Celebrating impressive team member tenures (Jan. 2017 edition)

By: CTA In The News
26 January 2017
Main image: CTA’s longest-tenured team member Gene Kolstad (center) discussed designs for CTA Billings’ new home with (L to R) Larry Andren, Jerry Baker, WJ Bennington, and Gary Larsen in this 1974 photo.

Six team members (including Tom Dietrich, profiled in a previous blog entry) reached notable milestones of tenure within the last year. We gathered some basic facts about each person and ran those available through a Q&A that captures a few highlights of their time with CTA. Collectively, they provide some interesting history of where we’ve been as a firm, and where they hope we’re headed.

Scroll down to view outstanding “vintage” photos of these gentlemen.

Haidle, La Perle, and Kolstad today.
Photo by Larry Mayer, Billings Gazette.
Photo by Larry Mayer, Billings Gazette.

Gene Kolstad [50 years of service!!]

  • Title: Architect Project Manager
  • CTA office: Billings, MT
  • Started in March 1966
  • #1 Song on Billboard that week, 1966:
    Barry Sadler: “Ballad of the Green Berets
  • Highest grossing movie release, March 1966:
    Doctor Zhivago

Check out Geno’s Reflections @ 50 Years graphic.

Scott Wilson [25 years of service]

  • Title: President, Principal, and Electrical Engineer
  • CTA office: Bozeman, MT
  • Started in October 1991
  • #1 Song on Billboard that week, 1991:
    Mariah Carey: “Emotions
  • Highest grossing movie release, October 1991:
    House Party 2

Corey Johnson [25 years of service]

  • Title: Architect Project Manager/Education Market Leader
  • CTA office: Boise, ID
  • Started in September 1991
  • #1 Song on Billboard that week, 1991:
    Color Me Badd: “I Adore Mi Amor
  • Highest grossing movie release, September 1991:
    The Fisher King

Jeff Haidle [20 years of service]

  • Title: Electrical Engineer
  • CTA office: Billings, MT
  • Started in March 1996
  • #1 Song on Billboard that week, 1996:
    Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men: One Sweet Day
  • Highest grossing movie release, March 1996:
    Rumble in the Bronx

Bob La Perle [20 years of service]

  • Title: Architect Project Manager
  • CTA office: Billings, MT
  • Started in April 1996
  • #1 Song on Billboard that week, 1996:
    Celine Dion: “Because You Loved Me
  • Highest grossing movie release, April 1996:
    The Birdcage

What was the first project you worked on for CTA? What stood out?

  • Kolstad: I started working on a variety of projects helping with drafting and learning the process. A memorable first project was the Burlington Northern office building in Billings, MT. It was located in the Security Bank Building, and was unique because client meetings took place in a railroad car across from the Depot. They had a “moving office.” Today, this building belongs to First Interstate Bank.
  • Wilson: It was the Crow-Northern Cheyenne Hospital outside of Hardin, MT, and two things in particular stood out. First, this was the biggest project I had ever worked on. Second, it was my first experience where the entire design team was under one roof. The firm where I previously worked was purely mechanical and electrical engineering, and did not involve other aspects of the design process in-house. The in-house teamwork was super refreshing.
  • Johnson: Fresh out of college, I built a model for an Olympic Marksman Training Center in San Diego, CA, led by Gene Kolstad. I love building models and it was going to be a temporary gig while I was trying to land a job as an Imagineer with Disney.
  • Haidle: The Yellowstone County Courthouse Chiller. There was nothing notable about the project; CTA was just trying to give me something to do. If I remember correctly, I did not have very much to do for about three weeks.
  • La Perle: For the MSU Billings College of Business, we were converting a donated office building into classrooms. We discovered extensive termite damage in a concrete and steel building. Thus, I was misinformed that termites were not a big problem in Montana. (Wrong!!!)

What has made you want to keep working at CTA these 20/25/50 years?

