RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Behind dozens of building projects in North Carolina and beyond is Willy Stewart. While his name sounds, American he’s originally from Colombia.
His company, Stewart is responsible for a number of projects including the Durham Innovation District, UNC’s new surgical tower, the Durham Police Complex, and the Carolina Panthers practice fields.
Stewart headquarters are in a building Stewart engineered- The Dillon in downtown Raleigh.
You can add NC State’s Tally Student Union along with dozens of city projects and greenways to his portfolio. That diversity in project is why the company said they’ve continued to be successful during the pandemic.
Click here to see all the projects Stewart has engineered.
“I’m really proud to be able to point out we did that project, yeah we were involved in that, we’re celebrating this,” said Stewart.
Stewart’s company has more than 200 employees in half a dozen offices.
His interest in engineering started as a child seeing the billboard of a man with the word ‘engineer’ beside him.Stewart attended a private American school in his home country. He went to college in North Carolina on golf scholarship.
After earning his degree, his father told him that man he’d seen in a billboard years ago was actually a developer.
“He just called himself an engineer to give himself status. I said oh my gosh, I became an engineer by mistake,” Stewart said.
While his career path may not have been intentional, Stewart now runs his company with purpose.
“Serve each other, serve the community, and lead. Be leaders,” said Stewart. He encourages his employees to join community organizations and get involved in community boards.
While he’s a proud Latino now, it wasn’t always this way. When he came to the United States, Stewart feared people would associate his heritage with Colombian stereotypes of drug dealers. He thought his saving grace would be his last name. One of Stewart’s grandparents was from Germany which explains his atypical last name for a Latino.
“I felt like I could hide behind my name since it wasn’t necessarily a Latino name and I didn’t tell anybody that I was from Colombia,” he explained.
That was until he played back a recording of his voice, hearing his own accent for the first time. His son confirmed that it was an accent everyone had already took notice of.
“I was deceiving but one person and that was me. Everybody else knew I had an accent. Everybody else knew I was different,” said Stewart.
That’s now where he realizes his strength lies.
“Each and every one of us is unique, is authentic, brings to the table diverse ideas, and backgrounds and experiences,” he said.
He now champions diversity his own business.
“Its absolutely essential and its what makes companies great, innovation happens because of that and we should promote it whole heartedly,” Stewart said.
As he designs places where people heal, learn and work- he weaves that inclusion into the cultural fabric of his own company.
“It’s just something we have to do and will continue to do.”