Sundt Corp. History

Address:
4101 East Irvington Road
Tucson, Arizona 85714
U.S.A.

Telephone: (520) 748-7555
Fax: (520) 747-9673

Website:
Private Company
Incorporated: 1946 as M.M. Sundt Construction Co.
Employees: 1,375
Sales: $436 million (1997 est.)
SICs: 1541 Industrial Buildings & Warehouses; 1542 Nonresidential Construction, Not Elsewhere Classified; 1611 Highway & Street Construction; 1623 Water, Sewer & Utility Lines; 1629 Heavy Construction, Not Elsewhere Classified; 1522 Residential Construction, Not Elsewhere Classified

Company Perspectives:

Sundt Corp. is a general contracting company providing a full range of construction services throughout the Southwest and selected markets domestically and internationally. Sundt will be aggressive in the pursuit of new work and technological development. We are dedicated to excellence in our relationships with customers, industry associates and employees and to adding value to our company. Sundt Corp. acknowledges and embraces its responsibility as an industry and community leader and will endeavor through leadership involvement and financial support to improve our industry and the quality of life in those communities we serve.

Company History:

A major general contractor in the United States and abroad, Tucson-based Sundt Corp. provides a full range of construction services to commercial, industrial, and government clients worldwide, concentrating on large-scale projects that cost between $250,000 and $100 million. In the construction business for more than a century, Sundt boasted a diverse resume of completed construction projects, starting from its first big project, a 55-foot dam built for the Agua Pura Water Company in 1910. In the decades to follow, the company's operations diversified both geographically and across the spectrum of public- and private-sector commercial and industrial construction work. Sundt was the general contractor for the nuclear research facilities at Los Alamos, the company called upon to build the underground launching sites for intercontinental ballistic missiles, and the general contractor for various residential housing projects, utility plants, and numerous highways in its home state of Arizona. During the 1990s, the company, through its subsidiaries, was involved in industrial construction, heavy construction, military housing construction, and a host of commercial and residential construction projects through its building division. Internationally, Sundt had built projects in Asia, Europe, South America, Central America, the Middle East, and Australia.

19th-Century Roots

Mauritz Martinsen Sundt, the patriarch of the Sundt family, was born in a small town north of Oslo in Gjovik, Norway, in 1863. Independent and industrious, Sundt decided to strike out on his own at age 12 and opted for a life on the sea. He joined Norway's merchant marine and spent the bulk of his teenage years sailing the Baltic and Atlantic waters, earning his keep by honing his skills with the tools of a ship's carpenter. After sailing aboard old windjammers for four years, Sundt settled in the United States, where his last voyage as a merchant marine had taken him. He moved to Wisconsin and spent several years working as a carpenter on houses and farms before his penchant for living life on the move returned and prodded him west. Sundt was not alone in his desire to travel toward the Pacific Coast; wave after wave of settlers were migrating west in search of the rumored riches to be found in the Western Territories, but Sundt's trek was cut short when his wife died at the couple's first stop in Colorado. From Colorado, Sundt set out on his own again and moved to Las Vegas, then part of New Mexico Territory. At the time, Las Vegas had recently made the transition from a fractured community comprising scattered tent camps into a bustling town boasting the stereotypical flavor of the Wild West. The presence of the Santa Fe Railroad line running through the town had guaranteed its survival, and also brought the unseemly, attendant trappings of a boom town in the American frontier. Sundt was a devout Methodist who did not smoke, drink alcohol, dance, or work on Sundays, but in Las Vegas, where lawlessness and drunkenness held sway, he had found his permanent home.

Although his travels had spanned more than a decade, Sundt was only 27 years old when he settled in Las Vegas and started a business with another carpenter named V. A. Henry. The pair purchased a local construction company that included a planing mill and a cabinet shop and renamed the enterprise Henry & Sundt, Contractors and Builders. With a new business and a permanent residence to call his own, Sundt remarried and fathered nine children, adding to the three his first wife had given birth to. From this amply-sized family, the future generations of Sundt management were drawn--the foundation upon which a family dynasty was created--but for Mauritz Sundt the idea of a long string of Sundt descendants in the construction business was far from his most pressing concern. Sundt's primary goal as the 19th century ended was keeping his fledgling construction firm in business. To his descendants would fall the responsibility of perpetuating the family name in the business world; Sundt had to establish the business in the first place.

