60 Years: Q&A with P1 Consultant Ken Beebe
Ken Beebe has been with P1 since 1963, when he joined P1’s founding company, AD Jacobson. Assistant Marketing Manager Jeremi Strasser had a chance to catch up with Ken, capture his stories, and hear what he has to say to the next generation thinking about a career in the trades.
Q: What were you doing before you came to AD Jacobson in 1963?
I graduated from high school in 1961. I went to college at MU that fall to be an electrical engineer. In the summer of 1962, I got married at nineteen. I got a job as a welder at a farm equipment manufacture working the midnight shift and was going to Central Missouri State during the day.
Q: Why did you want to go into the trades?
I continued working at midnight and going to school throughout the 1962 school year. It took me awhile, but I said to myself, there has to be a better way. My brother-in-law worked as a service tech for AD Jacobson and had just moved into the office as a project manager. I said I couldn’t spell pipefitter let alone know what they did, but I figured it had to be better than what I was doing.
I interviewed with Herb Jacobson but after the interview I met AD Jacobson, and he asked me if I knew what the square root of two was. I had a good geometry teacher in high school, so I knew the answer and I have always said that is how I got into the union. I actually took a cut in pay when I became an apprentice. I was making $2.35 working the midnight shift as a welder and started at $2.25 as an apprentice.
Q: Describe the roles you have held at ADJ and P1 over time.
The first two years I worked in the field as a pipefitter on several jobs, telling everyone I would work all the overtime that was available and trying to learn as much as I could. Back then, apprentice school was five years, and the 3rd and 4th year Kansas City had a contest for best apprentice, who would compete with the winner of St. Louis and Cape Girardeau for state champion. I was lucky enough to win state champion all three years. The 5th year state winner got to go to Purdue. I was upset with the school instructor and refused to complete my 5th year, one of the biggest mistakes of my career.
During my second year, I worked in the service side of the business. There were only three of us in service at that time. My main job was being involved with the start-up of new jobs, working with the customer to understand his system and to perform warranty responsibilities.
When we grew, I became service manager, then became special projects manager. NEBB, the National Environmental Balancing Bureau, started in 1971 and I became a member in 1973 - one of the first in the Kansas City Chapter. Around 1993, a group from the KC chapter met with other NEBB chapters in Phoenix, AZ, qualifying and starting the first Building Commissioning discipline of NEBB.
Q: What kind of work are you still doing for P1?
On January 1, 2004, I said I wanted to retire and move to Florida. I was offered a consultant job, but I was not sure if this is what I wanted to do. But I said "OK, I will try it" and that is what I've been doing. The work included a little of everything including designs, controls refrigerant piping layouts, reviews and drawings.
Q: What inspires you to continue your work in this industry?
I am one of the most fortunate people in the world: being a pipefitter, working with my hands, solving problems with mechanical-electrical equipment, or designing systems - I have loved doing all of this and couldn't consider doing anything different.
Q: What people throughout your career stand out as having the most/best impact/influence on you?
Herb and Elliott Jacobson. Herb and Elliott were good businessmen, they were fair with their customers, and they were fair to their employees. I worked in their homes and there were times they asked me to stay for dinner, it made me feel like a son.
Q: What was a stand-out project or experience or customer that you will never forget?
The Jacobsons had a relationship with Harry Truman. It was 1967 or '68 when the Truman library did a remodel. I was responsible for startup and in the process I met and talked to Harry Truman a couple of times. The other people I found fascinating were Jim and Virginia Stowers, founder of American Century Funds. Through a job I did at American Century, we did work at the Stowers condo, and the company was involved in building the Stowers Institute. I was able to have several interesting talks with both Jim and Virginia during that time.
Q: What advice/wisdom would you give young people just starting out, or considering a career in the trades?
I think that any of the trades are a great opportunity if you enjoy working with your hands and like creating things. Through the trades, you have the ability to go as far as you would like to go if you are willing to work for it, and you can have a very satisfied life. I am proud to say my son Dave Beebe is a good example. He worked summers in the warehouse during high school, later returning to the apprentice program working in the field and today is one of the vice presidents of the company.
Q: What do you do when not working? How do you like to spend your time?
I have been an avid tennis player all my life. Now that I'm retired and have more time on my hands, I play a lot of golf. In Florida, I have done everything I can to turn my home into a smart home. Rita and I have been able to travel around the world and explore a lot of sites. I have truly enjoyed my life over the last 60 years - working for one company.