Ayres puts people first and success follows
2011 Lifetime Achievement Award
Owen Ayres, Ayres Associates Inc.
Owen Ayres wasn’t happy with a bad batch of concrete at the site of a 1972 project his firm designed in Eau Claire.
So he worked with Pat Quinn, a fresh-out-of-college representative for the concrete subcontractor on the project, to get construction back on solid footing and the concrete to a level of quality Ayres expected for his projects.
Then, Ayres, impressed with Quinn’s contribution to the project, told Quinn to call about a position as a consultant with Ayres Associates Inc.
Quinn got the job, he said, and soon realized Ayres’ turn of the cheek following the concrete problem was steeped in the firm leader’s appreciation of quality work and quality talent.
“He treats everybody equal,” said Quinn, who retired in 2010 as president of Ayres Associates. “And he’s very fair and always looking for ways, specifically in disagreements, for a solution for all the parties involved.”
It’s a formula that has helped Ayres build his business.
In 1959, two years into his employment with Garnock Engineering in Eau Claire, Ayres and partner Stanley Loken bought the firm and, in 1962, changed the name to Owen Ayres & Associates. Still based in Ayres’ hometown of Eau Claire, the firm has expanded to more than 275 employees in 13 offices in seven states. Its services include transportation, mining, water resources, energy corridors, architecture and surveying.
The firm is a persistent presence in the Midwest, with award-winning projects in the last year on the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s steam loop and a flood-control effort in Grand Forks, Minn.
And Ayres, 86, is still there. Rather than dash into the twilight of retirement, he shows up at the office at 7:30 a.m. most days, getting involved in various advisory roles.
“He’s a really great resource for the younger employees,” Quinn said. “He’ll help if you need help but will let you go out there and learn on your own.”
Beyond focusing on his firm, Ayres and his wife Janice are decorated philanthropists, giving time and support to organizations such as Luther Hospital, the United Way and the Chippewa Valley Museum.
He also served a two-year stint as secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation beginning in 1981. In his years with Ayres Associates since then, he has donated most of his salary to a favorite organization, the Eau Claire YMCA.
John Schaaf, retired executive director of the Eau Claire YMCA, called the interest and backing from Ayres and his family instrumental in the growth of the organization.
Ayres’ genuine interest in helping the community also is reflected through campaigns to develop the Eau Claire YMCA’s camp on Lower Long Lake, Schaaf said.
“A big part of the (YMCA) here is kids benefiting from Owen’s generosity and help with the camp,” Schaaf said. “He is just especially interested in young people, and he’s always been the kind of guy who’s there, no matter what you asked him to do.”
— Justin Kern