It may be said that behind every great company stands a man or a woman who knows how to decipher the fine print of an insurance policy, make payroll, and order the paper towels.
At MCL Construction, Nancy Benson, 64, has been that woman for nearly 30 years.
The current Vice President of Finance, Benson has been with the construction company from the start. She was one of the "Original Five" who left Hicks Construction in 1987 with Bob Carlisle and Jim Meyers to join them on their great adventure as they began to build the company 30 years ago this year.
"I remember we met on a Saturday morning at a Perkins (restaurant). Bob and Jim asked me if I'd come with them. I didn't even stop and think about it," Benson recalled one morning in her office.
Today, Benson is getting ready to retire - for the second time. She attempted to retire about a year ago but agreed to stay on at the request of her successor, Joe Hebenstreit. He wanted help in finishing up some projects and he wanted more time with Benson to learn the ins and outs of his new job.
In the beginning, Benson was the company's official jack-of-all-trades. A bookkeeper by training, she answered the telephone, typed up contracts, wrote payroll checks and processed invoices.
She even took out the trash and cleaned the offices.
"I would say that she has managed every aspect of construction that wasn't related to (actual) construction," explained Hebenstreit.
Along the way, Benson acquired a vast array of knowledge about starting a small business. She learned about the intricacies of group health insurance policies, the need for company bylaws, and insurance policies.
She also learned to process numbers on an adding machine at supersonic speeds. (Hebenstreit called it "intimidating.")
"It was like osmosis. Little by little, things began to sink in," said Benson.
She loved almost all of her duties, even taking out the trash, with the exception of one: the dreaded "bidders' list."
On those day, Benson and others in the office would go down the list, calling subcontractors all day to ask if they wanted to bid on a particular job.
The day would come when the bids were due and the office became a scene of organized chaos as the deadline approached and bids came flying into the office via in-person or over the telephone.
"All day long, we would have people going in and out, bidding jobs. It was hectic," Benson said. "It's very stressful. To this day, some of its done on computers, but it's still very stressful."
As the years passed and MCL Construction grew, Benson's duties began to narrow in scope, with her job title changing over the years. The woman who started out answering the telephone soon found herself managing other employees who were doing many of her original duties.
She also watched as the company that started with five employees grew to handle multimillion-dollar contracts with more than 120 employees. She always had faith in Carlisle’s and Meyers' business savvy but, she said, even she sometimes is amazed out how swiftly the company has developed.
"I think the last few years have felt like, 'wow,' did we grow," she said. "It's been absolutely phenomenal. We grew and we grew and we grew. The last few years, we've just mushroomed."
"Bob has added really good, quality people to make it grow like it has," she added.
Despite her clear love for the company, Benson said the time has come for her to get lost in sunshine with a pair of pruning shears in her and her husband's fruit orchard that they planted on an acreage near Norfolk. An Iowa farm girl, she loves her time at her rural home on the river, where her husband can hunt and her five grandchildren can play.
It's going to be hard to get MCL out of her bloodstream. Benson is, after all, a self-described "workaholic."
And, yes, she knows she has changed her mind about retirement a few times in the past. But, this time, she laughs, she really, really means it.
Part 1: Jim Meyers
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