  • Kolstad: Put simply, the ability to do meaningful things for our clients and our own people. It’s the feeling of making a difference.
  • Wilson: First, the 25 years went by fast! Really fast. It’s a popular sentiment at CTA, but I genuinely enjoy the people I work with. In our business, it’s largely the same stuff everywhere … just a different company. People become the differentiator, and I have lasting friendships with clients and folks within the firm. Also, CTA’s culture encourages change and resists becoming stale. There was always something different down the road as CTA allowed me to grow, change, move locations, and try new things.
  • Johnson: I love the creativity, the mentorship, the wealth of knowledge, and the fact I could make a career out of my love for educational design. CTA is a flexible entrepreneurial work environment that allowed me to grow and explore my passions.
  • Haidle: I enjoy the variety of challenges and the opportunities I’ve been given. I also enjoy the people and all the in-house resources we have at CTA.
  • La Perle: The CTA business and management approach of independence and flexibility is great. As a project manager, it creates the feeling of being a self-employed architect. Doing work by the Golden Rule (always doing things right and what is best for the client) is fulfilling. Most of all, though, I enjoy the variety of project types and constant new challenges to grow as a professional.

What things are the same as they were when you started?

  • Kolstad: The foundation of integrity and honesty remains the same in a very good way. Also, CTA began as an integrated firm with the intention of housing everything a client may need under one roof. This purposeful integration continues to be a defining characteristic of CTA and has only improved over the years.
  • Wilson: The culture at CTA is the biggest constant. Our firm is all about striving to do the right things for our clients and team. We help people grow, explore, and push for further improvements. This culture hasn’t changed in 25 years; we’ve just gotten bigger.
  • Johnson: A scale is still being used, the design phases and process are still the same, and we are still doing business by the Golden Rule.
  • Haidle: The pressure of project deadlines is the same. Every project still brings its own set of challenges.
  • La Perle: The Golden Rule is still our guiding principle and the firm maintains flexibility and the feeling of independence. The people that make it fun here are still around, too.

What things are the most different?

  • Kolstad: The computer and technology changes are the most different. It was the slide ruler days when I started! Drawings were done with the T-square, pencils, and Mylar paper. Our clients have also become more sophisticated, making our jobs more challenging. An architect used to be known as the “master builder” and his/her decisions were not questioned as often.  In the information age today, our clients can Google anything from building materials to different kinds of insulation. An architect must be ready for questions, challenges, and heightened client interaction during the process.
  • Wilson: Our size and reach expanded big time in the last 25 years. When I started, there were two offices, Billings and Boise, that collectively employed about 50 people, nearly all of which graduated from Montana State University. Today, we have 430+ team members from all over and offices in multiple states, plus Canada. It’s amazing how this expansion increased the level of services available to our clients, and our diversity in people, location, and talent.
  • Johnson: I no longer have a need for my electric eraser. The computer revolution has really changed the way we communicate, design, and draw.
  • Haidle: In 1996 when I started, the company was around 60-80 people and Billings was considered the headquarters. So there wasn’t near the work-sharing going on between offices that there is now.
  • La Perle: The physical office space and the environment at the office are different. There are more tools and technology that changed the way we work.

How are YOU different than when you started?

  • Kolstad: I have a lot more knowledge, simply because of the experience factor. When we graduate from school, we think we know quite a bit, but really we know very little. In the years beyond school, there is so much to learn about the industry, people, products, and more. At the start of my career, I knew only a little and I continue learning today. However, my admiration and love for the profession has not changed.
  • Wilson: When I started, I was pretty hard-core and driven; not necessarily positively driven, either. In the different roles I’ve had, my soft skills developed and I learned that business is not just about making money. Business is about adding value to people. Essentially, my perspective shifted from focusing on what’s in it for me to what’s in it for others.
  • Johnson: My hairstyle — I went from a 90s mullet to being totally bald, totally.
  • Haidle: Good question! Others might know better than me. I think I’m the same, other than being more confident in my work due to experience over time.
  • La Perle: My professional growth and project experience are beyond what I would have dreamed possible for a firm in Montana. We are not a “big city.”

Can you recall a favorite project in your time with CTA? What made it special?

