M.A. “Mort” Mortenson Jr.—past president, CEO, and chairman of Golden Valley-based construction firm M.A. Mortenson Co.—died on Saturday at age 82 after a battle with cancer.
Mortenson’s father, M.A. Mortenson Sr., founded the company in 1954; when the younger Mortenson joined the company in 1960 – specifically on June 6, 1960, per company history – he was only its fourth employee. He became president in 1969, president and CEO in 1975, and added chairman to his title in 1980.
Today Mortenson is one of the largest construction firms in the U.S. The trade publication Engineering News-Record ranked the firm as the nation’s 16th largest based on $4.6 billion in revenue for 2018. The company, which now has more than 7,500 employees, ranks as Minnesota’s second largest privately-held company behind Cargill.
Mortenson served as CEO until 2008 and chairman until 2015. His son David Mortenson, who started working for the company in 1991, was named chairman in 2015 as part of a long-planned transition.
“Until he got ill, he was in the office five days a week,” David Mortenson told Twin Cities Business. “That was well into his 70s.”
The firm has become known as a national builder of stadiums and arenas. Local projects have included U.S. Bank Stadium, TCF Bank Stadium, and Allianz Field.
“His favorite thing to do was walk a project site with a superintendent. And he didn’t take a 30-minute job-site tour. He wanted to understand in detail all the challenges and risks that the team was facing, and he wanted to connect with the people,” said David Mortenson. “When he went on a job site, he shook the hands of every foreman, he talked to the craftsmen and women. His father and his grandfather both were carpenters, and he had a deep respect for the true builders in our business.”
Mortenson was named to Twin Cities Business’ Hall of Fame in 2007.
“In terms of lessons that I learned from my dad, business is about people, culture, and values,” said David Mortenson.
Mortenson served on numerous boards over the years. He had been on the board of trustees at St. Paul-based Macalester College for more than four years and was still on the board at the time of his death.
“I got to know him initially through Westminster Presbyterian Church. Macalester is founded by the Presbyterian church and Mort was very connected at Westminster,” said Brian Rosenberg, president of Macalester. “He became very taken by Macalester’s mission. We’re really focused on having a global perspective and on service, and those are both things that were very important to him. He sort of fell in love with the college. He didn’t attend Macalester, but I think he saw it as an asset to the community.”
Rosenberg said that Mortenson brought an important perspective to the board.
“He was a very, very successful business person. One of the things that the board is responsible for doing is fiduciary management of the college. … Having someone with experience leading a large organization is really useful on the board, and he brought that,” said Rosenberg. “Macalester is in his debt for his service and we are very saddened by his loss.”
In 2011, Twin Cities Business gave Mortenson a Minnesota Family Business Award.
Herb Tousley, director of real estate programs at the University of St. Thomas, said that Mortenson he leaves a strong legacy.
“He was a visionary in our business and took that company a long way to get it to the point where it is today. … He did a tremendous job of not only building a company, but building an organization of good people,” Tousley said. “People have worked there for a long time; a lot of people have. To me that’s a testament that it’s a good culture: People like to work there.”