At S.L. Leonard, we see ourselves as a team of visionaries. It is important to us that our team has interests and expertise beyond the sound educational structures of the profession. We value members who can bring community involvement, unique interests, talents, and abilities to our group. We see such a diversity of backgrounds as an asset to our company, as not only does it allow us to relate to the communities we serve, it also allows our own team members to grow through cross-mentoring and collaboration.  

Strengthening the Team 

One of the greatest aspects of having such diverse backgrounds is the capability of each team member to transfer some of their knowledge and experience to other team members. By collaborating on projects, they can learn from each other, and gain insight that wouldn’t exist in a singular group.


This isn’t just an anecdote – Harvard Business Review noted that teams comprised of members from different cultures and backgrounds are simply smarter than homogenous teams. Diverse teams focus on facts more, they process them better, and they are more innovative than homogenous ones. This doesn’t just relate to the hands-on workers either. 

In a study that took place from 2005 to 2007, researchers in London surveyed 7,600 firms, on an organizational level. While much of the work in how diversity and economic performance over the years has concentrated on employees, this survey investigated management and ownership diversity. The study found that companies with diverse management was more likely to introduce innovative products and designs and could have a better reach to international markets.  

This would be echoed in a multinational study by the Credit Suisse Research Institute, which looked at 2,360 companies globally. While the previously-mentioned study focused on background diversity, this study focused on gender diversity. It found that companies with one or more women on the corporate management board delivered higher returns on equity, a lower debt-to equity ratio, and better average growth than corporations with all-male boards. 

All of this doesn’t come without some difficulties, as noted by researchers at Stanford. Combing through decades of research, Margaret A. Neale surmised that visible diversity can have negative effects on a group initially. However, proper management can overcome these lines. When these visible diversity traits are managed and combined with other dimensions such as functional expertise, education, and personality, Neale noted that teams can perform at their best. 

Another curious point that Neale noted is visible diversity appears to strengthen the team when it comes to handling conflict. The visible differences help to cue team members from the start that there is the potential for conflict. This leads members to expect it, and when conflict does come up, they are prepared to handle it. Conversely, homogenous groups expect that everyone will think alike, and so when a conflict arises, they are not prepared to deal with it. 

Neale did note that there is one area where diversity can be a serious liability – values and goal-setting. This is an area where managerial guidance is extremely important. Obviously, a singular goal is necessary for a team to work towards. The team needs to have similar values that drive it towards that goal though. Different values can lead to different levels of motivation or direction and can fracture a team. 

Bringing Background to the Foreground 

Our team’s diverse background is optimal for such a wide-ranging company, as it allows us to utilize the backgrounds of our individuals to work with certain market sectors. 

For example, Senior Project Manager Perla Hernandez Lastra teaches Construction Technology classes at UCLA Extension, and has a long history of working with charitable projects and organizations throughout the region. This makes her a natural fit for working in the hospitality and education sectors. She knows the unique needs of these sectors from experience and can help to guide owners in the right direction. Add to that her membership in Engineers for a Sustainable World, as well as an extensive education, and you have someone with the ability to create environmentally responsible solutions with an eye to the future. 


One of our other Senior Project Managers, Dennis Mitchem, was previously a board member and secretary of the Cabrillo Economic Development Corporation and is a current board member for the Senior Canyon Mutual Water Company. As part of a development corporation, he was on the forefront of creating affordable housing throughout Ventura County.  That translates perfectly into our market sector of multi-family housing, whether it is new buildings or renovations of historical standing buildings. In particular, his experience with project entitlement stands out. As one of the most critical aspects of the project development project for both residential and retail projects, he is an ace at navigating the zoning regulations, municipal codes, and community group requirements that
can stall projects.


With a wealth of experience as an owner/developer, architect, and contractor, Senior Project Manager Joseph R. Santiesteban has hands-on experience in a number of aspects of project fulfillment. This rich background allows him to examine projects from different angles, and allows him to be extremely efficient. Adding that background to his standing as a member of the Southern California Association of Nonprofit Housing makes him a natural fit for multi-family housing – particularly affordable housing – and institutional projects. It also provides a leg up for design-build concepts. 


Senior Project Manager Christie Rice, P.E. is a licensed California Professional Engineer with a Masters of Engineering Degree. This background allows her to see beyond the look of a building and down to the bones. Every system in a building can impact the design – from the selection of the building skin, to the rooftop mechanical equipment, down to the heavy shelving and the weight of books in a library. This unique insight makes her a major asset on a variety of projects.


Yet another Senior Project Manager, John Matthews, brings residential and civil construction experience to the company. Holding both general contractor and general engineering contractor licenses has ensured his hands-on perspective on projects and helps anticipate and mitigate impact from design and construction issues. He has managed plenty of large, complex construction projects throughout the years. 


These are just a few examples of what our team members can contribute thanks to having diverse backgrounds. Both visible and non-visible diversity makes up our team, and in keeping with the studies mentioned above, that diversity extends from senior management down to our hands-on teams. This allows us here at S.L. Leonard to be agile and innovative in our project management, developing unique solutions for businesses, building owners, and developers. 

SL Leonard Team