By Jessica Rohr
Mary Joy Sotic
Guam Surveyor LLC
Mary Joy Sotic’s broad experience in the field of engineering — starting with electrical, then moving into software engineering, programming, systems and test engineering and finally geodetic and geomatics engineering — has been dictated by a seven-year career itch.
Sotic, 42, attended college at the University of San Diego and graduated with dual bachelor’s degrees in electrical and electronic engineering, with a minor in math. After college, Sotic returned to Guam, married and then returned to San Diego in 2000 to work with some of the companies she had interned with during college.
She worked at Cubic Defense Systems, now Cubic Global Defense, in San Diego, where she developed weapon systems. “After doing [that] for about five years, I started to get bored,” she says. “I started to get frustrated with the fact that I couldn’t make certain decisions because I was one engineer in a company of 5,000 engineers.”
Sotic decided to move up the corporate ladder, so she got her master’s in business administration online through National University and transitioned from engineer to manager. She then switched to Rockwell Collins, another engineering company, where she did more work on weapons systems.
“That’s where I realized that a lot of the decisions I was making weren’t even my decisions: It was the customer and the government,” she says. “I also started to get bored with that job. I was in each job for about seven years.”
Around that seven-year mark at Rockwell Collins, Balagtas’ father called and asked the couple to take over his surveying business.
“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go back to Guam,” Sotic says. “I had made a whole life in California. But I was very frustrated at my job. I was ready for a change, and I would actually be using my MBA.” In 2013, the family sold their dream home in San Diego and moved to Guam to take on a new challenge.
She co-founded Guam Surveyor LLC that same year with her husband, Dennis Balagtas, a land surveyor.
“It’s a different feeling, being an entrepreneur. I like it,” Sotic says. “It’s been three years now; I’m not bored yet.”
Those last three years were difficult, though, because the couple revamped and incorporated the business, and for the first couple years, they didn’t make a profit.
“Even for the first couple of months, we didn’t pay ourselves,” Sotic says, “because the thing about engineering is that clients pay at the end of the project, but you have to pay your employees in the meantime, so we were using our savings to start up.”
Sotic says that helping people to become familiar with the actual size and shape of their land is important, like understanding the features of a new car. They complete more than 300 surveys per year and are professionally licensed in Guam, California, the Northern Mariana Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia. Their clients range from private property owners, to realtors, to the military. Their services include boundaries, topographic surveying, subdivision/parceling and construction site surveying.
“In the first couple of years, I did everything from answering the phone, to helping put together proposals, to doing calculations,” Sotic says. The company grew from four employees to 20 in almost four years. “Now, I’m taking care of the accounting, our website, human resources, hiring, proposals — I’m more on the macro level.”
Many of Sotic’s business skills developed out of necessity. “When you’re a startup, you don’t really have a lot of money or employees, so you end up having to do everything,” she says. Now that Guam Surveyors LLC has become more stable, Sotic is looking forward to offering benefits and training to their employees.
Favorite app: Pokemon Go
Favorite book: “Harry Potter” by J.K. Rowling and “A Brief History of Time” by Stephen Hawking
Last movie: “Rogue One”
Best vacation: London and Paris at Christmastime about five years ago
Business advice: Keep on learning.
Childhood dream job: Tennis pro
Personal hero: “My grandfather fought in World War II under Gen. MacArthur. He was in the Filipino army. After the war was over, they offered him American citizenship if he would be a part of a group to populate Guam. He did that, and he petitioned all his kids and grandkids, and that’s how we came to Guam.”
Favorite Guam meal: Brisket at Asu Smokehouse