The Mathiowetz family excels at keeping things level, whether it’s a facet of the family business or one of Mathiowetz Construction Co.’s major projects. The road hasn’t always been smooth—the family has had its share of tragedy and challenges over the decades. But its business today remains strong as it moves into its fourth generation, thanks to hard work, foresight and faith.
“Our father, Richard, was light years ahead of everyone else,” says Brian Mathiowetz, president and CEO of the firm, which is based in Leavenworth, about 10 miles southwest of Sleepy Eye. Richard’s estate and company succession plans were in place when he passed away in 1999. “All we had to do was execute,” Brian says. “All we had to do was decide whether it scared the hell out of us too much to be in charge.”
Mathiowetz Construction is owned by Brian, his wife Ronda, their three children and Brian’s sister Julie Anderson and her husband, Paul. Founded in 1924 by Brian and Julie’s grandfather, Martin Mathiowetz, the firm’s early projects included land clearing, driveway grading, ditch digging and snowplow services for farmers in the Sleepy Eye area. These days, the 180-employee firm provides demolition and disposal services, and excavates and grades land for landfills, interstate highways, ethanol plants, hog farms, and other civil and industrial projects. Most of its work is in Minnesota, though it has done projects in the Dakotas and Iowa.
The company had its share of struggles early in its history. In 1952, while driving home from a job site late one night, founder Martin Mathiowetz broke his neck when his car rolled over. “He was never the same again after the accident,” Brian says. Rudy, Martin’s oldest son, immediately took over the company.
Two years later, at age 33, Rudy was killed while working on a job site. At the time, Rudy’s wife was pregnant with the couple’s seventh child. “My grandma [Martin’s wife] provided a lot of support to Rudy’s wife, and eventually my parents helped watch the kids,” Brian says. Rudy’s brother Richard, a senior in high school when Rudy died, kept the company afloat with the help of his parents, while balancing work and studies until he could focus on the family business full time.
As he grew into the leadership role in the family construction business, Richard Mathiowetz became well connected politically, which helped the firm win county and state road projects. “Every politician at the State Capitol knew him,” Ronda Mathiowetz says. “He was a leader who got the word out about what it was that contractors needed at the time.” The owners have always run the firm without much focus on titles or hierarchy. “Richard was never afraid to pick up a shovel if something needed to be done, and that has trickled down through the firm,” she says.
Brian notes that “my dad was always way out in front—sometimes two to three years out front.” In 1972, he approached the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency with the idea of building a communal place to bury waste, rather than continue with the practice of every farm having its own dump. Richard Mathiowetz’s efforts resulted in the excavation of the Brown County landfill, one of the state’s first.
Mathiowetz Construction faced yet another crisis when Richard Mathiowetz died unexpectedly in 1999. Brian had to quickly assemble a team to keep and gain new business, without his father’s skill at winning bids. But, along with his siblings, Brian kept the company moving forward.
With heavy earth-moving equipment on the ground only seven months a year and its business highly dependent on weather and the economy, the Mathiowetz family has learned how to be flexible. The company’s ability to bend without breaking was tested once again in the Great Recession “We took a big hit in 2008, ’09 and ’10. That was really hard on us,” Brian says. Revenues fell 30 percent in 2008 and remained there through 2010. The third-generation management team gave up or greatly reduced their salaries to weather the recession. Full salaries weren’t restored until 2013. “Our revenue line is not a straight line,” he adds. “It looks more like a heartbeat.” In the past few years, the firm’s annual revenues fell into a $50 million to $80 million range.
Michael Prigge, a certified public accountant and principal with Minneapolis-based CliftonLarsonAllen, has been working with the firm since 1998. He attributes the Mathiowetz family’s success to employee retention and pride of workmanship. “They have retained a good set of people working within the company,” Prigge says. “They challenge their people and create opportunities for them. They do a really good job of grooming their people to be successful and then they reward those people for their success. The other thing that is evident in their success is that they take pride in the work they do. You see that in their reputation within the industry and the community.”
