Growing up in Washington, D.C., Denise Turner Roth dreamed of one day becoming the mayor of her hometown. She wanted to play a key role in improving her community.
Roth has not yet thrown her hat into a mayoral campaign, but she found a career path that channeled those early aspirations in a way that has had a positive impact on communities across the U.S.
She joined WSP USA in late March as a senior advisor after leading the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) for two years, from March 2015 to January 2017. She led a workforce of 12,000 full-time employees and was responsible for a $27 billion budget that supported the agency’s public buildings service, federal acquisition service and technology services programs.
In her new position with WSP, Roth is advising public and private sector clients regarding buildings, infrastructure and energy projects. She joins a consulting team composed of national subject matter experts and draws from her background in improving operations and management of large governmental entities.
“Denise has extensive experience in building services, technology transformation for the federal government, community relations, public-private partnerships, and policy work in economic development,” said John D. Porcari, president of U.S. Advisory Services. “Her successful public sector executive service in real estate development, procurement oversight, and property operations and management, will enable us to offer enhanced strategic advisory capabilities to the public sector development domain.”
Growing up, Roth faced challenges that influenced her desire to help others overcome obstacles and have opportunities to improve their own lives.
“I grew up as one of the underprivileged in Washington, D.C.,” Roth said. “But during that time, my Mom completed a joint government-private sector program where she was trained for the skills that eventually led to a good higher-paying job with a bank. To have her go through that transformation is what inspired my interest in government. I wanted to create policies that changed people lives. I thought I would be the mayor of D.C., work on Capitol Hill, and be on my way.”
Following graduation from George Mason University, Roth realized that holding elected office wasn’t the only way she could make a difference.
She has held various leadership positions at the federal and local government levels throughout her 20 years of public service. Prior to her role with GSA, she served as city manager for Greensboro, North Carolina and helped pave the way for several new and creative management changes in the city, including the reorganization of city departments and divisions to promote efficiency and improve service delivery and launching public/private initiatives creating more than $75 million in city enhancements.
Roth also served as vice president for governmental affairs at the Greensboro Partnership, where she successfully secured $60 million in state funds to establish the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and University of North Carolina-Greensboro Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering.
She received an honorary doctorate from her alma mater in recognition of her public service, and she was recently appointed as a fellow to the National Academy of Public Administration.
During her time as the chief executive for GSA – a position that requires a presidential appointment and U.S. Senate confirmation – Roth briefed President Barack Obama on matters related to GSA.
“GSA is the largest commercial property owner in the country, managing about 375 million square feet across the country,” she said. “I was proud to be in a position to have such an extensive influence over the last three years.”
Roth will not interact directly with projects related to GSA, but the knowledge she has gained from her experiences with the department will be valuable to many WSP clients. Whether it’s a proposed new development, or a repurposing of an existing or abandoned property, she will help clients find the best path to achieve their goals.
“A large part of my experience at GSA was in the development of relationships with state and local governments,” she said. “So if there is an abandoned property that could be redeveloped into an asset for a community, I can help the client develop strategies that will help them get through bureaucratic ‘red tape’ more efficiently and give them a stronger play in how that development comes about.”
Having access to the resources of WSP will also help her assist clients.
“The firm has an extensive footprint and a strong reputation for delivering quality work,” Roth said. “My interest and my passion is making sure cities and states are building stronger communities, whether it’s through transportation or buildings. I needed to be a part of a firm that had a lot to offer clients. I think we can be their visionary partner.
“Working for GSA was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Roth continued. “Now I’m excited to have an opportunity to work with people who are also passionate about improving the communities where they live. I like how it feels … it’s a perfect marriage.”
Update: On Jan. 8, 2018, Roth was appointed chief development officer of WSP. She is responsible for overseeing the development and implementation of the firm’s strategy and long-range planning in the U.S. She will work closely with the chief executive officer and senior managers to lead innovation and support strategic growth.