Leadership and legacy

By Patricia Olsen

"Our mission is to leave a legacy." An interview with Tyler Nottberg, Chairman & CEO, U.S. Engineering Company Holdings, Kansas City, MO.

Generation of family ownership: Fifth.

Revenue: Over $400 million.

Number of employees: Currently 1,200. We hire manpower as needed, so that number fluctuates based on how many projects we have going on at any one time.

First job at this company: Project engineer. I never worked in the company as a kid, and after college I worked for a policy research firm in Washington, D.C., followed by a Wall Street research firm. In 2005, when I was 28, I started working in the warehouse in our Rocky Mountain region and then moved back to Kansas City and worked as a project engineer before becoming a project manager running my own work. The board elected me CEO in 2009, which is when my wife, Leigh, and I repurchased a controlling ownership in the company.

Most memorable thing I learned from my father: My father passed away when I was in college, so I never got to work with him. But growing up I learned from him to consider both sides of any issue, which has stayed with me. We’d read an article from the New York Times and a similar one from the Wall Street Journal. Then we’d discuss them.

Our greatest success: Creating jobs in our industry and our community. The hardest thing in business is to create a job, so it’s one of the things I’m most proud of. It means all the work we’re doing is adding value to our customers and providing opportunities to our people. When I joined the company, we had between 400 and 500 people. Over 15 or 20 years, we created 700 jobs, which is meaningful for families, communities and our customers.

A quote from our mission statement: Our vision is to be the best. Our mission is to leave a legacy.

On my wall: A photo of my grandfather on a beach in Okinawa in World War II with a bunch of pipefitters and plumbers from our company. My great-grandfather was running the company then. The men fought for the United States and then built infrastructure in Japan as members of the Navy’s Construction Battalion (the Seabees). One of the members of that group gave the photo to my grandfather a few years later. On it he had written, “Okinawa branch of U.S. Engineering.” My great-grandfather was running the company while my grandfather served in World War II.

One of my greatest accomplishments: Assembling a great team. I’m not an engineer and I have no idea how to weld, so the awards we win as a company are truly a reflection of great teamwork at all levels and in all regions.

Best thing about working in a family business: I’ve never worked with another Nottberg family member here, so my experience is not the same as it is for individuals in multigenerational businesses having family members working with them. But one of the best things about our company is the amount of history that many families have with us — with fathers, sons and grandchildren working here. That sense of history becomes a defining feature of our identity in the industry and in all the communities where we all work and live.

Advice for other family business leaders: Never be afraid to change. Try and learn something new every day.

On a day off I: love to read, play golf and spend time with my children, whatever we are doing. My wife and I also attend almost every conceivable Kansas City sporting event: the Royals, Sporting Kansas City (soccer), the Chiefs and others.

Book I think every family business leader should read: Anna Karenina; The Infinite Game, by Simon Sinek; and Shop Class as Soulcraft, by Matthew Crawford. They’re all about the human condition. Business is all about people.

Philanthropic causes our family supports:  We support education-related causes, such as Aligned and Colorado Succeeds, with a focus on early childhood education. We also support organizations related to health in the community, such as hospitals.

Words I live by: Memento mori. The kinder translation of this is: “We are all mortal.”

— As told to Patricia Olsen






Audio Sound Duration: 
March/April 2023

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