Amanda Kurt grew up in the construction industry. Her father, John, co-founded Kurk Concrete in Union Grove, WI, in 1989—right around the time she was born.
“My sisters and I still joke about how we loved going to jobsites with our dad when we were kids,” Kurt says. “That’s because we always stopped at McDonald’s on the way home.”
Even though a Happy Meal was what mattered most to a very young Amanda Kurt, all of those jobsite visits were igniting a little spark inside of her. By the time she started high school, Kurt was already having thoughts about pursuing a career in construction. She contemplated architecture but ultimately followed her heart down the path of structural engineering.
“When I was still in high school, my dad bought a computer drafting program,” Kurt recalls. “It was pretty advanced at the time. I started learning how to use it, and eventually started drafting for my dad.”
After touring the Milwaukee School of Engineering, Kurt decided to enroll in the structural engineering program. Upon graduation in 2011, she immediately joined her father’s company. That wasn’t the original plan, though.
A great opportunity amidst the Great Recession
When Kurt first started college, engineering students could sign contracts with engineering firms. Doing so helped solidify a job after graduation. Kurt never did.
“When I was getting ready to graduate in 2011, it was still really difficult to get a job,” Kurt says. “At the same time, my dad’s company had an opening in the office. So I took it and became responsible for things like site layout, project planning, materials ordering, and even some project management. I also took on the drafting duties since I had experience in that.”
Another thing Kurt started doing was attending jobsite meetings. Doing so helped solidify her role in the company.
“One of my biggest keys to success early on was recognizing that even if you don’t know something, you can figure it out,” Kurt says. “By owning up to not knowing, you can start the process of learning.”
Kurt naturally had her dad to lean on for knowledge. She also leaned on several of the company foremen.
“I knew how to design formwork on the computer, but didn’t really understand how it went together,” Kurt tells. “Just because you design it doesn’t mean it’s going to work. So I spent a lot of time talking with our foremen to learn how to design these things the right way.”
After she had been with the company for a few years, Kurt’s father began the process of buying out his partner. Next thing you know, Kurt herself is a partner. That was seven years ago and she hasn’t looked back—aside from carrying some valuable lessons forward that continues to guide and empower her today.
Pillars of success for a concrete contractor
Kurk Concrete specializes in buildings, parking lots, sidewalks, and other exterior structures for homes, apartments, condos, and mid-scale commercial properties. The company also has a crew that specializes in excavation and site utilities.
Kurt says an important factor in the company’s ongoing success is something they refer to as “foundational relationships” with suppliers, customers, and employees. “Those are the three partners we have in our business, and all three must work well together for there to be a successful project,” Kurt says.
The supplier pillar has proved especially vital over the past couple of years. For instance, rebar became expensive and difficult to source in 2022. “We were able to lean on some of our vendor partners to find a solution and get us through,” Kurt says. “It was only possible because we work so hard at building strong relationships and maintaining open communication.”
The customer pillar can be a bit trickier to nurture, Kurt points out because the nature of Kurk Concrete’s work doesn’t always lead to repeat customers.
“But regardless, building a strong relationship based on open dialogue is critical,” Kurt says. “For example, it was nearly impossible to get some reinforcing on a project last year. We got ahead of it, told the general contractor, and the engineer redesigned it. If we would have waited until the last minute before we started work, that wouldn’t have been possible.”
Open dialogue is also at the heart of the employee pillar. So are trust and respect.
“Every one of our 35 employees is empowered to be a problem solver,” Kurt says. “We’re not going to make excuses. We’re going to find out what happened, what needs to happen to correct it, and then make progress and move forward. Sometimes it’s just jobsite conditions, but sometimes it’s because we made a mistake. Whatever the case, we are here to make sure the project is completed, and we’re willing to take whatever steps necessary to make that happen. That is a huge value that has always been ingrained in me. Now we try to ingrain that in all of our employees.”
Managing partner, emphasis on “managing”
As a managing partner in what she refers to as a mid-size company, Kurt remains heavily involved in the day-to-day operations. She manages both of the company’s foundation crews and handles most of the commercial bidding.
“I’m in charge of implementing technology by default because I’m the millennial in the office,” Kurt relates. “It’s been beneficial, though, because we’ve brought some technology in over the past few years that has really been great for us.”
One example is a GPS-equipped excavator. It doesn’t run on auto, but simply having the on-screen display in the cab helps operators know precisely where to dig, and how deep. This technology has resulted in one less laborer on a jobsite. The big benefit, however, ties to accuracy. “We never have to go back and re-dig to get something right,” Kurt points out.
Another recent technology addition is an estimating takeoff software called PlanSwift. Kurt says it’s relatively easy to use and allows her to import project plans. From there she can click, drag, scale, and overlay to quantify the materials needed.
“I can bid something in half the time now, and it’s very accurate,” Kurt says. “Plus, you don’t accidentally miss quantifying a section of the job. Everything can be color-coded so you see it right on the screen.”
When Kurt isn’t putting bids together, seeking out new technologies, or managing crews, she somehow finds the time to stay involved in numerous industry-affiliated organizations such as the Lakeland Builders Association, the Concrete Foundations Association, and Crew Collaborative. Kurt says local networking is important because it can lead to new business opportunities. It can also help expose a person to new ideas, which Kurt says is the primary benefit of being a part of industrywide organizations.
“It may sound cliché, but when you start talking to people, you find out that you’re not alone in the challenges you face,” Kurt says. “You hear different ideas and learn about different solutions. Sometimes a solution is right in front of you, but you don’t realize it until someone says something to you. Then you think, ‘Wow, I should have done this months ago.’ But you just never thought about it because it’s easy to get tunnel vision. To me, this is the biggest benefit of being involved in different organizations. And the domino effect is great because it benefits not only me personally, but also our employees and the entire company.”
Solidifying a legacy in the concrete industry
Speaking of getting involved in the industry, Amanda Kurt will be one of the participants at an upcoming CONEXPO-CON/AGG roundtable discussion entitled, "Bold Leadership for Women.” Participants will offer advice on how women can discover their voice and power to thrive in a male-dominated industry—something Kurt has been doing for the past 11 years.
“Coming up in a family-owned company, it’s fair to say that I may have had a leg up in some regards,” Kurt relates. “But at the same time, I had to prove myself even more because I had that advantage. As a competitive person, I never wanted to take that for granted. I never wanted to be ‘the boss’s daughter’. I wanted to earn that respect to solidify my role.”
As one of the great up-and-coming leaders in the concrete industry, it’s pretty fair to say that Amanda Kurt is well on her way to solidifying it.
Hear more about Amanda's journey in her panel discussion at CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2023: Bold Leadership for Women. Learn from her and four other influential female voices within the construction industry on March 15, 2023 at CONEXPO-CON/AGG in Las Vegas, Nevada.
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