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Executive Q&A: Andy Platz leads Mead & Hunt into new markets, new building
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Executive Q&A

Executive Q&A: Andy Platz leads Mead & Hunt into new markets, new building

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Engineering and architectural firm Mead & Hunt is moving into its 110th year of business in Madison apparently without losing a step — the company is moving into a new headquarters even as it continues to expand its services and national footprint.

Founded in Chicago in 1900, Mead & Hunt relocated to Madison in 1904 and currently is ranked as Wisconsin’s largest engineering company, and was among the fastest-growing nationally every year from 2009 to 2013, according to the Zweig Letter’s Hot Firms list.

In September, Mead & Hunt staff members will move into a three-story, $12 million headquarters being built by Newcomb Construction at 2440 Deming Way on the Far West Side, under a lease with an option to buy from owner/developer Livesey Company. At 60,000 square feet, the new building will be 50 percent larger than its current corporate home at 6501 Watts Road.

But Mead & Hunt President Andy Platz said the move was about more than just adding new space. The company also needed a different kind of space.

“Our current facility doesn’t allow us to collaborate as much as we’d like to,” he said. “We want employees to have more open space, to be able to get out of their workspaces and collaborate more in open areas.”

The bigger building also will aid collaboration by eliminating the need for split operations. The company’s transportation division is currently located across a parking lot from the rest of the business.

“This combines everyone into one building,” Platz said.

Employee-owned Mead & Hunt provides services in planning, design, engineering and architecture in nationwide markets including food, aviation, dams, highways, water and wastewater systems, industrial, infrastructure, mines and bridges. Its clients include government at all levels, power companies, food processors, developers, educators and utilities.

The company employs 500 people in 31 offices in 18 states, with 25 people hired last year and six new company offices opened in the past six months in North Dakota, Michigan, Arizona and North Carolina.

Half of the new offices — two in Michigan and one in Phoenix, Ariz., — were associated with the company’s February acquisition of H2O in Motion, a water and wastewater consulting firm with 22 employees that expands Mead & Hunt’s services in areas including facility management, operations and maintenance.

Platz, 51, became president of Mead & Hunt in 2012, after 17 years leading the company’s booming aviation group.

He joined Mead & Hunt’s aviation group straight out of college in 1985 — when the company employed just 70 people and had two offices, one in Madison and one in Appleton — and spent his first 15 years working primarily on runway and taxiway improvements at Dane County Regional Airport.

As president, Platz is responsible for mostly day-to-day operations, while CEO and chairman Rajan Sheth handles finances and human resources.

Q. How did the company’s markets become so diversified? Was that a conscious strategy?

A. We’ve really followed people’s passions. If someone (working at the company) has a desire to drive a certain market, we give them the resources to follow it. We consciously have tried to become very diversified, and we will purposely push into other markets to keep ourselves very diversified.

Q. In what market is most of your business done?

A. Aviation (runway, taxiway pavements) would be about 40 percent of our business. Transportation is probably 30 percent. And then water resources is probably 10 percent and the building group is 20.

Q. How have things changed in the company’s aviation group, which is so central to operations?

A. When I started out, we had four of us in that group, working at three airports in the state. Today we’re working on 100-plus airports across the country, in almost every state. At the Dane County Regional Airport, we built almost every runway, every taxiway, all the pavements, either brand-new or rehabbed.

We are currently designing a new low-visibility approach for the airport. With the new instrumentation systems, (planes will) be able to come in with lower visibility, which will allow flights to not be canceled as much. The pavement will have additional lighting systems and the approach lighting will be enhanced.

We also just finished a net-zero-energy terminal building in Appleton for a fixed-base (airport) operator, for general aviation. And we’re doing a $12 million renovation of the terminal building in La Crosse.

Q. What are some of your non-aviation jobs now?

A. We are part of a group studying the I-90/94 corridor, broken up into three segments. We’ve got the northern piece right outside Madison.

We’re also doing a renovation of one of the large dormitories at UW-Whitewater.

Q. You also offer historic preservation services?

A. We have a historic preservation group that works across the country. They look at anything from bridges to buildings to highways, to assess the eligibility of those facilities to be on the historic registry.

We were just hired by the state of Louisiana to survey all the bridges in that state. We will look to see if (each bridge) is of historic significance, so when (state officials) get to the point of having to reconstruct it, (they’ll know if they) will have to go through any federal process. So we would actually study (each bridge), look at when it was built, who built it, and if it has any historical relevance, it would be recorded.

Q. What markets do you expect to see growth in?

A. Water and wastewater management (projects), for sure. We also think the energy market is going to be big, in the high voltage distribution of electricity and in pipeline work for natural gas and oil. We’re just getting into that market now. General infrastructure (highways, bridges) is somewhat of a mess in this country, so we will see continued growth in that.

In the private sector, we expect to see two growth areas. One is in the food-industrial sector. Our food-producing clients are typically on the dairy side, cheese or milk-related, or soy. We would plan and design their manufacturing facilities, whether it be a brand-new plant or an expansion.

The other area would be in water resources, primarily for utility companies. Pacific Gas and Electric is one of the largest utilities in the country. We work for them on the hydro-electric dam side of the business.

Q. Besides generating more revenue, what’s good about the company getting bigger?

A. It’s so much more attractive for young people to sign up here. We just have so much happening from a diversity of markets standpoint.

We can have (a new hire) come in and know that they have a variety of areas they can go into within the company. We have many Wisconsin natives in our California offices and in our Portland, Ore., office. A lot of the rationale for the growth was to give our existing employees and new hires more options to not go elsewhere.

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