Keith Jehnke (Co-Founder of AKS Engineering & Forestry) “If you’re providing a good path, and you’re making decisions that are mostly right, people will follow you.”

My guest this week is Keith Jehnke, co-founder of AKS Engineering. Keith has a lot of interesting points about managing and working with people, handling the cyclicality of the business, and his advice for creating and growing a successful engineering business. I hope you’ll enjoy.

Topics Discussed

  1. Building the business, how he got his first customers
  2. Why he chose civil engineering in particular
  3. The main costs in his business
  4. Surviving the downturn of 2008-2009
  5. Managing the cyclicality of his business
  6. Taking care of people
  7. His sense of duty to others, in defining personal success
  8. The salary and job stability advantage in working for a utility (cost plus billing)
  9. Why failure can not be an option
  10. What to ask yourself if you’re thinking about starting your own business
  11. How to tell when you’ve made it as an engineer
  12. Advice for entrepreneurs

Book Recommendations: Salt by Mark Kurlansky    and       Coal by Barbara Freese

Before we wrap up, I want to point out something that’s come up in a few interviews, which is that it’s not always safer to have a job, than it is to be an entrepreneur. Nick Loper, Todd Alsdorf, and Keith Jehnke (just to name a few recent ones) all have a personal story demonstrating that a bad economy can impact anyone in the company, not just the leaders.

The other side of it is that if you want to be successful, you as a leader need to take care of your people. Keith has a great attitude when it comes to this. I was struck by the story of how his dad for years would regularly travel to do maintenance work, but stopped after his company essentially demonstrated that his efforts were worth less to them than an extra meal per diem. So the lesson that I take, and that I think Keith has taken away is that really takes active focus and consideration on behalf of a manager, to earn their team’s loyalty.

Music for this podcast is by Cambrian Explosion, who on weekends ride hippogriffs into battle against the undead scourge. They also play shows, so follow them on Facebook at

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