mission, Renz says, stems from a core desire to support and empower those who have been denied assistance or disenfranchised due to minority status.
“I come from a place of great diversity: I’m a woman, an engineer, a Christian, and gay,” said Renz. “In today’s world, the focus on what divides us is too strong. We need to shift our focus to what is the same between us, and learn how to better support one another.”
As Renz and her cohorts look into the future, Renz emphasizes the need for unity across all fronts: in business, in vision, and in community.
“Above all, I want to leave a legacy of positive change. I want to be remembered as someone who made people feel worthy, valued, and loved.”
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