  • Kolstad: Working on the Atlanta Olympics was wonderful. This was in 1996 and most of the work was done in Atlanta.  There was unbelievable project variety, and the learning and friendships from this experience remain today. Currently, Billings Clinic and various healthcare involvement is important to me.
  • Wilson: Working on Cromwell Island always wins the answer to this question. This project involved designs and systems I have not done again since. It also involved some challenges I haven’t seen since — like an owner threatening to “keelhaul” me for recommending he save some money! [Fellow CTA principals] Greg Matthews, Dave Mitchell, Mike Tuss, and I all worked on this project, and we still talk about it 20 years later. I think we were all fired at least once. I was personally fired by the owner three times, and I believe Mitchell had to walk off the island at least once. This project was huge, complex, and an amazing experience — good times!
  • Johnson: Glacier High School was special because it was the first new AA high school in the state of Montana since Skyview High. It was also the high school both of my boys evntually attended and graduated from. Basically, I had first-hand experience seeing what worked well and what could be better for six years after opening — as both a parent and user of the facility.
  • Haidle: The Saint Vincent Generator Plant Expansion in 2004 is an interesting project to remember. Until this project, most of my electrical engineering was designing typical systems for the average commercial building. However, this project presented complex challenges that I probably wasn’t fully equipped to deal with at the time. The goal of the project was to supply 100% back-up power to the entire SVH campus. While this is a common goal for many facilities, the previous hospital system created unique design challenges. At the time, CTA had never completed a project like this (at least that I’m aware of), so we lacked resources. During construction and testing, I learned a lot from the utility and generator vendor, and some outside consultants as well. Today, we are working on designs to upgrade the controls for the 2004 installment and we are adding additional design features. It is rewarding to be involved once again.
  • La Perle: My favorite project was the Bozeman Fieldhouse renovation. The project had every possible adventure from architectural discoveries to understanding university politics. We worked with the athletics department and a national consultant to complete the project. The most exciting part was exploring the suspending scaffolding high above the seating and floor.

Do you have a personal mantra that governs how you work/live?

  • Kolstad: Yes, I have a list of guiding principles I drafted in 1992, and it still hangs in my office today [scanned at right]. Here are the first few:
    • Never compromise with honesty.
    • Care for CTA as an overall organization.
    • Give quality attention to relatives.
    • Keep, cherish, enjoy, and stand behind friends.
    • And here’s one of my favorite quotes, which serves as a personal mantra (and which I included in my holiday card this year): “What is the use of living, if it be not to strive for notable causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone.” –Winston Churchill, 1908
  • Wilson: Yes, I do. My mantra is: Leave nothing on the table and do my best to add value.
  • Johnson: Happy wife, happy life. Honestly, my wife is super supportive, encouraging, an awesome mother, my best friend, and a huge part of my success.
  • Haidle: Work is a gift from God; don’t take it for granted and do what it takes to make it great.
  • La Perle: Listen well and never assume. At work, I try to allow others to be challenged and to delegate as much as possible, while being available for support and to fill gaps when needed.

What hopes do you have for CTA and yourself in the future?

  • Kolstad: For CTA, I hope we continue to have the highest integrity of any organization around. I believe in our continued growth in doing excellent work for our clients, innovating, and caring for clients and employees as family. I hope we exist forever. For myself, I hope to continue doing good work for CTA and our clients. To be a good person is the continuous goal.
  • Wilson: I started out as a drafter and CTA encouraged me to pursue opportunities, eventually leading to my role as president. I hope we continue growing and developing as a firm while maintaining an environment that allows individual team members to do the same in their careers. Personally, the hope is simple: to leave nothing on the table and add value to the folks around me.
  • Johnson: I hope for great designs, growth and prosperity, and a lot more fun along the way.
  • Haidle: One of my interests, in addition to what we do day-to-day, is continuing to build electrical expertise in fault studies and power system protection/control.
  • La Perle: I hope CTA continues prospering and fostering an environment sparking quality, client-focused, design excellence. As we continue developing, we need to remember to utilize real experts and good mentors for the next generation. For me personally, I hope to maintain opportunities for professional growth, share what I have learned, and continue taking the opportunity to work on a variety of project types.
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    • Kendraelayne 2 years ago

      Amazing work and attitudes gentlemen! I want to be like them when I grow up!