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Jim Engle - Rocky Mountain Precast

January 2006

Name: Jim Engle

Date of Birth:
December 5, 1937

High School: graduated from Central High School, Omaha, NE 1955

College: BS in Engineering and Business, University of Nebraska 1959

Family: Engle has a wife Sharon, and three daughters: Debbie is a manager at Kellogg’s. Kerrin, is a part time teacher and full time mom with two kids. Her husband Dave is the current president of Rocky Mountain Prestress. Kathy is a parole officer. Her husband is currently training soldiers in Iraq.

First position in Concrete Industry: laborer in the management training program at Wilson Concrete.

Present position in Concrete Industry: retired vice president of Rocky Mountain Prestress.

Most Significant Mentor: Charles Wilson, president of Wilson Concrete. “Charles Wilson had more to do with my philosophy of business than anyone else in my career.”

Greatest Projects: The precast concrete dome of the Aurora Justice Center in Aurora, Colorado, which was named one of the Seven Precast Wonders of the World by PCI. “It was the biggest precast dome ever built,” Engle says. “That was quite a feat.”

Most Significant Improvement to Precast Industry: PCI because it gave precast producers a forum to communicate with professionals across the industry.

Challenges for the Industry: Finding and keeping extraordinary people. The precast industry needs to improve its outreach and education program at colleges so the best graduates aren’t lost to other industries.

Advice to future Industry Icons: Work in the plant and get to know how the product is made. If you don’t understand how things are done, you are going to get in trouble later on.

More about Jim Engle:

When Jim Engle was close to graduating from college, with a double major in Engineering and Business, he asked one of his professors, Sylvester Williams, what he should do with his life.
“He told me I should either go into banking because I’d make lots of money, or I should consider working for a little company called Wilson Concrete because he thought it was going to be a big deal some day.”
Engle took the latter part of his advice and met with Charles Wilson, who hired him right out of college and put him through his management training program. “it was a new program for people who Charles Wilson thought would be good management material,” Engle says.
Unlike most management training of its time, Wilson’s program required Engle to start at the bottom. He began as a laborer in the plant and worked his way up, spending time in every position in the facility long before he was moved into administration, sales and ultimately regional plant management. “I’ve always considered that training to be the best thing that ever happened to me,” Engle says. “I got to understand the products and the people who made them, and how the plant runs.”
Engle credits Wilson not only with helping him understand the production side of the business, but also helping him develop his business philosophy. “I learned a lot from him and I agreed with his business philosophy that quality was more important than anything.”
And Engle realized, time and again over his more than five decades in the concrete industry, that understanding the product is key to being successful in this business. “If you don’t understand how things work, you are going to get into trouble,” he says.
Engle stayed with Wilson for 15 years. Leaving eventually in 1975 to form Armorcrete, a precast company, with two colleagues. The company lasted five years but couldn’t survive the economics of the time, so in 1980 they closed the business.
Engle spent a short time at JW Peters in Wisconsin but realized the flat terrain and long winters in that state weren’t for him. So he took his family to Colorado where, in 1983, he became the plant manager for Rocky Mountain Prestress. “I liked Colorado better and it was a big growth area of the country,” he says of the decision. The company grew, and Engle was promoted to vice president, where he remained until he retired in 2005.

PCI’s Legacy
Throughout his years in the business, Engle relied on the relationships and friendships he built in the industry, and credits being able to build those ties to his experiences with PCI. “When I started in this industry it was pretty fragmented,” he says. The only industry organization at that time was the Mo-Sai Institute, a national organization of precasters who adhered to the Mo-Sai method of producing exposed aggregate architectural panels. “There was nothing to really bring the whole industry together, until PCI was formed. When PCI began it was the best thing that ever happened to the industry. Customers looked at us differently; government saw us differently; and we looked at ourselves differently.”
Not only did PCI add credibility to the burgeoning precast business, it gave its members a chance to see what others were doing, which gave them inspiration and ideas for their own work. “When you see others succeed it makes you want to do better,” Engle says.
Engle was inspired by his business relationships to strive for greatness in his work, and says that whether he was building a high profile stadium or a parking garage, he approached each job with the same effort and quality goals.
“I never really differentiated between them,” he says. Although when pushed he admits to having some pride over one particular project – the Aurora Justice Center in Denver, Colorado. It was a big project with a daring goal – to build the largest precast concrete dome ever constructed.
The dome was created with a compression ring at the center which required constant steady pressure during construction. To erect it, the team built scaffolding around the dome to hold it together while it was being erected. Then using two cranes on opposite sides of the dome they lifted it onto the building. “A lot of people thought, as soon as we took that scaffolding away it would sink to the ground,” he says.
But it didn’t. The dome sunk 1.25 inches, which was less than even Engle’s team expected. “When we were building it I didn’t treat it as a big deal, but looking back, it was quite a feat,” Engle admits. The precast industry agreed, naming the dome Number One on PCI’s Seven Precast Wonders of the World list, which was published in 2004.
Since that time, Engle has retired, and his son-in-law is currently president of Rocky Mountain Concrete.
As Engle looks to the future, he hopes that the next generation of precasters will understand the importance of reaching out to the best and brightest engineers. “It’s all about finding and keeping extraordinary people,” he says. He believes that if the precast industry is going to continue to be successful, it needs to improve its education strategies at colleges so that young graduates think about precast as a career. “Most engineers think about contracting not precast. If we don’t improve our outreach, we will lose the cream of the crop every year.”
He also encourages young recruits to do what he did, and develop a love of the business by learning it from the ground up. “The great thing about manufacturing precast is that you never do the same thing twice,” he says. “There is always a new challenge, and while it may not be unique it’s certainly interesting.”

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