The Road from Parts Runner to President
Mike Ortiz got interested in construction equipment as a boy when his family was building a house in northeast Ohio. “My dad had a friend who was an owner/operator. He brought over a bulldozer to dig a backyard pond. I watched that machine pull up the earth, and it fascinated me. That’s when I got my first taste,” he says.
Two weeks after finishing high school, Ortiz headed to Southern California where his brother was working on a bridge-building project with Sukut Construction, a heavy civil general engineering contractor. Ortiz learned they were looking for a parts runner. He was offered the job in 1976 and now serves as the president of the company’s wholly-owned subsidiary: Sukut Equipment, Parts and Rentals.
A PROMOTE-FROM-WITHIN PHILOSOPHY
Ortiz’s rise to the top has been impressive. “I started as a parts runner for a year; then, the company sponsored my apprenticeship program. I began working nights as an apprentice for two years, helping mechanics, oilers, and welders.” He completed the program then started working the day shift as a mechanics apprentice before becoming a mechanic and mechanics foreman.
Later, as equipment general superintendent, Ortiz was responsible for training and hiring mechanics. He says, this position best prepared him to be president. Ortiz now manages a staff of 55 employees, oversees training programs and acquisitions and the maintenance of approximately 300 pieces of equipment including scrapers, dozers, excavators, haul trucks, and loaders. That equipment is used primarily on projects for Sukut Construction, whose current work includes residential grading, dams, public works, flood control, pipelines, wastewater reclamation, environmental remediation, solar and energy projects.
Mike Ortiz, Sukut Construction“When my mentor, Mike Kelly, retired, I stepped into his job as president and John Casperson took over as equipment superintendent.” The company is filled with long-term employees. “We grew up together,” says Ortiz of those who, like him, have been with the company for 20 to 30 years. A promote-from-within philosophy, training programs, and accessible managers are some of the reasons he believes the company has been successful at retaining staff.
On average, the company sponsors two apprenticeships a month. “We see what they can do. We’ve got high productivity in the field, so we start them in our yard in San Bernardino. The pace is slower there, and a full-fledged journeyman monitors their abilities. The apprenticeship lasts three of four years; then they train here for four years to become a journeyman.”
BUSINESS DIVERSIFICATION LEADS TO SUCCESS
A proponent of business diversity, Ortiz says the company’s strategy of renting equipment as well as selling used equipment and parts allows them to serve Sukut Construction, their business partner and primary customer, as well as others. “We rent 50 percent of the machines we own. We do not want any machines idle,” he says. “When equipment gets too old to be productive, we tear it down and sell the parts. We know the parts.”
Ortiz emphasizes dependability when it comes to their equipment strategy. “The equipment we have in-house was purchased because we are confident it is going to perform.” Of that equipment, 99 percent of it is from Caterpillar. “For parts, I can call our dealer any time of day and learn when I will get a part, how much it costs, and where it is located. They are dependable,” he says of the equipment and dealer network. Sukut Equipment retains a 95 percent equipment uptime rate. Ortiz attributes that to having the best mechanics and equipment. “If we cannot figure it out, our dealer technicians are no further away than an hour.”
Risk and reward come with being the first to acquire a new piece of machinery. Sukut Equipment was the first in California to own the Caterpillar 5110B hydraulic excavator, 657G, and 657K scrapers. Ortiz says the risk is making sure the technology is ready to go and being able to troubleshoot it themselves. “There is some risk to being the first to test this new equipment, but it does not outweigh the reward of getting a jump on the market by offering the newest improvements in productivity and technology,” he says.
The company is ahead of the game in converting equipment to meet air quality emissions standards. “We saw it on the horizon around 2002 and started repowering as soon as there were programs to do it. We started with Tier 1, went to 2, then 3 and are now implementing Tier 4 Final engines.”
CONSTRUCTION TECHNOLOGY AT CONEXPO-CON/AGG
While Ortiz, sometimes, yearns for the days when the equipment was mechanical, he will not deny the improvements brought by electronic technology. “I cannot imagine working without a laptop,” he says. Sukut Equipment employs a full GPS-guided fleet. At CONEXPO-CON/AGG, Ortiz tends to gravitate towards the GPS technology. “I look at new technology and get ideas. It changes and gets better,” he says. He likes wandering the aisles at the show to see what is coming next and how he can implement it to better serve Sukut’s customers.
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