The former SEH CEO looks back on a 43-year career in engineering, and looks ahead to retirement.
Mike answers 10 questions about where he came from, what he learned along the way, and how he plans to spend his much-deserved retirement.
1. Let’s talk about how you got started. Did you always want to be an engineer? Or was it something that developed along the way?
I was always interested in technical things and as a kid, we were always playing with Erector sets, building go carts and other contraptions. My father, who worked for the City Power and Light Department and then the public schools, often brought home discarded electrical meters, motors and army surplus equipment for us to explore. I was a B+/A- student in school and college, and as a sophomore in high school I won a four-year scholarship to Mankato State for industrial arts education, but elected to pursue machine design instead. Following high school graduation, I enrolled in the machine design program at one of the state colleges because it afforded me the chance to pursue my education and play college sports. At college, I met the person that would ultimately introduce me to the civil engineering profession.
To all the people who have touched me, my family and my career, I can only say thank you.
I was introduced to a civil engineering career after I graduated college with a bachelor degree in Machine Design. I was trying to decide between job offers in Milwaukee, Chicago and Forest City, Iowa, when an old college friend of mine recruited me to join him and play shortstop on the Braun Engineering (now Braun Intertech) softball team for the summer. He indicated they could provide me with a summer employment doing materials testing and I could even receive college credit as an intern, if I was interested. I took him up on the invite. I liked the construction aspect of the civil profession, so I stayed on and helped staff the office through the fall when their summer staff returned to school.
Enrolled as a University of Minnesota intern for the summer, I discovered 121 credits of my machine design degree would transfer and I needed only 180 to get a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. I enrolled full time in the civil engineering program that fall and completed my civil coursework over the next year-and-a-half.
I worked one more summer as an intern at Braun but then decided to expand my resume. I tried something new and applied as an intern to SEH. I was hired as a six-month intern and worked under Dick Moore on the Stillwater Sewer Separation project. I loved working for Dick and loved the people and project variety offered at SEH. The fall of my internship at SEH, Duane Elliott (SEH founding partner) invited me to contact him (I still believe at Dick’s urging) in the spring prior to graduation. He indicated they might have a spot for someone like me. Moving into a civil engineering position at SEH was a no-brainer for me once I was exposed to the staff and project variety at the firm, and I thankfully took the offer. People at the firm were talented, professional and personable. The rest is history. As I look back, I was very fortunate to have experienced such supportive professional environments at both firms.
2. What is it about your profession that you find the most rewarding?
I find the satisfaction of helping people solve problems the most rewarding aspect of our profession. We serve dedicated, well-intentioned people engaged in the mission of helping build and run cities. SEH’s core purpose —Building a Better World for All of Us, identifies the nobility of what we do, and the reason we do it. I have always said, I love what we do and the people we serve.
3. If a child asked what you did for a living, how would you answer them?
I would tell them, I help build a better world for all of us. We improve the quality of life, we make the world safer, and we protect the environment. We do it because we can, because we should, and because we must.
4. What is your greatest accomplishment as an engineer?
I have been fortunate to work on interesting projects that made the world better, and for that I am grateful. Personally, however, I think I am proudest of the fact that I have conducted myself with integrity, honesty and humility in everything I have done and everything I have tried to do. I have sincerely tried to balance the needs of my family, my clients and SEH.
5. In the course of your long engineering career, what’s the biggest change you’ve witnessed?
The biggest change facing engineering is finding the proper balance between the political, social, economic and natural environments. The engineers of today and tomorrow have many competing causes to address in every decision they make. The correct technical decision must also be the correct political, social, economic and environmental decision.
6. If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to yourself as you were starting out?
If I knew then, what I know now, the advice I would have offered was to become active in our profession as early as possible. I would have suggested to listen more, try more, ask more questions and dive as deep as one can into the technical and professional organizations. There is much to learn, much to share, and much to enjoy.
7. What would you be if you weren’t an engineer?
I believe if I were not an engineer, I would have continued to be in some technical field such as public works, construction, manufacturing or design. There is something about creating something and bringing it to fruition that continues to energize me.
8. What famous person — past or present — would you most like to have dinner with? And where would you go?
I have always been intrigued with Albert Einstein and Bill Gates. One created an understanding of what is and one created a vision of what could be. Where would we go if we had dinner? Any place I could hear them talk above the background noise.
9. Tell us about your retirement plans. Do you have anything on the bucket list?
SEH has afforded me the stability and ability to balance family, friends and career for 43 years. As a result, I am very rich in spirit. My pastimes going forward will simply be an adjustment of priorities. I can now focus more on the private side of my interests, faith, family and friends. I have a bucket list like everyone else. Some of the elements are as simple as learning to make a good sweet-and-sour sauce or spending more than a week at a time at the cabin. Growth includes learning small engine mechanics and how to correct my hook in golf. Adventures include lifelong dreams like driving Route 66 in our 1965 Mustang and driving the Al-Can Highway to Alaska. Travel includes cruising the Mediterranean, an African photo safari and winter stays in warmer climates.
10. Finally, is there anything you’d like to say to colleagues or clients you’ve worked with over the last 43 years?
To all the people who have touched me, my family and my career, I can only say thank you. You have made it a greater experience than I could ever have imagined. To my clients: thank you for your support and friendship. To the past, present, and future staff of SEH: thank you for your dedication, support and friendship; my hope is that your career is as satisfying as mine has been.