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Leadership Spotlight with Chris Kehl: Vice President and Principal Engineer

Chris Kehl family

We recently spoke with Chris Kehl to learn more about his new role as Vice President and Principal Engineer. We asked him about his background, what he enjoys about working at Braun Intertec in his new role, and his advice for those just starting their career.

What is your current role at Braun Intertec?
In addition to serving clients by running and reviewing geotechnical engineering and construction testing projects, my internal responsibilities include being the Technical Practice Leader for construction materials testing, and I also have operational responsibilities for the Twin Cities construction materials testing group.

What is your professional background?
I graduated from the University of Wisconsin Madison in 1999 with a degree in Civil Engineering. Six months after college, I began working at Braun Intertec as a field technician. I spent five years in the field working on larger, high-rise structures in Minneapolis. After those five years, I came into the office and started managing projects, and I’ve been here ever since. I’m coming up on my 20th year here this summer.

What interested you about your profession?
I got into civil engineering because of a combination of things. My father worked in construction and growing up I always liked building things. I also enjoyed that engineering combines math and science, which were subjects I was curious about.

What is your favorite aspect of your role or the most rewarding part of what you do at Braun Intertec?
I have a lot of different roles, so this is a tough one to answer concisely. For me, the most rewarding part is helping people – internally, helping staff develop their careers and, externally, helping clients solve a problem. My roles not only allow me to do that on an individual project basis, but also how Braun Intertec solves issues across the company.

What is your favorite thing about working at Braun Intertec? What do you feel makes it unique?
The best part about working at Braun Intertec is getting to be involved with a lot of projects. A lot of engineers or contractors are only able to work on a small number of projects. We tend to touch a large number and variety of projects, due to the nature of our work. One of the most rewarding parts about working at Braun Intertec is that I work with a lot of good people who are all working together for the common goal of satisfying the client.

What technical specialty/service(s) do we offer that you feel differentiates Braun Intertec from other firms?
I would say the differentiation is that we provide so many services all in one stop. It’s rare. We’re able to use technology from one service to solve a problem in another, like when we can use a thermal camera from our building and structure sciences group to help solve a problem during a construction testing project. Knowing unique, novel solutions to solve a problem can provide a big advantage to our clients.

How do our different technical specialties interact with one another?
We work together on projects constantly. The goal is to act as one company. If we’re providing one service to the client and notice something that may become a problem later if not addressed, we’ll talk to the client and make them aware of the risks and offer solutions.

What is your approach to client problem-solving?
My approach is to try to be a consultant, which by my definition means explaining to them why something is an issue, as well as giving them a variety of solutions to solve that issue. I try to explain to them the pros and cons of each solution and then provide them a recommendation in the form of “if it was my decision, this is how I would approach it.” The key to client problem-solving is understanding their mentality – get in their mind and understand what they’re trying to achieve.

What traits do you look for in your team members?
What I look for right away is an ability and demonstration of a strong work ethic. I like to see someone who is curious about the world—someone who wants to be a learner. Another important trait is honesty. We demand a lot of trust and honesty in our role, so that is a big requirement for our team.

What should new Braun Intertec employees know about working here? Do you have a piece of advice for someone entering your profession?
I’d describe the culture and attitude here as “work hard and you’ll be rewarded.” Don’t expect it to be immediate or automatic. It’s the culmination of consistently doing the right thing, even when it seems like no one is looking. Be curious, flexible, and willing to take that new opportunity. Sometimes you must jump in and get your hands dirty, but you’ll learn something doing that. Later, when someone else is doing the same task, you can better manage or review their work.

My advice from a civil engineering standpoint is to get a good basis of knowledge of how things get assembled in the field. Understand construction and how it impacts your design. Understand the constraints all contractors work under in terms of the environment, schedule, logistics — because that all has a huge impact on the end product.

What are some of your hobbies, or things you like to do outside of work?
I enjoy doing anything outdoors — hunting, fishing, hiking, camping. I like anything building-related, from woodworking up to building my own cabin. Building something outdoors is probably the most fun thing you can do. I also enjoy spending time with my family traveling, doing anything adventurous with two teenage sons — we’ve been to Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Panama, Belize, Costa Rica, and Vietnam. Our next family trip is to Nepal.