Toward this end, one of the first contracts Henry & Sundt, Contractors and Builders received was for the construction and remodeling of hospital facilities at Fort Stanton, located in southern New Mexico. Sundt took an active role in the completion of the project, moving his family in a covered wagon to Fort Stanton to personally supervise the work. His attention to detail and his desire for control eventually led to sole command over the construction business. Several years after the Fort Stanton project, Sundt bought out Henry and renamed the company, M.M. Sundt, Builder. It was a straightforward name, without pretensions, which matched the reserved personality of the conservative Methodist who headed the company, but the scale of the construction projects undertaken by M.M. Sundt belied the unassuming nature characterizing both the man and the company. Early in its history, M.M. Sundt established its future as a contractor for large construction projects.

M.M. Sundt began work on the project that would establish the company's forte in 1910. It was Mauritz Sundt's first major construction project, the construction of a large dam in Peterson Canyon for the Agua Pura Water Company. Using mules and wagonloads of laborers, carpenters, and mule skinners, Sundt built the 55-foot-tall structure for a total cost of $21,843. The dam, which was still in use when M.M. Sundt's successor celebrated its 100th anniversary, did much to establish Sundt's reputation as a reliable and skillful contractor for the large-scale construction projects that would proliferate in a burgeoning country. Buoyed by its newly established prominence, M.M. Sundt was awarded contracts for the construction of homes, schools, government buildings, and business establishments, making a name for itself as one of the prominent general contractors in the region. Among the buildings constructed by M.M. Sundt during its formative years were the Las Vegas Y.M.C.A., built in 1905; the company's first shopping center, completed in 1919; The Meadows Hotel, built in 1923; and the Johnson Mortuary, designed by Mauritz's son, Thoralf, completed in 1926.

The Great Depression and World War II

By the end of the 1920s, Mauritz's sons were beginning to exert a greater influence over the family business. Thoralf had distinguished himself as an architect, serving for many years as the Chief Architect for the Bureau of Architecture of the Methodist Church while he worked for his firm, Sundt & Wenner of Philadelphia. In 1929, he designed a new Methodist church to be built in Tucson, Arizona, which drew the attention of his brother John, who had been assisting Mauritz Sundt for a number of years. Mauritz sent his son John to Tucson to bid on the job, which the Sundt's won. To complete the job, John moved to Tucson and after the church was completed he remained in Tucson, establishing the first branch office of his family's business. For the next several years, the two offices of the company operated separately, with one compensating for slow construction periods experienced by the other, but before long the Arizona office demonstrated a more vibrant vitality than the Las Vegas office. Before the end of the 1930s, the hierarchical order of the two offices was reversed, with the Tucson office becoming the company's headquarters and the Las Vegas office relegated to a divisional office for New Mexico. The transfer of authority between the two offices mirrored an identical transfer of power between father and son. Midway through the decade, John Sundt acquired his father's interest in the company and became the new leader of M.M. Sundt Construction Co. (The new name, a slight variation on the original, was taken from the name John Sundt used when he had applied for an Arizona contractor's license for the Methodist church project.)

John Sundt took over the family business at an inauspicious time in American history. The nation was mired in an economic depression of an unprecedented magnitude when he bought out his father, but M.M. Sundt Construction managed to stay in business during the harsh economic times by completing work ordered by the Public Works Administration. In 1936, the company was awarded a contract for six projects included in the expansion of the University of Arizona's Tucson campus. The projects, constructed simultaneously, included the erection of six separate buildings that kept M.M. Sundt financially afloat during the latter half of the 1930s.

The lingering effects of the Great Depression were wiped away by the early 1940s, as the United States prepared to enter World War II. By this time, as the nation geared itself for war and the voracious demand for materials of all sorts, M.M. Sundt was regarded as one of the leading general contractors in the southwestern United States, a vaunted position that directed a considerable amount of construction work into John Sundt's lap. In 1942, the company's New Mexico Division--its former Las Vegas headquarters--built a railroad battalion camp at Clovis and a mobile air training depot station at Oxnard, while the Tucson office busied itself with the construction of an aircraft modification center that later served as an early home for the Tucson International Airport. The company also served as the contractor for the Naval Air Station at El Centro, California, but by far the biggest and most noteworthy construction project undertaken by M.M. Sundt during the war years was located on a remote site in the mountains northwest of Santa Fe. The facilities built by the company would later be known to the world as Los Alamos, where scientists involved in the Manhattan Project created the first atomic bomb.

