From one to the next

Dec 03, 2018

People have passed down their history and culture through the telling of stories for millennia. Why not do the same for your firm?

I have the unique experience of working for KSA – except for a few years with the Federal Aviation Administration – since 1984. That’s more than 30 years with one company, which I am beginning to understand is becoming more and more rare in today’s work environment.

What I’ve been able to observe over those years is the continuation of a company culture that was established by the founders in 1978, and reinforced over the next 40 years. Our founding culture was based upon tireless but deeply meaningful work and strong relationships with clients, combined with a passion for fun, competition, perseverance, and excellence. We laughed a lot in those early days – mainly at ourselves. What we were doing was bold and audacious, and it was extremely exciting to be a part of our mission, both for our employees and for our clients.

The interesting thing is that nobody really talked about corporate culture back then like they do today. It just happened naturally and was based on the very dynamic and charismatic personalities of our founders. How was the culture carried forward? Through storytelling. I doubt our early employees could describe what was going on back then, but it was real, and it was all encompassing. I believe we were unknowingly passing down the firm’s history by telling stories about the firm “back in the day.” Each decade brings new layers to add to the foundation created 40 years ago while honoring the legacy shaped by the early years.

For example, there’s the story of our first CEO taking a personal interest in a sewer interceptor for his alma mater, Texas A&M University, and walking through brush for miles to stake an alignment for the project. There are those about countless business development victories by our founding EVP. And then there’s the humorous anecdotes, like the one about our second EVP sitting on the light table in our drafting room during an all-hands meeting led by our CEO – and falling through the glass. Or the one about the project team working until the early morning hours and tying up the entire drafting room for weeks on end to take care of a client’s need to have bids by a certain date for funding; that of our very first CAD drawing on a standpipe project for one of our clients; or the one about using Kentucky Pipe Network on a mainframe in Seattle, and connecting from our office via a 300-baud acoustical modem.

I could go on and on because there are so many remarkable stories that make our firm what it is. The long-tenured employees in our office love to pass those stories down to the ones coming up behind them, and I think something special happens every time one of those stories is told. We reconnect with our past and it becomes more a part of what our firm is about today.

I recently read a terrific book, Seven Stories Every Salesman Must Tell by Mike Adams. He recommends creating inter-company video libraries of diverse types of stories that can be used in the sales or business development process. Not a bad idea. But we should also consider the same type of video library to pass down the stories that have formed our firms’ unique cultures.

Mitch Fortner is president of KSA. He can be reached via LinkedIn, on Twitter @MitchFortner, or by email at

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