Reaching new heights

Features - Cover Story

Kelly Veit builds upon the 90-plus-year legacy Veit has created within the specialty contracting and disposal sectors in her new role as CEO.

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February 28, 2022

Kelly Veit has served as CEO of Veit since 2021.
Photo by Caroline Yang

Over the past 90 years, Rogers, Minnesota-based Veit has created a diverse service portfolio to tackle some of the largest and most complex projects within the U.S. and Canada.

With a mission to “never settle and dig deeper,” the family-owned company has relied on its rich industry experience and a commitment to customer satisfaction to provide several areas of expertise, including demolition, earthwork, disposal and industrial cleaning.

Founded in 1928 by Frank Veit, the company had humble beginnings as a produce hauling business, transporting goods to farmers markets. Proven to be a successful operation, Frank soon made the decision to start renting the hauling truck to the county, which eventually led to the creation of a formal rental business.

From there, Frank continued to expand his business with the purchase of the first hydraulic dump truck from Osseo motors, as well as a Jiffy dump truck. In 1931, Frank’s son, Arthur, joined the company. After Frank’s death in 1939, Arthur inherited the company, prompting the start of Veit’s first earthwork operations.

In 1941, Veit purchased its first piece of excavating equipment—an HD4 Caterpillar Traxcavator from Minneapolis-based Ziegler Co., a Caterpillar equipment dealer serving the Midwest. The next year, Veit went on to construct the company’s first shop in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, which was primarily built using salvaged materials from a nearby barn demolition.

As the company moved into its third generation of family involvement with the onboarding of Arthur’s son, Vaughn, as a laborer in 1955, Veit began to grow its roots in the disposal industry with the opening of the company’s first landfill. From there on, Veit continued to expand by acquiring more equipment and broadening the company’s operational footprint.

In 1960, Veit became the first Minnesota company to own a Cat 966A—the manufacturer’s first rubber-tired loader—and in 1963 purchased a Cat 966C articulated loader. From the beginning, Veit says it strived to buy the most advanced technology and machines offered. In 1966, Vaughn become the president of Veit and proceeded to take over ownership of the company in 1975 after purchasing its assets from his father.

Going into the 1990s, Veit began to reach new heights as the company more aggressively pursued extending its different verticals with the creation of Veit Disposal Systems and the purchase of four Minnesota-based roll-off disposal companies. Under Vaughn’s leadership, the company also added an equipment service building to its Rogers headquarters; opened a second landfill in Becker, Minnesota; launched a recycling and transfer facility; and acquired a geotechnical construction company.

Veit’s growth only accelerated into the 2000s, with the company building another recycling facility in Rochester, Minnesota, and a landfill in Duluth, Minnesota, while also purchasing four more construction companies in Minnesota and Iowa.

Today, Veit boasts more than 700 employees across six U.S. offices in Rogers, Duluth, Becker and Rochester, as well as in the Wisconsin cities of New Berlin and Appleton. Its specialty contracting services include earthwork, foundations, demolition, underground utilities, hydraulic dredging, commercial diving, cured-in-place pipelining, industrial cleaning and, most recently, blasting. In addition, the company’s subdivisions, Vonco Waste Management and Veit Disposal Systems, provide roll-off containers and transporting services, recycling and disposal of solid waste, including construction and demolition (C&D) debris and industrial waste.

A new beginning

As the company approaches its 100-year anniversary in 2028, Veit has expressed plans to continue its ongoing legacy—but now under the direction of a new leader.

In May 2021, Veit announced that Kelly Veit—a longtime employee of the company and the wife of Vaughn Veit—would take on the role of CEO of the specialty contracting and waste management firm, making her the first woman to lead Veit and one of few woman CEOs in the U.S. construction industry.

Prior to this role, Kelly served as president of the U.S. subsidiary of FKuR Kunststoff GmbH, a Germany-based specialty compounder and bio-plastics company. She also has been actively involved in Veit since 1996.

“I actually started at Veit Disposal Systems as a dispatcher and, at that time, I had no aspiration of becoming a CEO; it wasn’t really part of my career trajectory,” Kelly says. “From 1997 to 2001, I had gone to work somewhere else in a management position, then came back to [Veit] in 2002 and worked for [one of] Vonco’s landfills. I then became president of one of the companies that Vaughn had acquired and was there from 2003 to 2009, which led me to my career at FKuR.

“Working side by side with Vaughn and bringing with me my international business experience from a highly competitive industry is what allowed me to be chosen for this position.”

Becoming the successor to a transformational CEO like Vaughn, whom Kelly describes as a “legendary leader,” doesn’t come without its challenges, though.

