Last Word: Keith Warta, Bartlett & West
TK: So, Keith give us skinny on you.
KW: I am an engineer, a fourth generation K-Stater and I’ve been a part of Bartlett & West for three decades. Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to move into different roles and, in reality, I’ve had multiple careers with the same company. Outside of work, I enjoy spending time with my family and attending sporting events.
TK: What business professional do you admire the most? Why?
KW: Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, who researched and described the framework for organizational improvement. Every new Bartlett & West employee receives a copy of this book because it explains our philosophy: find the right people, understand what makes you successful, and focus on being disciplined with your actions.
TK: What companies do you admire the most? Why?
KW: The New Belgium Brewing Company is a great example of a company that effectively empowers employees through ownership. They involve everyone in important activities like strategic planning and have regular discussions focused on the financials. New Belgium also makes beer, which is a huge plus!
Locally, Capitol Federal does an outstanding job of supporting our community, and Westar is making a difference through their many local interactions including a focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.
TK: This issue of TK showcases the top 20 professionals under 40 in Topeka. What advice would you give young business professionals?
KW: I don’t know if I’ve got things figured out, but I think that it is important to care about others more than yourself. Provide premium service to everyone, not just those who are paying you. Help out others even if it’s not in your job description. It is also helpful to be positive. I’ve seen plenty of pretty good ideas shot down because of a leader’s tendency to view everything with skepticism.”
TK: A leader must be equipped with a set of competences necessary to perform his/her role. Which one would you say is the most important ability a leader should have?
KW: The ability to listen. It shows that you respect other’s opinions but just as important, you can learn much more by listening.
TK: Bartlett & West’s company purpose is to lead communities to a better tomorrow. What are ways that you and/or Bartlett and West are doing that?
KW: We do this every day through our work to improve people’s lives—enhancing safety on highways, designing wastewater treatment facilities to reduce disease, providing clean water and developing software applications to allow more efficiencies. Bartlett & Westers also give their time and expertise to dozens of community organizations as a part of our commitment to having a positive impact on neighbors. We believe that part of the reason for our existence as a company is to provide support to others, financially and otherwise.
TK: What does employee-ownership mean for Bartlett & West?
KW: In a word—empowerment. We believe that a company is much more likely to grow, to perpetuate itself, to create thoughtful solutions, if everyone thinks like an owner, not just a handful. At Bartlett & West, all of us are working for ourselves, our co-workers, our families and our communities.
Employee ownership has transformed our company. Bartlett & West has been included on industry expert Zweig-White’s Top 100 Hot Firms list for the last four years, and we intend to keep growing and continue innovating. We are now one of the top 200 largest design companies in the country.
We are trying to make ownership real, not just a tag line on the logo. Ownership has become a natural part of our daily discussions—everyone has a voice. We discuss things like, “Does it make sense to spend money on an initiative?” “If we hire this person, will she become a good owner?” “What should our long-term strategy be?” These are all questions that we ask various owners to answer on a regular basis to make ownership real.
TK: Bartlett & West has continued to grow both in services and in locations, what are three reasons this expansion has continued over the last 63 years?
KW:Employee ownership. Every part of our company must convey our employee-ownership belief—it’s the key to our success.
Associating ourselves with the right people. We want to have the right people in our company and we want to work with the right partners.
Strategic planning. We strive to be strategic in everything that we do. Strategic planning forces us to focus our resources on the greatest opportunities.
TK: What is one goal—either personal or professional—that you would like to accomplish during your lifetime?
KW: To say that I was a part of a grand experiment that worked—empowering Bartlett & West employees through ownership. The goal is to create a perpetually successful company to benefit everyone around us, including our owners and their families.
TK: What is one quirky belief that you have?
KW: I think everything looks better in purple. Go Cats!
TK: In life or business, at this point in your life and career, what do you know for sure?
KW: Relationships matter. Developing trust is important whether it’s with co-workers, clients or others in your life.
It’s important to continue learning. I started out my career in a highly technical position and now my daily focus is business-related. The two are worlds apart, but I prepared myself for each.
If you have initiative, you can overcome many shortcomings.