Editor’s Note: The “Chairman’s Choice” story features Mark Wieser and Wieser Concrete Products. Mark is the newly elected NPCA Chairman of the Board.
By Joe Frollo
Grounded. Dedicated. Visionary.
These attributes define Wieser Concrete Products, which for more than 50 years has been a model for how a family business grows and prospers.
Those traits also describe Mark Wieser, the company’s vice president and recently elected NPCA Chairman of the Board.
Wieser Concrete Products has steadily expanded through the decades with locations now spanning Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota. Its foundation is built upon its reputation of dependability, with steadfast leadership and a commitment to innovative advancement.
Growing Up Around Precast
Mark’s introduction to working in precast concrete was cutting rebar as a 12-year-old and eventually installing products at his father’s plant. He found he had a knack for it, and he enjoyed doing it.
As time passed, Mark’s father, Joe, added responsibilities. Mark’s skill set expanded, and his role around the plant grew. By the time he left for college to study engineering, he was well-versed in a plant’s inner workings. Internships and summer positions provided added insight from front-office perspectives.
Degree in hand, Mark was preparing to set his own path. Newly married to his longtime love, Angie, the two were eager to explore life’s options. It wasn’t long, though, before an opportunity in the family business led him back to Wieser Concrete.
“Dad was building a new facility between where I grew up and where I went to college,” Mark said. “They hired a manager who quit before he started. Then they had another manager, and I still wasn’t sure. I talked to Andy about it, and he basically said it’s a no-brainer. It’s what I needed to do. So, I talked to my wife, and I came in as an engineer.”
Soon after, Mark took over the management role in Portage, Wis., where he’s been ever since.
All in the Family
The seeds for what Wieser Concrete Products would become were planted long before Mark and his brothers came on board.
Like all companies, it started small. Founded in 1965 by Joe and Mary Wieser, they were the only two employees that first year.
“We literally started out with a shovel, a wheelbarrow, a little concrete mixer, a welder and a cutting torch,” said Joe, who passed Nov. 20 before this article was published.
Joe built septic tanks at first and soon added agricultural products.
That little “yard” right outside the family home eventually grew to manufacturing facilities in Maiden Rock, Menomonie, Portage and Fond du Lac, Wis.; Roxana, Ill.; Rosemount, Minn.; and distribution sites in Spooner, Wis., and Jordan, Minn. Another site in Iowa is now Wieser Precast, which is separately owned and run by Mark’s sister, Cindy Maxwell, her husband, Roger, and their sons, Joey and Dennis.
Wieser family members can be found in nearly all of the company locations. Andy and Mark’s brother Dan works at the Maiden Rock facility. Andy’s son Drew is now one of the owners and the general manager in Roxana, while his other son Cody works in sales. Mark’s sons Adam and Austin both work at the Portage location.
“I really enjoy that part of it – so many of us together to where we can snowmobile or vacation in the offseason,” Mark said. “Family is an important part of our lives. And not just the people we are related to by blood. We have people at our plants who have been there 20-25-plus years, and they are family, too.”
Like the Wieser family, the company has grown from just Joe and Mary to more than 160 team members, allowing Wieser Concrete to manufacture and deliver precast concrete products for agricultural, underground, highway and commercial markets throughout the United States and into Canada and Mexico.
Monuments to Success
NPCA CLooking back at his now nearly three decades with the business, Mark is proud of the projects that stand as testaments to the company’s work.
There’s the company’s 40,000-gallon storage tank, the first of its size. Wieser built a form for the tank and when they were ready to produce, the first project was canceled. Now, those big tanks are regular sellers.
There’s a 10-foot diameter precast crib that sits about a mile offshore at the bottom of Lake Michigan protecting the Gary, Ind., water supply. The intake system helps deliver nearly 40 million gallons of water each day to area residents.
The crib was manufactured from 17 precast pieces produced from steel molds and installed 50 feet underwater. To prepare, Wieser Concrete hosted a dry run assembly at its Portage facility.
Another project near to Mark’s heart – for various reasons – is a sound wall barrier that runs along the freeway leading to Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.
