Retired contractor Ed Wambsganss sees life parallels where others might not—like the motivation he got from helping his mother wash chicken eggs on the family farm in Kansas when he was a boy, because “we got two cents more per egg if they were clean when she took them to the hatchery,” he says.
The same motivation drove him into his first construction job out of college, building Titan 2 missile silos for the federal government during the Cold War. “I had a wife, two kids and we lived in a trailer house. That was plenty of motivation to do well on those silos. Like washing eggs, they were both delicate operations,” Wambsganss says.
His ability to see connections and to motivate himself and others to do their best work is what made Wambsganss, 70, a successful contractor, manager and industry leader who started two well-known local construction firms.
Because of those achievements and his lifelong mentoring of young construction professionals, Wambsganss is being honored with Colorado Construction magazine’s first Legacy Award, given to individuals who have had a significant impact on the local industry in a lifetime of work.
Wambsganss spent his entire 46-year career in the construction industry. He learned the contracting trade building missile silos and power plants in the ‘60s, then in 1973, he started his own company, Western Empire Constructors Inc. The general building firm landed some impressive jobs, including all of the concrete work for the Johns Manville campus, working as a sub to Turner Construction.
WECI grew quickly, building high-rises downtown, earning more than $100 million in annual revenue and catching the eye of colleagues and competitors alike. Seeing an opportunity, Wambsganss sold WECI to a Houston firm in 1982.
He wanted to move into more heavy and industrial projects, so the following year, he founded Western Summit Constructors Inc. and oversaw the expansion of the company into multiple locations. WSCI builds water and wastewater treatment plants in nearly every corner of the U.S.
Meanwhile, Wambsganss himself got more involved in the local industry, becoming president of AGC Colorado in 1984. “It was a great chance to give back to the industry,” he says.
Through the early ‘90s, WSCI joint ventured with TIC-The Industrial Co. on several major projects, then the two companies merged in 1993, but kept their own names. “It was a good match,” he says. “We shared the same values, principles and the way we treated people.”
Wambsganss officially retired from TIC in December 2008, after managing hundreds of projects and people. “The projects are important, because that’s how you earn a living, but the people you work with are more important,” Wambsganss says. “The best reward is watching people’s careers advance and helping them become the best they can be.”
He has mentored many of the local industry’s top construction managers and helped to create some of Colorado’s most robust young contracting firms, like Glacier Construction, started and managed by his son Randy. “But,” Wambsganss says, “it’s really about doing things right, living life with integrity. You give people opportunities to show what they can do. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.”
Wambsganss and Eunice, his wife of nearly 50 years, continue to live in Denver near their children, with frequent visits to his esteemed alma mater, Kansas State University, where the couple provides financial support for students in engineering and construction.