February 8, 2021

Bartlett & West celebrates 70 years: CEO reflection

To honor Bartlett & West's 70th Anniversary, the following are some reflections from one of the company's long-time employees, CEO Keith Warta.

United Way volunteer event at zoo

What is the biggest change you’ve seen during your time with Bartlett & West?

Well, the obvious first response is our size. There were around 35 employees when I started and it was much different – nearly everyone in Topeka was in two big rooms and we heard everything being discussed throughout the day. Maybe partly due to that, we all felt like we knew what was going on in the company. We also did a lot of non-work things like birthday celebrations, beer and pizza, softball teams, bowling teams, other celebrations at employees’ houses. 

However, I think the biggest change is our attitude toward employee-ownership. When I first started at Bartlett & West, we were owned by Charles West. A few years in, the Employee Stock Ownership Plan was formed but the company operated as a partnership of the board directors until we changed the emphasis on employee-ownership around 2008. Since then, we’ve become more transparent, involved more employee-owners in company initiatives, changed the profit distribution, and refocused the board of directors. As a result, it is much different today than it was when I started.


What is something you wish you knew when you began your career?

I don’t think I put enough emphasis on relationships when I began my career. I thought it was all about engineering and being proficient at tasks associated with engineering. As I’ve matured, the need to have trusted relationships with Bartlett & Westers, clients and community stakeholders has become something that I know is necessary in our business. It takes work and I must be intentional about building and maintaining relationships.


What is your favorite Bartlett & West memory so far?

I can’t boil things down to a favorite memory so here are a few. One of the things that I enjoy the most about my role is visiting other offices and talking with Bartlett & Westers. Board summary meetings and company celebrations are memorable every time we can get together. Seeing the completion of a project that I designed was memorable. To understand the difference our projects make in other people’s lives and to see them completed gives me a great satisfaction. Finally, every time our company donates time or money to a worthwhile organization and I can personally see the benefit of our contribution, that’s memorable to me.


What are you proudest of related to Bartlett & West?

The impact we are having on other people. There are literally millions of people who are benefiting from the roadways, water/wastewater treatment facilities, water systems, wastewater collection systems, rail facilities that we’ve designed or the technology and data management applications we’ve developed. We are helping others every day. Bartlett & West is also one of the most charitable organizations that I’ve known. I’ve been so fortunate to be a part of this outstanding organization.