Patrick and Tom discuss how Boldt has fostered an innovative culture to meet customer needs over several generations of leadership—growing The Boldt Company into one of the largest professional construction firms in the country. Tom also shares what keeps him inspired and engaged as a leader. Boldt is a nationally ranked general contractor with more than 2,000 employees in 13 locations.

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PH: Tom Boldt, Boldt Construction, welcome to Coffee and CEOs.
TB: The limits that people put up are their own. These are imaginary walls and you need to push through those, because you’ll find on the other side it’s a happier place.
PH: So Tom, you guys have been around 127 years—that’s a long time.
TB: It really is, yeah.
PH: You look good!
TB: Well, I didn’t do it all by myself …
PH: Oh, you didn’t?! Okay. So, you’ve been around 127 years. You’ve seen a lot of growth. You’ve become a billion-dollar brand, recently. You’ve expanded from a regional player to a national player. You guys have grown exponentially over the last number of years. Tell me your secret.
TB: Well, there isn’t any secret. I think we all know that you just have to keep working every day. But I think at the core of the company is this whole idea of people have problems that need to be solved. They have space needs. They have manufacturing needs. So, how can you work with these folks to help them solve the problem?

And I think another key element in any business, and I’m sure you’re hearing this from all of the people you talk to, you have to have the right people. And my dad, he had some key hires in the late 60s that had a real passion for the kinds of work we were doing and wanted to do. And I think those folks meshed very well with my dad, and I think that what we’ve been able to do as a company is not to micromanage—give these folks opportunities, give them responsibility and see how far they’re going to take it.
PH: So in your industry, there are some who are extremely innovative, and perhaps too much so, and can get into some uncharted waters where they aren’t delivering on things. There’s others that are very conservative. You guys have managed to walk a pretty good line between making sure you’re going to follow through and do what you say you’re going to do, as well as maintaining innovation for a lot of years. And it sounds like you’ve been very entrepreneurial in that regard.
TB: We’ve had some periods in our history where we had some really severe challenges, but we were able to get through them and I think that you want to maintain that somewhat consistency throughout because people need to have a successful project. Those customers are really depending on you and, you know, one of the sayings is, “We’re only as good as our last job.”
PH: Right.
TB: We have to go out and get new work. If that last customer isn’t satisfied with the work that we did for them, there may not be another job. Now we’ve got lots of different places and people where we’re working, but I think that spirit is still there. So you take calculated risks. You use innovation, whether it’s coming from elsewhere or you’re creating it yourselves.

And I just find it really interesting when we go back in the company history and just see, “Oh, that was something ahead of the time.” Or, “Ooh, that was interesting; Boy, we did that?” And “We were the first here?” And I think that’s really inspiring for people and …
PH: Sure it is. It's a nice story ... absolutely.
TB: It’s a nice legacy. Nice legacy to have.
PH: So Tom, how do you keep … how do you stay up and motivated? Even in the times you might not want to be? What kind of feeds the soul for you as far as getting out of bed every day?
TB: Wow! Yeah, that’s a tough one. Well, first of all, to get out of the bed in the morning I usually work out and do something. So that gets me going, and I have to say I’m half asleep most of the time I’m doing that. But I guess that’s a way to kind of think about the day and that kind of stuff.

There’s certainly some down days that you have, but you have to kind of keep going. And I think to really do a great job so that institution can be a better health facility … or a better university … that’s something that’s pretty motivating because you go to these places and you see how—I wouldn’t say dependent, but how important each and every one of these projects is. And you want to do your absolute best to them so they can do their work.