Boomers are what they call ironworkers that chase high-paying jobs all over the United States — it’s how Kevin Koester, owner of Apex Steel in Kirkland, spent a few years in his early 20s. Then he came back to Western Washington and started laying a foundation to start his own company.
Koester was first drawn to his industry as a 19-year-old in Bellevue working to finish the last few credits of his associate’s degree. His first job was the construction of a gym, and he loved the physicality of the work.
“It was a race every day. I’d try and be the first guy back to the pile,” he said. “It’s very competitive; it’s a very challenging, tough industry. I think that was the original attraction. Don’t get me wrong: There are days when it’s pouring rain and I can’t feel my fingers or it’s burning hot and the steel is burning you, and I think, ‘Is this really what I want to do with the rest of my life?’”
Koester felt he could build a better team than the companies he had worked for, so in 1996 he started Apex Steel in his garage in Duvall. In 2008, the company branched out with Apex Tower Crane, and in 2013, Apex Steel Montana was incorporated. The Montana branch began with an opportunity to build a federal courthouse — a contract to which could only be awarded to a Montana-incorporated company. Koester’s partner runs the operations there, and Koester is considering expanding to other areas. Right now, he has his eye on Salt Lake City, but it’ll take the right business partner before anything moves forward, he said.
Apex Steel has worked on some high-profile local projects, including the Experience Music Project, the Museum of Flight, and Lincoln Square in Bellevue. Koester’s next big contract is the renovation of the Space Needle, the Century Project. The renovation includes floor-to-ceiling glass on the interior and exterior of the observation deck, creating 360-degree views of the Puget Sound.
CrossFit is another major part of Koester’s life. This year, Koester was up against roughly 7,500 global CrossFit participants, competing in qualifying rounds to attend the CrossFit games in Madison, Wisconsin, in August. At the games, he ranked No. 1 in the 50-54 age group, a major accomplishment since he’s only been competing for a couple years.
When we caught up with Koester, he was training several hours a day in preparation for the competition. Turn the page to get a glimpse into a day in his life.
I often start my day working from home for about an hour, having coffee and taking care of details that are hard to get to once the day begins with a meeting.
Finishing coffee with our son, Dominic, and I’m ready to head out the door. It’s 50/50 odds I see anyone before leaving for work, but when I do, it seems to give me a good perspective on the day.
Weekly update meeting with Jill Johnson, Apex’s operations manager, who has been with me for almost 20 years. She helps lead our amazing team.
Getting some fresh air and talking with a customer. I try to meet face to face with customers as often as possible but at a minimum I always make time for their calls.
Looking at equipment in the yard for an upcoming project with senior superintendent Kevin Shields. Kevin’s father was also an ironworker that worked on the Space Needle when it was built.
Working out at Kirkland CrossFit, getting ready for the games in Wisconsin. At this point, training is a couple-hours-a-day commitment. Here I’m working on some rapid-fire Olympic lifts.
Home for a quick shower. It’s convenient having my office, home, and gym all within a mile and a half. Really no wasted time during the day.
Grabbing a smoothie for lunch with Apex tower crane manager Josh Calquhoun before a site visit to Kirkland Urban, where we erected three tower cranes and construction hoists.
At the North Lot project, just north of CenturyLink Field, to meet with a customer. We completed North Lot phase 1 a couple years ago and are closing in on the completion of phase 2.
Photo op with foreman Trevor Kelso. We put a lot of training and energy into the next generation, always being prepared for growth and looking for the right people with the right values.
My wife, Carolyn, and I are at Dom’s Starfire soccer game at Starfire, where he plays for the Seattle Sounders academy. One of my favorite things to do is watch my kids at sporting events.
Alexis and I walk our dog, Thor. He’s an 85-pound beast that needs his exercise every day. His favorite thing to do is chase us on mountain bikes, but that has to wait for the weekends.