Employee Spotlight: Our President & CEO Kurt Bangert
Last month was Kurt’s 60th birthday, certainly a milestone to be proud of. We want to thank Kurt for the impact he’s had on not only construction software and technology, but the construction industry as a whole. Without his efforts, this company would not be where it is today.
When you and your dad, Richard Bangert, decided to go into business together, did you expect the business to be where it is today?
When we started in 1983, we had no idea what the company would end up looking like and I don’t think there was any real way to predict that. We had the belief that it would be successful, but 1983 is a long time when it comes to technology advancement. There were no cell phones, no internet, and storage was measured in kilobytes not terabytes. With such massive changes and differences, I think there was no real way to predict where the business would be.
How did you go from computer hardware in the early eighties to construction software?
Our change in direction to construction was mostly by happenstance and from customers asking questions. In the early to mid-eighties, we developed software internally for fuel and oil distributors. After three or four years of selling that product, we had a couple of customers who also owned construction businesses and because they were happy with our oil software, they asked us what we had for construction. At that point, we really didn’t have anything for them. There was a product that we sold called Armor Systems that sort of worked but not very well, so, we went on a search and landed on Timberline Software. We then started with them, in earnest, in July of 1988.
Our Core Values are rooted in your early days of hard work and grit, how has that translated to this business?
I like to think that our Core Values reflect how our company came to be. Bangert was started with not a tremendous amount of funding. Our success was measured in terms of whether we could make a profit, and not how much investment we could attract. Honestly, we were feeling our way along, found opportunity where it made sense, and we followed it. Not every decision we made was successful. My strong belief is you have to make some mistakes along the way to find where you need to be. A lot of hard work went into this, a lot of faith, and a lot of just plain old ‘get it done’ attitude. But I think all of this was balanced by a sense of fairness. I like to believe we’ve always been fair with our customers and our employees. That doesn’t mean that every decision we come to makes customers or employees happy, but we do believe that they’re fair.
Being fair has served us well over a long period of time. When we applied to become a Timberline (now known as Sage) reseller, they asked us for customer references, I sent them a list of every last customer we had at the time, which I think was around six hundred and fifty with our oil software. I remember Timberline gave me a call and asked, “Which ones do you want us to call?” I told them to pick any one, or pick five, or call them all, it doesn’t really matter to me because I was absolutely confident that any customer we had would give us a positive review. This is something I have always wanted to maintain over time and is our real objective: the ability to make our customers happy through applying good technology to their companies and helping them move forward. Bangert’s purpose of existence was to increase the value of construction companies, and in the early nineties, we transitioned to being completely construction software focused. I like to think that we at least have been largely successful at that. Customers are still customers to this day and they came on board with us in 1988.
What is one of the most important lessons you’ve learned from being a business owner and CEO?
You learn the most when you make an error, and then of course, correct that error. I believe that’s when you grow. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not growing. And the same goes whether you’re talking about a company or as an individual. You learn through experimentation. We definitely do everything we can to prepare for when we’re venturing into something new, but you can’t completely predict the outcome. So, you learn the most when you step outside your comfort zone and push something that you may not think you’re good at; you might be surprised sometimes. We’ve certainly stepped out of our comfort zone many times over the years and there’s probably a few times we should have actually stepped a little further out of our comfort zone. In hindsight, we probably would have benefited from it. So, I think the lesson is if you’re not trying new things, you’re not experimenting, you’re not pushing boundaries and getting to a point of being a bit uncomfortable, you don’t grow. This would be my number one takeaway.
Another important lesson I’ve learned is simply being fair-minded. Being fair-minded is a key piece and it doesn’t mean you fold for any demand, it means you try to put yourself in another person’s shoes when there’s a conflict, understand it, and try to achieve something that is at least mutually disagreeable. Hopefully it becomes mutually agreeable and we can move forward with a better understanding. Going outside your own comfort zone and being fair-minded are the best lessons I’ve learned.
What excites you about Bangert’s future?
What excites me are the things that are not inside our control. We are at the very beginning of a brand-new generation of software for construction financial management, and it is long overdue. The last generation of software systems (Timberline, SLES, Sage) and pretty much all the competitors in construction software were developed in the early to mid 1990s. In software terms, that’s a long time. There’s been no real technological advancement in that arena for three decades.
