After nearly 60 years in the business, Mortenson Construction, which started from humble beginnings around a Richfield kitchen table, has grown to an international enterprise with revenues of more than $2 billion dollars per year.
M.A. “Mort” Mortenson, Sr.’s entrée into the construction business occurred at a young age. His father Nels, a Swedish immigrant, worked as a carpenter for the James Leck Company in Minneapolis. Mortenson and his brothers worked with their father on projects as the family moved from job to job. It was from his father that Mortenson learned the importance of hard work and high quality. After completing a program in building construction in 1925 at The William Wood Dunwoody Industrial Institute, Mortenson and two associates founded the Northland Construction Company. The entrepreneurial venture was ill-timed. The Great Depression devastated the country and the fledgling construction company could not attract the financing it needed. After building the hangar at Camp Ripley, the company went broke. This experience starting a business would prove to be valuable down the road.
Mortenson found work with his father’s employer, James Leck Company, in 1932. By 1954, he was working as the vice president and treasurer of D’Arcy Leck Construction Company, the successor to James Leck Company. Although Mortenson had a good job with the firm, he had the desire to do something on his own. A 30-year veteran of the construction industry, Mortenson knew he was taking a risk starting his own business. At the age of 48, in a leap of faith and with the encouragement of his close friend Earl Hacking, who said, “Just do it. Stop dreaming about it,” Mortenson founded Mortenson Construction. With his wife Jennie working as the telephone operator, stenographer, payroll clerk, bookkeeper and chief morale officer, the couple launched a business that would grow to be one of the most recognized construction firms in the country.
Mortenson Construction’s first job was a $370 remodeling project for the Paul Bunyan Bait Company. Business grew steadily throughout the 1950s and boomed in the 1960s. Mortenson headed countless projects throughout the state, including hospitals, power plants, schools and university buildings. At the time of his retirement in 1970, Mortenson Construction was winning multi-million dollar contracts and had established strong relationships with several organizations.
Mortenson built a company that continues to flourish. While the company expands, new offices are established and big deals are made, one thing remains constant: M.A. Mortenson’s ingenuity, perseverance and hard work are rooted in every project.
When it came to advice, his message was simple and always the same: work hard, concentrate, apply yourself. These principles were central to each task, to each job. – M.A. Mortenson, Jr.