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Larry LaFollettete - Rocky Mountain Prestress

April 2004

Name: Larry LaFollettete

Date of Birth, Place: July 24, 1943, Tucson, Arizona

High School: graduated from Fremont Mills in Tabor, Iowa

College: Civil Engineering Degree, University of Nebraska -- Omaha 1958, MBA, University of Colorado 1985

Family: His son Vince works for Level Three, a telecommunications company; his daughter Alycia is a homemaker with two children and is a former school teacher; and his daughter Cheryl is a property manager and has two children.

Hobbies: Golf, fishing.

First position in Concrete Industry: engineering department of Wilson Concrete Company in Omaha.

Present postion in Concrete Industry: President Rocky Mountain Prestress, Denver Colorado.

Most Significant Mentor: Charles Wilson, president of Wilson Concrete.

Greatest Project: The precast concrete dome of the Aurora Justice Center in Aurora, Colorado; the Alii Royal Palace in Honolulu, which was produced in Denver then shipped in boxes to Hawaii where it was erected on the spot.

Toughest Project: Denver Airport, or any public project where there are people swarming around all the time.

Most Significant improvement to precast industry: new products and technology, such as self compacting concrete and carbon cast precast concrete product lines.

Upcoming challenges for the industry: Maintaining competitive advantage against tilt-up wall manufacturers and cast-in-place concrete products.

Advice to Future Industry Icons: We need to figure out a better way to produce our products, adopting automation ideas from Europe and investing more in new technologies to improve our processes.

More about Larry LaFollette:
When Larry LaFollettete was a young man choosing a major at the University of Nebraska, he decided that concrete solutions were more appealing than abstract problems, which is why he chose civil engineering over a math degree. “I liked the problem solving aspects of math and physics but I wanted to use them to accomplish something.” That was nearly fifty years ago, and LaFollette, who today is president of Rocky Mountain Prestress in Denver, has been finding concrete solutions ever since.
Except for a short stint with the Corps of Engineers – where he was frustrated by “how little anyone did” – LaFollette has spent his entire adult life working in the concrete industry. After graduating in 1958, he took a job in the engineering department at Wilson Concrete Company in Omaha. He spent the next nine years working his way up through the ranks at Wilson, from the drafting table to design work and eventually running both the architectural plant and the structural plant. He credits Charles Wilson, the founder of Wilson Concrete, with enabling him to get a well rounded education in running a concrete business. “Charlie Wilson created opportunities for his people to succeed,” LaFollette says. He transitioned people around so they could learn the business, and split the operation into three plants so that three different people had a chance at leadership. “He made a lot of people very successful.”
LaFollette also admired Wilson’s undying commitment to quality. “If a product wasn’t good enough he wouldn’t ship it,” he says. In one instance, LaFollette remembers Wilson smashing some faultly product with a sledge hammer to guarantee it wouldn’t get sent to a client. “He drew the line in the sand, and I’ve drawn inspiration from that ever since,” LaFollette says.
That inspiration led LaFollette to start his own company with two colleagues called Armorcrete, in 1967. Unfortunately, bad timing and a sluggish market forced them to close the business a few years later, leaving LaFollette at a crossroad. He took a temporary job teaching engineering courses at the University of Nebraska, while he thought through his next move.

Opportunity in the Mountains:
LaFollette made a list of all the places he liked to vacation and started his job search from there. He zeroed in on Arizona and Colorado, eventually landing at Rocky Mountain Prestress. Founded in 1958, RMP specializes in designing, manufacturing, and erecting prestressed and precast concrete building systems. At the time, RMP was going through a restructuring, that included the sale of the prestress plant by Mobil Oil.
Investors helped Mike Fordyse and Ron Fossett buy the facility and they brought LaFollette in to run things. “They saw opportunity in that situation and it resulted in a really good team that has worked well over the years,” LaFollette says.
Emulating Wilson’s commitment to quality and accountability, LaFollette expanded the business into what is now recognized as one of the largest producers of precast concrete in the United States. The company thrives on challenging projects, stretching its abilities to help push precast concrete products into new industries, he says.
LaFollette is proudest of the precast concrete dome RMP built for the Aurora Justice Center in Colorado in late 1989. RPM had recently purchased a structure plant and wanted to do a projectg that would draw some attention. The Justice Center was the perfect fit. It was a difficult project with “tricky geometry,” he says, but his team was triumphant, completing the largest precast concrete dome of its kind ever built in the United States. That project helped transtition Rocky Mountain from an average architectural products company to a renowned top-notch facility, he says.
LaFollette continues to push the envelope, urging his company and the precast concrete industry to fight for a stronger foothold in new markets. “The industry continues to grow in some ways,” he says. “We push products further than we used to, but it hasn’t progressed the way I think it can.”
He believes new ideas, such as carbon cast products that are much lighter enabling them to be shipped further, have potential to give the industry an edge with contractors – but it’s not enough. “Competition from tilt-up wall builders, cast-in-place concrete products, and makers of form liners is whittling away our market share,” he says. “We need to figure out better ways to produce our products.”
LaFollette would like to see more time and money spent on developing new technologies that will make precast products better, faster and cheaper to produce. “We are still casting products the way we did 40 years ago,” he says. “It’s time for change.”

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