Employee Spotlight: Superintendent Bob Stutes
3 months ago
Bob Stutes has worked in commercial construction for all of his 33-year career, which he embarked on right out of high school in 1989. Over that span, the Carl A. Nelson & Company (CANCO) project superintendent said, the variety of the work continuously presents new challenges that keep things interesting.
Like the time in 2020 when he led a CANCO crew building an 18-foot-deep retort pit for a food industry client on ground where the water table was nowhere near that deep.
“When we hit 7 foot, we had water,” he said. Besides encountering water less than halfway to the required depth of the pit, the project was being built inside an operating food-grade plant, with dump trucks, excavators, concrete saws and other equipment working adjacent to production areas that had to be kept free of water, mud and other contaminants.
“It was quite a challenge,” Stutes added, “but with a good team around you, and your project managers and everything, you learn, and you move forward and be successful.”
Stutes, who has been with CANCO for 21 years and a superintendent since 2018, once considered a career in law enforcement. But when a local concrete contractor in Keokuk called him right after his high school graduation with the offer of a construction job, where the only pre-requisite skill was how to use a shovel, he leapt at the opportunity.
“And that’s what I did for about two or three months, is run a shovel and a wheelbarrow,” Stutes said, describing the task of backfilling by hand around the foundation poured for a new lab building at the ADM Company plant in Keokuk.
The money was good compared to what his friends were earning at the time, and the work meant being outdoors, which he said continues to be one of construction’s most appealing attributes. But Stutes said he decided after meeting his first wife that he should be on the lookout for more pay and better benefits than the small firm he was working for could provide.
So, a dozen years into his construction career, he drove to Burlington to put in an application with CANCO, and had a job offer the next day. Stutes was a supervisor at the job he was in and hoped to be hired on as a foreman.
“But I’m glad I didn’t get it,” he said.
Compared to his previous job, he said, CANCO was doing higher sales, bigger buildings and more industrial work. The type of construction, and the amount of technical know-how in areas like blueprint reading, were things Stutes said he needed to get up to speed with before trading his blue hard hat for a white one.
Eventually, though, Stutes did get that foreman job, and progressed through leadership ranks until being promoted to project superintendent. As a field supervisor, he has primarily led industrial projects, and some his most memorable work has involved large or complex concrete pours — such as the 2,500 yards of concrete for a foundation in Keokuk. And that muddy retort pit excavation, with its poured concrete walls and floor.
Another enjoyable aspect of his career, more than three decades in, is the responsibility for teaching the next generation in much the same way he was taught by his own supervisors. Amid demanding project schedules, Stutes said he wishes there was more time to devote to being the teacher.
“It just makes you feel better,” he said, “when you can pass stuff on to someone, and you know they’re going to use it, and enjoy it, and be successful down the road.”
Stutes’ own road led him to becoming an employee-owner of Carl A. Nelson & Company, one of 31 managers and supervisors from the office and field to own shares in the firm. The invitation to buy in, he said, showed an appreciation for his work, but is more than just a personal benefit. Clients benefit, too, he said, by knowing they are working with someone with a personal investment in the success of a project.
“I think the (client) probably takes it as ‘This guy owns what he’s building. He wants to be successful. He’s going to give me a good, good quality product that’s going to last forever, and that will suit our needs,’” Stutes said. “So they know you’re going to take pride and make sure everything’s done right and try and make sure it’s done on time also, and that everyone goes home safe all the time.”
Away from the job site, Stutes still enjoys time outdoors, either boating, camping or golfing. He and his partner, Andrea, recently returned from a cruise to the Bahamas to the home they share with two cats and a dog. Stutes also has three adult children — Alexis, 26, in Iowa City; Chase, 22, in Keokuk; and TJ, 21, in Ames — and a stepdaughter, Olivia, 17, in Iowa City.
— Craig T. Neises, director of marketing
Bob Stutes and his partner, Andrea, in a recent family portrait. photo provided