Ep. 138 – Entrepreneurial Lessons from Civil Engineering Leaders: Stories and Strategies from Katie Zimmerman and David Peshkin

How can business owners find a balance between pursuing their passion, maintaining profitability, and building a fulfilling company culture?


In episode 138, Dr. James Bryant shares a conversation with Katie Zimmerman and David Peshkin, the founders of Applied Pavement Technology (AP Tech). They share their journey of starting a company that prioritizes client satisfaction, employee well-being, and having fun while doing meaningful work. In this conversation, we talked about the challenges faced during the early stages of the company, such as managing cash flow, doing different roles, and navigating rapid growth. Katie and David also emphasize the importance of creating networks, participating in industry organizations, and providing career growth opportunities for employees. The interview explores the balance between work and life, the value of strong partnerships, and the necessity of planning for retirement and exit strategies early on. Throughout the episode, the guests offer advice on recognizing the right time to step back from leadership roles and redefining success as one’s career evolves.


[00:00 – 12:02] Setting a Vision: Creating a Company Culture that Thrives

  • The importance of creating a fulfilling company culture.
  • The triangle of emphases: doing good work, making money, and having fun. 
  • The varied skills among the three founders provided a strong foundation for the company’s success.


[12:03 – 17:59] Early Challenges: Cash Flow, Growth, and Finding the Right People

  • The importance of managing cash flow.
  • Hiring specialized staff for tasks like IT and accounting.
  • Finding good staff and how to retain it. 


[18:00 – 22:14] Leveraging Networks and Planning for the Future

  • Prioritizing participation in national events and organizations. 
  • Ideas to establish a reputation as cutting-edge experts.
  • The importance of sharing exit plans and succession strategies annually. 


[22:15 – 30:31] Balancing Work and Life

  • Struggling with work-life balance. 
  • The importance of having a good partnership to survive during challenging times.
  • Recognizing signs of decreased enthusiasm and patience was an indicator that it was time to step back from leadership roles and let others do the work.


[30:32 – 40:20] Embracing Change and Life Beyond Work

  • How the transition strategy evolved over a multi-year process.
  • Learning to trust their successors and resist second-guess decisions.
  • Finding new outlets for leadership skills, such as community service. 


Key Quotes:


 “Building a company where people wanted to work was what we set out to do.” – Katie Zimmerman


“You need to provide a career path and opportunities for your employees.” – David Peshkin



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