Jack Hand

Jack Hand 

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BOISE — Jack Hand doesn’t like the word “growth.” As CEO of Idaho-based POWER Engineers, Hand stressed, growth was never the goal.

“Growth is the result of doing your strategic plan, your business plans, and it’s just the result of doing everything you said you were going to do,” he said. “Smart plans, delivery and execution is what makes it work, not trying to hit a number.”

Call it what you will, but POWER Engineers did grow under Hand’s nearly two decades as CEO. In 1998, when Hand took the helm, POWER had 230 employees in six offices. By 2016, the year Hand transitioned out of the leadership position, POWER employed 2,400 people in more than 45 offices across the United States, while holding significant ties to the Gem State and Treasure Valley.

To recognize his achievements at POWER, which today is one of the country’s top engineering consulting and services firms, Hand will be inducted into the Idaho Technology Council Hall of Fame. He said he was surprised and honored by the recognition.

Hand is one of two inductees this year. He’s joined by Tom Mueller, a North Idaho-born rocket engineer and founding member of SpaceX.

“Our inductees represent how Idaho innovators have made a global impact,” said Jay Larsen, founder and president of the Idaho Technology Council, in a news release. “Jack’s leadership helped POWER Engineers leverage its core competencies to serve millions of customers and Tom’s rocket designs paved the way for private companies to explore space. Their legacy makes them deserving additions to the Hall of Fame.”

When Hand joined POWER in 1992, it was a much smaller company. Headquartered in Hailey, the scenery attracted Hand. But he mainly took the job — at a much lower salary than he was used to — because his wife, Karen, wanted to be back in her native Pacific Northwest.

Hand previously worked for Black & Veatch, a large Kansas City-based engineering firm. His engineering career blossomed after stints chasing gold in Alaska and oil in western Kansas.

At POWER, where he was hired as a project engineer, Hand was impressed by his new colleagues. He quickly moved into leadership positions, from department manager to T&D division manager and general manager in 1997.

In the late 1990s, Hand was part of a group that worked to reshape the ownership structure of the company. Slowly, the company’s founders and co-owners — who were often at odds with management about strategy, Hand suggested — sold their controlling interest. Employees took ownership of the company, which Hand credits as a critical turn in the company’s success and remains the case today.

As a small company at the time, POWER took advantage of opportunities where it could, like recruiting talent from more established firms such as Hand’s former employer Black & Veatch and Boise’s Morrison-Knudsen, which in the 1980s relocated local jobs to the east, allowing POWER to poach workers who wanted to stay in Idaho.

“We were able to build a really strong nucleus of people that knew how to work,” Hand said. “And it worked out pretty darn good.

“Our whole mantra was: Not to be sold. To be independent and private. A less bureaucratic environment to work in. Very transparent with the business. Try to be open-minded. Build from the bottom, up. Agree to get paid less but share the profit, according to how you performed and effort and results.”

POWER was also an early adopter of technology. POWER beat its competitors to adopting LiDAR, or laser scanning, and it developed its own software for digital mapping. The company also gave each employee a computer, which was not common at the time, Hand said. The high investment in tech was balanced by frugality in other areas, such as appearances.

“We didn’t spend much money on office furniture, office location,” Hand said. “I always believed that a client didn’t want to go to an office that was better than theirs. I don’t care if we have money, let’s just look like we’re still working for a living.”

At the turn of the century, POWER’s communications division was its most profitable, thanks to a fiber boom over the previous decade. That success turned sour after the Enron and WorldCom crashes, leading to layoffs at POWER.

But the company recovered, and six years after the ownership transition, POWER was recognized as a leading transmission and distribution firm. Prior to the 2008 recession, POWER moved to diversify, technologically and geographically — lessons learned from the tech crash. POWER acquired Blue Chip Engineering of Plover, Wisconsin, launching a food engineering arm of the business. And it opened offices in Texas, California and Maine, among other places.

“We couldn’t succeed without divesting to other areas,” Hand said.

Under Hand’s leadership, the company made 19 acquisitions and added over 40 new offices. POWER also boosted revenues from $25 million in 1998 to $460 million in 2016, while doubling its profit margins. Today, POWER’s Boise office (which is actually located in Meridian) is its largest, with 545 employees, but the company remains officially headquartered in Hailey, where 275 employees work.

In 2016, Hand, who resides in Hailey, handed the CEO role to Bret Moffett and became chairman of the company’s board of directors, a position Hand held until 2019. He is now retired.

The Idaho Technology Council Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will be held virtually at 6 p.m. on Oct. 21. To register, visit bit.ly/3ux5shA.

Ryan Suppe is the Boise City Hall and Treasure Valley business reporter for the Idaho Press. Contact him at 208-344-2055 (ext. 3038). Follow him on Twitter @salsuppe.

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