As a teenager, Brian Laartz spent time surveying property alongside his father and fellow crew members in northeastern Iowa, where he grew up.
“I liked the camaraderie of it,” recalls Laartz, a native of Iowa’s Charles City and the past president of general contractor Golden Triangle Construction Inc. (GTC), Longmont, Colo.
Laartz, a 35-year construction industry veteran, is also a member of GTC’s board of directors. He says he has always enjoyed collaborating with his colleagues, both within and outside his firm. “I enjoy building teams,” he says. Upon joining GTC in 2000 as vice president and partner, his many talents, from mentoring to client relations to project management, were instrumental in propelling the company’s annual revenue to more than $100 million from $20 million. GTC specializes in educational, office, retail, industrial, health care, municipal and transportation projects along Colorado’s Front Range.
Laartz also has worked extensively as an advocate for the construction industry and his community. As both a board member and former chairman of the Associated General Contractors of Colorado, he championed membership growth and diversity as well as better labor recruitment and training. He and his wife, Brenda, are active in the Longmont Community Foundation, an organization that seeks solutions to poverty and homelessness, among other initiatives.
Accordingly, ENR’s regional editors have recognized Laartz, due to retire at year’s end, with the magazine’s 2019 Colorado Legacy Award for his enduring achievements.
“The legacy he will leave behind in the construction industry is the way he put people first,” Jeff Nading, GTC CEO, noted in his nomination of Laartz for the award. “It was how he managed projects and how he managed the firms at which he worked.”
A graduate of Iowa State University, where he earned a degree in civil engineering in 1984, Laartz cut his teeth as a field engineer with Des Moines-based general contractor Ringland Johnson Crowley Construction (RJC), whose portfolio included several local office buildings as well as projects in Colorado and California.
As a field worker, “I observed labor management practices and how plans were executed on site,” Laartz says, noting that the firm self-performed most of its work.” In 1985, RJC, later renamed Taylor Ball Construction, dispatched Laartz to Boulder, Colo., to help open an office there. By 2000, he was serving as a division president with the firm, then a large enterprise with several regional offices.
That same year he left the company to reunite with friend and former RJC colleague Jeff Nading, who purchased GTC, then a small construction firm specializing in civil work in 1993. Before Laartz’s arrival as both vice president and partner, the firm’s government and university work had boosted annual revenue to $20 million.
“When I came aboard, Jeff and his group of about 20 employees had performed much of the heavy lifting,” Laartz says. “I joined the firm at an opportune time to assist in furthering its growth.”
“One of Brian’s chief contributions was the perspective and practices of a large national firm that he brought to a small regional one,” says Dennis Richard, GTC director of business development. “Among his other contributions, he recognized the need for a fully staffed marketing department, my position included.” Laartz brought Richard on board in 2004.
Laartz likewise worked on developing departments and policy initiatives involving safety, human resources and client relations; cultivating preconstruction services such as design assist, estimating and constructibility reviews; and efficient and collaborative project management.
The common denominator for Laartz was cultivating relationships with clients and GTC employees, the latter now numbering 100. After assuming the firm’s presidency in 2012, a position he held until earlier this year, Laartz became known as the “people’s president.” He not only mentored Todd Schroeder, the firm’s current president, but four current vice presidents, according to Nading.
Laartz also “truly enjoyed mentoring new interns and project engineers,” Nading says. His interest in employee advancement laid the groundwork for GTC’s company-paid continuing education program. He also championed the revival of the firm’s wellness program.
“The firm’s culture remains very family-like,” observes Richard, who says a survey of employees led by Laartz and other executives established a benchmark for internal and external practices and values. The resulting tenets included safety first, customer satisfaction, pride in performance, quality, professional constructive relationships and positive company culture.
“The survey was an outgrowth of the recession,” Laartz says. “The idea was to reach a consensus on the type of firm we wanted to be, the type of firm we felt we could and should be.”
To better serve clients, Laartz helped launch in 2009 an initiative to restructure GTC into “strategic building units” that aligned with the key building sectors the firm served. GTC assigned a firm partner to lead each unit and staffed them with permanent teams of personnel to improve employee expertise and experience with a given building type. For their part, unit leaders oversee each project and make themselves available to clients for consultation should issues arise.
“An owner can pick up the phone and access a firm executive to quickly resolve an issue,” says Laartz. “Organizationally, we’re very flat.”
The initiative not only helped drive growth, but also growth in repeat business, which currently stands at 75%. Laartz says he has participated in more than 20 projects for Denver’s Regis University. In 2017, a pair of facilities, Regis Main Hall Phases 1 and 2, overseen by Laartz, were awarded AGC of Colorado Silver Awards for Best Building Project Under $10 million. During his tenure with GTC, the firm has earned awards and accolades for company growth, safety and collaboration with subcontractors.
Laartz brought the same steady leadership to AGC, says Michael Gifford, president and CEO of the Colorado chapter. “He didn’t simply concern himself with his firm,” he says. “Instead, he thought beyond himself to consider what he could do to better the construction industry.”
Among his AGC work, Laartz served twice on the local board of directors and was chapter president in 2017, the year that AGC of America named Colorado its chapter of the year. National AGC cited the chapter for its emphasis on workforce development, legislative advocacy and membership initiatives. “The designation was actually the culmination of years of initiatives,” Laartz says.
Laartz was active in many of those efforts, says Gifford. Chief among them was his participation in AGC’s workforce development committee, which lobbied for state legislation to support the development of skilled tradespeople. The chapter’s workforce development program currently trains 40 participants per month.
Laartz also led an initiative to reserve six of 40 seats on the AGC/C board of directors for specialty contractors, a move that resulted in significant membership growth within the chapter. “I believe our chapter was the first to have a specialty contractor serve as chair,” Laartz says.
He says the push for inclusion is a key to successful teamwork and collaboration. “The tenet of building relationships extends to the entire team—from our employees to subcontractors and their employees, to architects, engineers and, of course, the clients themselves.”
After Laartz retires from GTC, “I think his greatest legacy will be that when encountering new challenges and opportunities, we’ll ask ourselves, ‘What would Brian advise?’” says Richard.