It’s exciting to see that happening because our customers’ financial management systems are being brought into the modern world; it coincides well with a lot of generational change inside companies, where younger generations are coming into the industry and look at technology much differently and expect more from the technology that they use. I grew up with Timberline and Sage software almost literally. In its era, it was a very forward-thinking product and a well-designed system, but the technology of the world has outpaced that by a long shot. There is a point in time where it starts losing its relevancy.
Cloud-based products are coming to the market that are truly cloud-based and some are developed for the construction environment only. This brings a lot of possibilities to our customers, they can now access the information that they need via cell phone, tablet, or anywhere with an internet connection. These are the type of things that were only imagined in the nineties. The many possibilities that are opening up for our customers in this era is what excites me about the future.
What is your philosophy or guiding principles for running a business?
Part of my philosophy is that you should strive to be the best. If you’re striving for mediocrity, then what’s the value in that? I think we’ve always wanted to be the best, in terms of whatever measurement you may want to take on. Probably the ultimate measurement is whether your customers like you and if they want to do business with you.
I also think we’ve always had a certain bit of ambition. I don’t believe our ultimate goal has ever been to simply make money regardless of how you do it, that has never been our philosophy. We always want to recognize the very significant and essential contributions of everyone who has ever worked in this company, and that means from the very beginning to today. There are folks who have been with us in the past, who are no longer with us that added an absolutely fantastic contribution to this company. I’m grateful for that just as I’m grateful for everyone who’s here today.
When you’re running a company, I think you have to have a sense of gratitude toward the customers and employees who have helped you get where you are. It’s a real false sense of confidence if you think you’ve done it yourself. In our case here, it has never been one individual’s contribution or leadership that’s made it happen. It has really been combined efforts of the entire team over a long period of time – and that does include people who are no longer here at the company. Everyone made a contribution and that was never lost.
What advice would you give to business owners who are hesitant about moving to a cloud-based system?
I would tell them they should seriously consider it. If someone asked if this is an urgent thing that they should be doing right away, I would tell them “no,” because the truth is it’s not absolutely urgent. However, I think they all should have a plan for upgrading their technology – whether that plan is sometime next year or sometime in the next five years, that’s fine. Nonetheless, have a plan and understand it.
I would also say to take the time to get some understanding of what these systems can offer, because it’s not the “same ole’ thing” and it’s not just the same thing you have now but accessed in a different way. These systems have offerings that are nonexistent with the existing on-premise software systems.
My advice is to become educated, understand it, and to make a plan because this is not an “if you’ll change” but a “when you’ll change” question.
What do you enjoy the most about working in the construction technology space?
I enjoy working with contractors. I have a lot of respect for the businessmen and women that I’ve met through all the years within this industry. Some of them even become my friends. I appreciate the exceptional risk that they take on and the grit and fortitude that they show to develop their companies. Obviously we’ve never been in the construction business ourselves., but I find the process of construction fascinating. It’s a fascinating industry, run by a group of very smart people who are willing to take risk, can stand a lot of risk, and make a success of it.
We’ve seen companies go from startup, to several hundred million dollars a year in revenues, and I find that an incredible feat. There are people out there today who are thinking about doing that but assume it might be an impossible thing. However, in the span of time that we’ve been in this industry ourselves, we’ve seen several customers do just that – begin with us in our software when they were startups, or shortly after the startup phase, and been with us while growing an astounding and impressive amount.
What have been some of the positives about being in a family-owned business?
I am very grateful for the family involvement within the company over the years. My dad was a great partner and a really brilliant individual. We’ve had family members involved in the company beyond my father and I – almost from inception and I am proud of that fact. Also, we’ve had other people who have been with us for a long time, and frankly, they are like family too. I think my father would be proud of where we are today.
We care about people, we are not an organization that’s so large that people get lost in the mix, and because this is a family business, I feel like we’ve always had a lot of interest in our customers’ success as well as our employees’ success.
As Kurt mentioned earlier, Bangert was created with a lot of hard work, a lot of faith, and a lot of just plain old ‘get it done’ attitude. However, it is safe to say that Bangert would not be where it is today if it hadn’t been for Kurt himself. Especially during a time where technology is advancing at a pace unseen before, it is a true pleasure to be working under Kurt’s leadership where Bangert can continue making an impact in the construction industry!
So on behalf of everyone at Bangert, thank you for all you do, Kurt!