How much does she know about construction? About $10 million worth

David Fettig | Managing Editor

Published July 1, 1991  | July 1991 issue

After eight years it still happens occasionally. When Gae Veit, CEO of Shingobee Builders in Loretto, Minn., picks up the phone, the caller says that there must have been some mistake, he wants to speak to the "owner."

"If anything, I enjoy it," Veit says of the callers' presumptions that a man must be operating a successful construction firm. "I enjoy the surprise."

But to people familiar with Shingobee Builders, a commercial and industrial construction firm, the success comes as no surprise. Veit is known as an aggressive business owner and marketer who has helped guide the small-town company through a period of rapid growth. Shingobee's sales for the period ending in February 1988 were $1.8 million, one year later they were $3.5 million and in February 1990 they jumped to $7.4 million. Those sales were almost "too fast" for the company, Veit says, and they leveled off at $7.5 million in February 1991. However, that earlier growth is expected to continue this year—Shingobee projects sales of $10 million.

Begun eight years ago as a general contractor with a $1,000 investment and just two employees, Shingobee now has a work force of up to 40 people, to whom Veit gives credit for the company's success. "A big part of a new company's success has to do with surrounding yourself with the right people," she says.

After working for years as an office manager in her former in-laws' small construction companies, Veit had about 20 years of experience before starting her own company. Still, even with her background, Veit was surprised at the effort needed to start a new business. "I don't think anybody realizes how time-consuming it is when they start a new venture," she says. "Every year we think we're so much wiser than the year before."

A member of the Crow Creek band of Sioux Indians, Veit named her company Shingobee, after the Sioux word for "beautiful evergreen tree." Ever mindful of her heritage, she recently assembled a force of 70 percent Indian subcontractors to complete a Minneapolis project at the American Indian OIC building.

Veit's success hasn't gone unnoticed. She was selected as the 1990 Minnesota Entrepreneur of the Year in the construction/real estate division, and was named the Midwestern region's Small Business Person of the Year for 1990 by the Small Business Administration.

But Veit keeps her company's success in perspective. Having gone through the upheavals of starting a business, she knows that good times can come and go. Her motto, she says, and the advice that drives her business, comes from Emerson: "Always do what you're afraid to do."