Initially, the secret project totaled $300,000 of work for the company's New Mexico Division, but by November 1943, the contract's value had ballooned to more than $7 million. The work completed at Los Alamos, which remained a secret to all those at M.M. Sundt until the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, provided the company with money it would sorely need in the years immediately following the conclusion of World War II, when construction activity in the country slowed to a crawl. During this lull in business, John Sundt organized the company as an Arizona corporation, naming himself president and conferring upon himself the authority accorded to the company's principal shareholder. Next, he decided to shutter the company's New Mexico Division and replace it with a new company called Albuquerque Gravel Products, Inc., which supplied ready-mixed concrete and construction aggregates throughout New Mexico.

Postwar Expansion and Diversification

The postwar economic boom period swept up M.M. Sundt by 1948, when the company once again enjoyed a steady stream of business. In 1948, expansion at the University of Arizona was underway and M.M. Sundt figured as one of the prime contractors presiding over the construction of new buildings for the university. In subsequent expansion efforts, M.M. Sundt was frequently employed as a contractor. The company built an addition to the chemistry and physics building in 1948 and built the university's new aeronautical engineering building in 1949. By the time M.M. Sundt was building its first two postwar buildings at the University of Arizona, one of the university's students had joined the company's fold, Thoralf's son, Robert S. Sundt. Robert Sundt graduated in 1950 and quickly rose through the company's ranks to become one of the key figures responsible for shaping the family business's future. In 1957, he was joined by his brother, H. Wilson Sundt; together the two brothers directed their family business during the latter half of the 20th century.

Against the backdrop of a new generation of Sundts taking their place in the family business, the construction activity at M.M. Sundt occurred at a decidedly animated pace. The company entrenched its position and began to move far afield, developing into a powerful, multifaceted contractor. In 1952, the company made its foray into the heavy construction business when it entered a joint-venture project to build a new, 14,000-foot runway at Davis Monthan Air Force Base near Tucson. M.M. Sundt also resumed its work for the University of Arizona by constructing the university's student union building, library, music building, and several dormitories. M.M. Sundt was called upon to install sewers, water lines, and other utilities around the Tucson area to accommodate the city's rapid growth. The company also renewed its business relationship with the U.S. military, drawing upon its experience with the construction of Los Alamos to earn contracts for other massive construction projects. During the 1950s, M.M. Sundt constructed the first underground ballistic missile launching facility, erecting its pioneering structure at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The underground structure at Vandenberg became the prototype for all Titan I Missile installations subsequently built in the United States.

M.M. Sundt's stature as a general contractor, which had risen to regional awareness by the beginning of the 1940s, increased to a national and international level by the beginning of the 1960s, thanks in large part to the much-publicized military work the company had completed. During the 1960s, the company's work at Los Alamos and at Vandenberg paved the way for additional construction projects, including the Atlas "F" complex of 12 missile silos at Schilling Air Force Base in Salina, Kansas, built with two other partners for a total cost of $51 million, and the first launch facilities for the Titan II intercontinental ballistic missiles at Vandenberg. M.M. Sundt also contributed to another chapter in American history by building Launch Pad 39-A at Cape Canaveral, Florida, which was the site of many Apollo missions, including Apollo 11, the flight that put man on the moon for the first time, and the site used to launch the space shuttle Columbia. In Arizona, the company constructed many of the highways in its home state and continued to construct new buildings for the University of Arizona.

The 1960s proved to be a decade of remarkable achievement for M.M. Sundt, establishing it as a contractor with a roster of talents. The company built its first high-rise office building in 1966, the 21-story Tucson Federal Savings Tower. It ventured into the international market for the first time in 1962 by constructing sewage treatment facilities in Trinidad, West Indies. M.M. Sundt joined the expansion of southern Arizona's mining and utility concerns, constructing an addition to the Cochise Power Plant, a research laboratory for The Anaconda Company, and an expansion of ASARCO's copper smelter in Hayden, Arizona. As these projects were underway, the company also moved into the construction of prefabricated housing, forming its Dyna-Strux division in 1968 to manufacture and market a patented modular wall and roof system for homes and schools. Unlike the hundreds of projects carried out by the company, the attempt to build a profitable prefabricated housing business failed. Only 100 homes and several portable school buildings were constructed with Dyna-Strux components, but despite the division's failure the foray into prefabricated housing paved the way for a huge contract the company was awarded in the 1970s. As in the 1960s, M.M. Sundt was active on all construction fronts during the 1970s. The company's 80th anniversary marked the beginning of a decade of profound growth and meaningful internal changes.