Disagreements occasionally arise over job duties or other issues. “We are looking hardest right now to determine what people’s gifts are and where they fit into the puzzle,” Julie Anderson says. If a fourth-generation family member decides a job isn’t right for him or her, or the person’s supervisor decides the family member is not right for the job, management shifts focus and finds a more suitable role, she notes.
How rapidly to employ communication technology, and what type to use, has also created differences of opinion. The fourth-generation family members pushed hard to increase the firm’s presence on social media. The company’s website now includes a weekly blog; Mathiowetz Construction also has a Facebook page. “Before the blog and the Facebook page, we didn’t have an avenue to share with our employees’ families what their spouse or parent was doing in the field,” Julie Anderson says. “That’s been a fun change for us, and our younger generation spearheaded the effort.”
It’s still undecided who will succeed Brian Mathiowetz as CEO, but the family has not ruled out a non-family member on an interim basis. Several non-family members hold executive positions within the firm; none of the fourth-generation family members involved in the business is ready to take the helm.
“We have very good consultants, including some of the same firms that advised us during the previous succession plan that we executed when our father passed on, and we have been working on our succession plan for six to seven years already,” Brian Mathiowetz says. His sister’s kids are just entering college, “and we need to let them make their own decisions as to whether this is what they want to do. It’s rewarding to be where we are today, but we are telling our kids to make sure this is what they want to do because it is hard to please clients, the public and regulators.”
The durability of the company and the family that runs it could be credited, at least in part to that family’s sense of mission. “We really don’t see Mathiowetz Construction as a job,” Julie says. “It’s a vocation. We feel a responsibility to carry on the business even on days when we think we might like to do something else. It’s what we have been called to do.”
The Mathiowetz family practices its Catholic faith through philanthropy and involvement with a variety of secular and nonsecular charities. “We have a moral responsibility to be good stewards,” Brian Mathiowetz says. “The community would notice if we weren’t here. We are not the only game in town, but we are pretty important to the 180 people we employ in our business.”
Headquarters: Leavenworth (just south of Sleepy Eye)
Family name: Mathiowetz
What it does: General contractor specializing in heavy civil projects, primarily excavating and grading
Type of ownership: Private, 100 percent family owned
Principal owners: Brian and Ronda Mathiowetz, Julie and Paul Anderson (Brian and Julie are grandchildren of founder); Brian and Ronda’s three children, Brett, Rachel Kucera, and Chad
Number of employees: 180
Number of family members in the business: 7 full-time employees, 3 seasonal employees
Number of family members on the board: 7
Brian Mathiowetz (grandson of founder Martin Mathiowetz): CEO
Ronda Mathiowetz (married to Brian): secretary/treasurer, equal employment officer and contract manager
Julie Anderson (granddaughter of Martin Mathiowetz): head of human resources and safety
Paul Anderson (married to Julie): equipment superintendent
Brett Mathiowetz (Brian and Ronda’s son): GPS manager and project management
Chad Mathiowetz (Brian and Ronda’s son): field supervisor
Brent Kucera (Brian and Ronda’s son-in law): estimator
Two of Julie’s children and a niece of Brian and Julie’s also work seasonal positions for the firm.
1924 - Martin Mathiowetz starts the company using earth-moving equipment he designed.
1934 - Original shop is built.
1935 - Richard Mathiowetz born.
1952 - Martin Mathiowetz breaks his neck in car accident and never works full time again.
1954 - Martin’s son Rudy is killed in a blade rollover accident; younger son Richard assumes leadership of Mathiowetz construction.
1958 - Original shop is destroyed in a fire; current welding shop is built in its place.
1964 - Mathiowetz Construction Co. incorporates.
1978 - Firm is major contributor to the Golden Spike of Interstate 90 in Blue Earth, connecting the east and west sections of the federal interstate system.
1981 - Brian Mathiowetz begins full-time project management.
1995 -Brian Mathiowetz becomes president of the company.
1999 - Richard Mathiowetz dies.
2009 - Owatonna Trunk Highway 14 project is the company’s largest project to date, worth $56.7 million.
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