Meet this year's Top 20 Under 40 winners. They are architects, engineers, constructors, planners and project managers, but also sustainability gurus, virtual building technology experts, company presidents and college professors. The professional diversity of this year's honorees is matched only by their desire to be leaders, mentors and pioneers of new and better ways of doing things.
As in past years, our annual competition was rigorous and thorough. Seven judges were asked to select 20 professionals under the age of 40 from the 42 nominees, based on their contributions to the industry and their communities. Companies or individuals were allowed to nominate more than one person, and individuals could nominate themselves. Nominees must be working full time in the commercial construction industry in the Mountain States region, which includes Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado and Utah.
Judging criteria included achievement of/or progress toward industry certifications, including professional licensure or LEED Accredited Professional, and significant success in creating more efficient systems, designing new processes or managing landmark projects and volunteering in the community.
This year's judges were: Cathy Rock, project coordinator for construction technology, Red Rocks Community College, Lakewood, Colo.; Chris Kinnersley, vice president of safety, HR and organizational development, Staker Parson Cos., Ogden, Utah; Nathan Wickizer, chief operating officer, Cache Valley Electric, Salt Lake City; John Evans, director of business development, Okland Construction Co. Inc., Salt Lake City; Cameron Donegan, virtual construction manager, Adolfson & Peterson Construction, Aurora, Colo.; Michelle Swanson, mechanical engineer, The RMH Group Inc., Lakewood, Colo.; and Brad Schmahl, vice president of office operations, JHL Constructors Inc., Centennial, Colo.
Passionate about art and architecture education
38, Associate Principal
In his sophomore year at the University of Colorado, Robin Ault read a book about architecture and was hooked. He studied abroad in Rome, where he refined his skills for freehand sketching. By his senior year, he was at the top of his class for studio projects. At Fentress, Ault was promoted quickly, initially working in the field and moving on to international design competitions. In the past 10 years, he has designed several major buildings for Fentress, including the LEED-Platinum Humanities Gateway at the University of California, Irvine and the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine in La Jolla, Calif. In 2010, Ault became the youngest-ever associate principal at Fentress. He is currently working on the San Diego Convention Center expansion.
Green advocate who created a new solar division for her company
28, Solar Division Manager
Douglass Colony Group
Commerce City, Colo.
Douglass Roofing Co. was founded by Kate Bechtholdt's great-grandfather, and the business has stayed within the family for 65 years. After graduating from Miami University, Bechtholdt returned to Colorado and launched the solar division at Douglass Colony Group in 2008. It has since added millions to the company's bottom line. In 2010, she helped start One Globe Renewables, a solar development and finance arm of the company that has greatly improved solar division sales. It allows people to purchase solar retrofits with minimal or no up-front cost. Bechtholdt also designed and engineered a three-technology solar photovoltaic system that covers 50% of the company's electricity and will pay for itself in four years. It helped the Denver office earn LEED-Silver certification.
Risk control and contract management specialist
34, Corporate Development Manager
From his first job as a farmhand in rural Illinois to early-career construction work as a road and bridge builder, Dennis Coventon's work ethic and leadership have never wavered. He learned the transportation business as an estimator, field engineer, project engineer, project manager and finally, a senior project manager. Today, he is responsible for acquisitions, planning, coordination, strategy and new markets at Flatiron and acts as a liaison to Flatiron's German parent company, HOCHTIEF.
Respected by team members for his leadership and design skills
39, Senior Associate
Salt Lake City
David Cox specializes in K-12 educational design and has been involved in the planning and construction of more than 100 schools. His commitment to building schools is a fundamental element of his professional philosophy—that public architecture should be responsible, with conservation-minded design that is functional, practical and elegant. Cox has also designed recreation centers, medical buildings, corrections facilities, offices and housing projects. He was honored with the AIA Emerging Professionals Program of the Year award in 2004 for developing a program that teaches elementary school children about architecture.
Coordinates experts to present sessions on sustainable design
30, Project Manager
Brandon Daigle, a Wyoming native, has been instrumental in the growth of MOA's Wyoming office through his passionate commitment to local projects and causes, including maintaining the relevance of Casper's historic downtown. He is a board member for the Casper Downtown Development Authority and led the charge for a citywide master plan to study the opportunities and roadblocks to the area's economic health. Daigle studied fine arts and architecture at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, Denmark, and brings a broader worldview to regional issues like sustainable design and education. He will become a licensed architect later this year.
Hosts training sessions for water/wastewater treatment operators
30, Project Engineer
Russell Planning & Engineering
While her real passion is in environmental design, Kelly Fearney excels at multiple civil engineering disciplines and leads Russell's green infrastructure work. She is the first engineer at the firm to earn LEED AP accreditation. Using vacation time and her own finances, Fearney has traveled to Laos each of the last three years to help villagers with the design and installation of water treatment systems as part of her volunteer work with Engineers Without Borders at Fort Lewis College in Durango.
Pays for his employees to work on Habitat for Humanity projects
Lee Harrison, whose college education included playing in two bowl games for the Washington State University Cougars football team, is now the president and managing principal for Axiom PLLC. He holds professional and/or structural engineering licenses in 23 states and jurisdictions and has participated in design teams for projects all over the world. Harrison has engineered structures in Africa, the Mideast and Mexico. Regionally, he is the engineer-of-record on several educational and commercial projects and has an extensive government portfolio that includes U.S. embassy work.
Believes strongly in the value of local apprenticeship education
38, General Superintendent
Adolfson & Peterson Construction
From his start as a laborer to being the general superintendent overseeing operations for 50 projects totaling more than $370 million, John Herrera has spent 20 years building his career and establishing himself as a leader. His tenure with Adolfson & Peterson began at age 18 in the field while he attended the Construction Industry Training Council's Carpentry Apprenticeship Program. From there, his role changed from laborer to foreman, assistant superintendent to superintendent, and on to his current position. Today, Herrera leads A&P's internal innovations team and finds inventive ways to apply and improve technology in the construction industry, making processes more efficient and offering clients a better product. Twenty years after he attended his first carpentry class, Herrera now serves as the A&P leader for CITC and actively recruits laborers to enroll in apprenticeship training, build their skills and grow their own careers.
Has become an industry leader in several areas of civil engineering
38, Executive Vice President/COO
Caldwell Richards Sorensen
Salt Lake City
Matt Hirst has led infrastructure work on some of the Utah Dept. of Transportation's highest profile projects since 2001. He was charged with management, agreement negotiation, relocation design and third-party coordination on large UDOT projects such as Legacy Parkway Phases 1 and 2 and the I-15 CORE. Since 1994, Hirst has pushed the boundaries of geographic information systems and global positioning systems technology. Consulting with more than a dozen agencies, his GIS team is poised to release groundbreaking Web-based software that will manage municipal infrastructure, location marking, customers and work orders. He has spoken at major industry conferences on GIS and GPS engineering technology, addressing its major changes and implementation within public organizations.
A jack of all trades who has raised building standards in the region
30, Director of Operations - Southwest
St. George, Utah
Todd Houghton has been involved with everything from estimating, quality control and subcontractor management to working with design-build components, scheduling and budgeting for several different Westland Construction projects. He developed the company's website, expanded its computer capabilities and recently opened a new Southwest office for Westland in St. George, Utah. He has raised the standards on building and bidding practices in his work at Westland. Among other projects, Houghton is coordinating with a construction company in Qatar to bring standard U.S. practices and quality control to help that company manage its $250-million backlog of projects.