A lifelong Packers fan, Mark and his team oversaw the creation and installation of what was at the time the largest project in company history.
Then there was the time Wieser Concrete was tasked with creating 100 loads of bunker silo panels and transporting them to Waco, Texas – 1,150 miles away.
“That’s a long way,” Mark said. “Coordinating the logistics and transportation of that much material was a challenge and one we enjoyed completing. Our dispatching team of Lori and Mike really did a great job on that one.”
The project that Mark is most proud of, though, is a series of burial vaults, crypts and columbarium niches that the company continues to build for veterans cemeteries nationwide.
- At Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis, Wieser Concrete produced and delivered 10,500 double-depth lawn crypts in 15 weeks for its first-ever veterans cemetery project.
- At Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Ill., Wieser Concrete has manufactured, delivered and installed more than 25,000 double-depth lawn crypts over the years.
- At Kansas Veterans’ Cemetery in Fort Riley, Kan., Wieser Concrete manufactured, delivered and installed eight 96-unit columbarium niches.
Spanning Indiana to Oklahoma and North Dakota to Arkansas, Wieser products can be found in 28 cemeteries dedicated to the men and women who served in the armed forces.
“That’s an ongoing project and one that means a great deal to us,” Mark said.
Growing at The Right Pace
Success breeds opportunity, and Wieser Concrete can point to a steady list of accomplishments.
Still, when it comes to business planning and expansion, Wieser’s growth mindset is grounded in quality calculation.
“We’ve always thought that controlled growth is the right direction,” Mark said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to add facilities to keep growing. We can continuously work on improving our existing facilities and seeking new opportunities. We want to continue to develop the people who work here into leaders and make the company better as a whole.”
The goal of every project is to not just do a good job but to learn from it and build upon the process for next time.
“We’re big about figuring out how we can save a minute or two minutes producing something,” Andy said. “How can be we more efficient or easier on the workers and save time without sacrificing quality?
“To do that, you have to be out in the plants and see what people are doing. We’ve always been hands-on, even in leadership positions. We will jump in a truck, go out and deliver a septic tank, if that’s what’s needed.”
Chairman of the Board
Another Wieser family tradition continued in October when Mark was elected NPCA Chairman of the Board at the 56th Annual Convention. Joe served as chairman in 1985-86, and Andy held the position in 2016-17.
Mark enters the role at an important juncture for the association and the industry. The launch of NPCA’s newly announced strategic plan and the prospect of precast concrete helping to rebuild the U.S. infrastructure will provide members the opportunity to utilize advanced marketing, analytics and database tools to enhance their ability to compete in the marketplace..
NPCA’s Onboarding Program also will assist members in engaging and retaining their workforce in order to develop long-term careers within facilities.
“The main thing that NPCA can do right now is help with workforce development,” Mark said. “Reorganizing the staff to where there is now a department dedicated to membership and workforce development will go a long way toward that.
“The biggest constraint for many companies right now isn’t time or money or resources. It’s a steady, trained workforce that can produce at the same rate that the jobs coming in require.”
Mark credits NPCA and its membership for helping Wieser Concrete grow and succeed.
“We wouldn’t be where we are without it,” Mark said. “It’s not just the resources, but whenever we have a technical question or something that comes up that’s new for us, all we have to do is pick up the phone and there are dozens of people ready to help.”
In turn, Andy takes pride in he and his family serving as mentors to newer industry members.
“As a group, we are able to bounce things back and forth and learn from each other,” Andy said. “It’s been that way for us and our parents. It will be that way for the next generation as well.
“When I was younger, I was on the phone three nights a week talking with people for hours at a time about questions I had. Now, it’s me and Mark and others who have grown up in the industry picking up the phone and helping others.”
More than a half-century has passed since Joe began converting his life from farmer into precaster. A lot has changed, but Joe’s sons remain a steady influence not just on the business but through industry leadership at NPCA.
“We are just seeing the tip of the iceberg as to what precast concrete is, compared to what it can become,” Mark said. “More specifiers are choosing precast. As long as we can look at ourselves honestly, do what needs to be done and produce a quality product, the possibilities are endless.” PI
Joe Frollo is the NPCA director of communications and public affairs.