Headquarters: Mendota Heights
Family name: Peterson
What the company does: Asphalt production and paving
Type of ownership: S corp.
Principal owners: Kent and Paula Peterson
Family members in the business: 2
Family members on the board: No board
“I didn’t want anything to happen that might cause turmoil or friction in our family along the way.”
Kent Peterson, co-owner, Bituminous Roadways
Kent Peterson has started paving the way to his company’s future.
That’s good news for Bituminous Roadways’ numerous private and public customers, many of whom have long depended on the company’s service and reliability. Now celebrating its 75th year in business, the Mendota Heights-based asphalt paver has blazed its own trail in a highly competitive industry.
One way it has set itself apart is by operating its own asphalt plants. Bituminous now runs four such plants throughout the metro area. “That gives us a little bit of an edge because we have control over that part of our business,” Peterson says.
Another distinction, he adds, is the mix of work, evenly balanced between private and public projects, from parking lots to highways. “We’ll do small $1,000 jobs,” Peterson says. “On the public side, we’ll do $10 million jobs. And we’ll do everything in between.” (There are limits; the company doesn’t handle single-family residential projects such as driveways.)
Peterson admits that “we get some complaints internally: ‘Why are we doing all these jobs? It’s just too much to manage.’ ” But if the customer is happy with a $1,000 job, “then when they have a $200,000 job, they’re going to call us.” Doing smaller maintenance-type work, he adds, “is part of our marketing program.”
And it’s working. Since Peterson took the wheel as CEO in 2014, Bituminous Roadways has “grown a bit,” he says modestly. Company revenues have jumped 50 percent over the last two years, hitting $100 million in 2020, despite Covid’s arrival. Peterson built on the work of his father, Palmer Peterson, who joined the company in 1959 as an estimator and took over as owner in 1968 after founder Al Wendell died. Kent Peterson began working there full time in 1990, becoming president six years later. (Palmer Peterson died in 2006.)
The company’s loyal, longtime customer base includes Catholic Cemeteries, which manages six metro-area cemeteries. It has worked with Bituminous Roadways for about 35 years. “I’m getting done what I need to have done because of their expertise,” says Dave Kemp, Catholic Cemeteries’ strategic planning projects manager. “The whole process is really, really smooth, from working with the salesperson to the crews.” Bituminous Roadways’ work for Kemp has included road repair, replacement, and maintenance.
“We don’t know when a funeral is going to be held more than a day or two in advance,” he notes. “The [Bituminous Roadways] crews are very accommodating so that there’s no disruption to our families.”
Likewise, within the company, Kent Peterson strives to prevent any disruption in his own family. In 2019, he contacted family business consultant Tom Hubler. “My kids were getting to the age where they’re starting to graduate from college,” Peterson says. “I wanted to get started on educating and communicating with them. I didn’t want anything to happen that might cause turmoil or friction in our family along the way. I’ve seen a lot of companies where the businesses caused a lot of problems within their families.”
Peterson currently owns 60 percent of Bituminous Roadways, and a family trust owns 40 percent. His wife, Paula Peterson, and their four children are the trust’s beneficiaries; the trust is currently the extent of the third generation’s participation in ownership. The family’s quarterly meetings also include the third generation’s significant others. Peterson says that it’s too soon for a succession plan, but those “who are active in the business are going to get more opportunities in the future to get more ownership of the company.”
The third-generation member most active in the business is their oldest son, Jack Peterson, who joined the company full time in 2017 as a field engineer after graduating from college. Kent Peterson has put together “a kind of game plan” for his eldest son, who’s currently working as an estimator and is getting involved in some higher-level management work.
During the next couple of years, “we’re going to figure out the next steps into more of a leadership role,” Peterson says. “We have to figure out the right route for Jack to take on more.”
Among their three other children, the youngest, Eric Peterson, is the most likely to join the business. He’ll be graduating in December with a civil engineering degree from the University of St. Thomas. The family plans to lay out the right route for him—and make the roadway as smooth as possible for him, his family, and the company.