“I think the natural tendency when doing something new is to be a little apprehensive, especially when coming behind a [well-respected] leader,” she says. “[Vaughn] has been doing this for 67 years, so his knowledge is extensive and invaluable. He lives and breathes our mission. Even if you spent only five minutes with him, you’ll see he’s always thinking 10 to 20 years in the future—he’s a true visionary.”

Rather than trying to embody the same methods her predecessor used to grow the company, Kelly says she hopes to extend the Veit legacy in her own way.

“I think strategically in a different way than Vaughn,” she says. “As he sees the landscape, I focus more on business. He’s created such a wealth of talent within each of the divisions that I’ve learned over time he wasn’t looking to have someone come in and be the expert in each area. Instead, he was looking for a true partner to collaborate and assess the overall enterprise and be able to strategize the future vision in order to [better] integrate services and find the best opportunities for success.”

Focused on the future

With a full breadth of contracting services with disposal options to match, aligning with the circular economy has always been a priority for Veit and its divisions, and a mission Kelly intends to continue.

“Prior to 1990, before Veit Disposal was added, Vaughn was noticing that disposal services would be a beneficial addition to the already existing earthwork and demolition divisions,” she says. “[By having waste services], you can easily service the same customers on those job sites, so it was kind of a natural evolution to branch out into another division. Then, when we added landfill capacity, we created that full-circle mentality.

Photo courtesy of Veit

“This allows us the opportunity to bid more work as we don’t have to outsource the services, and we can provide it all in-house with our own divisions,” Kelly continues. “[This principle] goes along with building our brand as a nationally recognized leader in site development, along with waste management.”

Creating a comprehensive service portfolio also has helped support the company’s organic and acquired growth by allowing for unique acquisition opportunities within each division.

“As [we gain] success in each of the divisions, acquisition opportunities begin to present themselves. So, when you already have a division that’s functioning well, it’s much easier to acquire a company to fit right underneath that same division,” Kelly says.

“In today’s landscape, given the labor shortage and supply shortages, acquisition growth is almost necessary at this time. It’s a little bit difficult to grow organically when you can’t find the people to add to the team,” she adds. “But also, the acquired growth is kind of a turnkey for expansion as you’re usually acquiring the knowledge of the territory, the labor of the company and the expertise within that area. So, I think Veit will continue to always grow both organically and by acquisition. It’s just the nature of it and the nature of the industry.”

In addition to bringing a deep understanding of the principles of a sustainable circular economy from her time at FKuR, Kelly says she has learned to focus on the big picture. Through conducting market and needs assessments, strategic development and execution for top product developers within Fortune 500 companies, she has become acclimated to creating strategies within a competitive marketplace.

“[At FKuR,] we focused on methodical growth because the customer that you were talking to today, that growth and that product may not actually come to fruition or develop for two years. So, you really have to focus on looking at the big picture and the long term for your daily activities,” she says. “Instead of getting that instant feedback and instant pride in achievement, you’re really kind of looking for the achievement that’s going to happen in the future.”

Photo by Caroline Yang

Blazing her own trail

Since taking on the role of CEO less than a year ago, Kelly says she already is looking toward finding new opportunities for the company. Although she intends to remain steadfast in her new position, the journey has brought its fair share of bumps.

“My transition, I think, was quite unusual. I was appointed to a position after a legendary leader in the midst of a pandemic, labor shortages and supply shortages,” she says. “But I was also appointed CEO of a very healthy company with extraordinarily talented people and seasoned leaders. So, in my first 10 months, I’ve been collaborating with the team and taking a deep dive—or what I call looking under the hood of the beast—to see if there are processes and procedures we can implement to improve.”

As for what being the first woman CEO of Veit means to her, Kelly says that while she is honored to be chosen for the role, she imagines a man would feel much the same if he were appointed to the position.

“I know Vaughn would not pick someone that he did not fundamentally believe was the right person at the right time to take this position—that was very big for him. He’s a very strong, proud, powerful leader, and there was much forethought that he put into [making this decision].

“I’ve worked since I was 14 years old, and if I have been passed up for a position in my life due to my gender, I’m really not aware of it. Strong female leaders have been surrounding me my whole life and are embedded within Veit itself … so, I’m very honored and look forward to contributing every skill I have to advance the company.”

“My advice to any woman, no matter the industry, is to cultivate your own talents and compete daily to outperform yesterday’s version of yourself. Do this through education, hands-on experience, having a coach/mentor and don’t be afraid to take the risks.”

In the coming years, Kelly says she ultimately hopes to empower people to thrive in their work and to support their career growth.

“For me, retaining and engaging people is a top priority as I’m very intentional in turning what has been the focus of my new role back onto the people within the company. I’d like to remain an employer of choice at Veit, reach and exceed our 10-year growth plan, integrate new services, continue with acquisitions and maintain exceptional results.”

The author is assistant editor of Construction & Demolition Recycling. She can be reached at hrischar@gie.net.