During the 1970s, M.M. Sundt completed more than 700 projects, ranging from commercial and government buildings in Arizona, to $200 million worth of highway projects, to condominiums in Saudi Arabia. The 1975 labor and management contract to build 485 condominiums in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province for the Arabian American Oil Company was an indirect offshoot of the company's failed attempt at prefabricated housing, helping to assuage the sting suffered from the formation of Dyna-Strux. M.M. Sundt's work in Saudi Arabia extended to 1986, by which time the value of the work completed by the company exceeded $750 million. At home, management decided to convert M.M. Sundt into an employee-owned corporation, which eventually led to the formation of Sundt Corp. at the end of the decade as a holding company, under which M.M. Sundt became a wholly owned subsidiary.

1970s: The Modern Sundt Takes Shape

Several new subsidiaries made their debut under the unfurling Sundt corporate umbrella during the 1970s and 1980s, defining the parameters of the company's widening operational scope. In 1972, the company acquired Novato, California-based C.R. Fedrick, Inc., a contractor for water resource projects that included dams, pipelines, water transmission and distribution lines, pumping stations, and canals. The company's corporate structure was fleshed out further with the establishment of a military housing division in 1984, which was formed to meet the demand ushered in by the Department of Defense Design/Build program. In 1989, as the company's centennial approached, Sundt acquired San Diego, California-based Ninteman Construction Co., which had played a leading role in the construction of commercial, industrial, and institutional projects throughout southern California since 1947.

As centennial celebrations were underway, Sundt entered a decade that would bring the final additions to its corporate structure for the new century ahead. During the 1990s, Sundt withstood the pernicious effects of a severe economic recession thanks to its diverse range of capabilities and an expansive geographic presence, which insulated the company from declining business tied to one particular type of construction in one particular market. When the economy turned considerably more robust, Sundt returned to its acquisitive approach to growth by purchasing CRF Integrated Solutions through its C.R. Fedrick subsidiary. Organized as a subsidiary of C.R. Fedrick, CRF Integrated Solutions was a provider of telecommunications facilities throughout California. The company's next acquisition followed in 1996, when it acquired Sacramento, California-based Earl Construction Company. For more than a decade prior to the acquisition, Sundt had engaged in business with Earl Construction through various joint-venture projects. Earl Construction's addition to Sundt's stable of operating companies added a general contractor with strong market presence in northern California.

Supported by five divisions whose work was conducted by four subsidiary companies, Sundt entered the late 1990s on strong financial footing with numerous construction projects underway to fuel the company's growth as it prepared for the dawn of the new century ahead. In the 21st century, the era of Sundt management (the family owned 30 percent of the company, with employees owning the balance) was expected to come to an end, but the diversified expertise developed by three generations of the family augured well for its future. Certainly well beyond what Mauritz Sundt had envisioned when he started his own company in 1890, the Sundt Corp. of the late 1990s represented a strong regional force with international connections that could draw on a legacy of past achievements to guide its future growth. With its range of construction skills supporting it, the company braced itself for the construction projects of the future, continuing to build on the work of an industrious Norwegian carpenter whose 19th-century influences were still evident a century later.

Principal Subsidiaries: C.R. Fedrick, Inc.; CRF Integrated Solutions; Earl Construction Company; Ninteman Construction Company.

Principal Divisions: Building Division; Industrial Division; Heavy Construction Division; Military Housing Division; International Division.

Further Reading:

  • Conroy, Bill, "J. Doug Pruitt: Sundt Exec Build Reputation for Ethics, Commitment to Construction Industry," Business Journal--Serving Phoenix & the Valley of the Sun, January 14, 1991, p. 12.
  • Reinke, Martha, "Arizona Firms Target Business Opportunities in the Middle East," Business Journal--Serving Phoenix & the Valley of the Sun, March 11, 1991, p. 8.
  • Sevilla, Graciela, "Arizona Contractor Sees Wisdom of Plunge into Mexico," Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News, August 2, 1996, p. 8.
  • "Sundt Builds on 100-Year Tradition of Quality Work," Business Journal--Serving Phoenix & the Valley of the Sun, March 19, 1990, p. 21.
  • Sundt Corp. 1890-1990: The First 100 Years. Tucson, Ariz.: Sundt Corp., 1990.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 24. St. James Press, 1999.

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