In Up Next, The New Orleans Tribune features young, inspiring professionals from all walks of life making their mark on the city.
As chief information officer of the city of New Orleans until October 2015, Allen Square led the city’s Information Technology and Innovation department, making him and his team responsible for developing and executing the technology strategy to support the delivery of city services.
Last fall, Square left public service to devote his energy and considerable professional experiences to growing his own firm, Square Button Consulting, a mechanical and low-voltage construction company. In addition to providing consulting support Square Button provides design-build mechanical (HVAC/Plumbing) and low-voltage services.
Allen has over 15 years of experience across private, public, and non-profit sectors and has developed expertise in technology (IT, telecommunications, semiconductors, and manufacturing), transportation, business process outsourcing, healthcare and private equity industries. Prior to joining the City of New Orleans, Square spent five years working as a strategic management consultant, most of that time with Bain & Company, Inc. While at Bain, Allen was instrumental in identifying and implementing strategic and operational improvements for clients creating over $400M in annual value for clients.
Allen holds a MBA from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Tulane University, and a master’s degree in telecommunications from Southern Methodist University. Prior to attending business school Allen was well respected in the wireless telecommunications industry as an expert on GSM and CDMA technologies, lastly serving as director of engineering for Verizon Wireless’ Gulf Coast Region.
Q: Okay, let’s get this one out of the way first. Exactly what are low-voltage services? Lol, but seriously…
A: This is a question I often get. Low-voltage construction is actually a broad field centered around the design, installation, and commissioning of systems that transmit data (telecommunications). Today Square Button focuses on the design, installation and commissioning of temperature controls.
Q: Your career is driven by the STEM fields. And as you are likely aware, some focus has been placed on encouraging and fostering excellence in academics and career paths in STEM among Black youth. Do you have any advice for young students in middle school and high school, especially, as it relates to studying and training in science, math, engineering and technology fields?
A: Yes! I have made my career by being able to solve problems. These fields, Science Technology Engineering and Math, all provide the foundation and the fundamental approach to solving problems. While I encourage each youth I speak with to get as much education (e.g., college, graduate school, etc.) as possible, I also try to make them aware of well-paying careers that do not require college degrees. Coding boot camps, like Operation Spark, are very popular today only requiring participants to think logically. Other examples are the unions’ apprentice programs that we work with to hire young people, which require applicants to pass a basic math exam. Both are exciting career paths with very good wages.
Q: You’ve spent much of your career in telecommunications, electrical engineering and IT overseeing and managing operations as an employee of other firms or government agencies. And you have done well. So what was the impetus behind your recent decision to focus on building your own business?
A: After spending the first ten years of my career building wireless networks, I actually led the engineering team that built the Verizon Wireless network for the Gulf Coast, I decided to go to business school with the sole purpose of acquiring the skills to become an entrepreneur. I wanted, and it is still my focus, to own businesses that create opportunities/jobs for the young Black men of New Orleans. Since at least 2003, it has been my plan to become an entrepreneur. I believe now is the right time. I have spent my entire 20-plus year career learning and being mentored by titans of the industry to be prepared for this opportunity.
Q: What have been your greatest opportunities and your biggest challenges in this endeavor?
A: Aside from our partnership with Gallo Mechanical which has been invaluable, our greatest opportunity has come from clients and/or companies that want to partner with us. In a short period of time, we have helped our consulting clients create and capture value through improved service/product delivery. Additionally, our vendor/supplier community has embraced Square Button and has been forward thinking about what true partnership feels like. My biggest challenge quite frankly, has come from individuals who want to question my motivation or ability to be successful in mechanical (HVAC & plumbing) construction. I first spent time unsuccessfully trying to explain my not so obvious experience in construction and project management. Since then I’ve made the decision to stay focused on building a strong company with a culture of competing for business, doing business the right way, and being responsible to our community.
Q: Who have been your role models professionally and/or personally?
A: I have been lucky and blessed to have lots of role models that I have learned from over time, starting with my immediate and extended family. I have been blessed with parents who worked hard while raising Black boys in New Orleans. My family, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins have been the one advantage I have had in life. They have all participated in helping me and holding me accountable to live by a set of morals. There are also several people that have served as role models for me professionally. I live by and try to conduct my business by two mantras. Alan Greenspan spoke at my business school graduation and said, “A person should never make a living off another man’s back.” Although I am sure others have said this but my grandmother is the one who told me “Do not let anyone sell you a wooden nickel.”
Q: What do you do to unwind and enjoy yourself?
A: First and foremost I enjoy spending time with my wife and almost two-year-old son. Watching him learn from his parents and ensuring that he knows that he can do anything in life he wants to are my top priorities. After family and work, I try to play basketball and flag football at least once every week. Then if there is time, and I have permission I really enjoy fishing with my father and our fishing buddies.
Q: Finally, what’s your ultimate goal for Square Button? How do you envision your firm growing in New Orleans?
A: The ultimate goal is to create opportunities for young African-American men and women. If I am creating jobs and ownership opportunities for others then Square Button is doing pretty good. As we continue to build our strong foundation through our partnership with Gallo Mechanical we will look to grow through acquisition. We will look to acquire strong companies that create synergistic opportunities with Square Button.