2013 Trenchless Technology Person of the Year: Larry Kiest Jr.

Larry Kiest Jr. has attained a great level of success through hard work, perseverance and a passion for the trenchless industry. He started his business — LMK Enterprises, now known as LMK Technologies —  from the ground up and is now a leading authority on the rehabilitation of laterals.

A third generation master plumber and operating engineer, working in sewers is in Larry’s blood. From the early days of working with his father, Larry’s major scope of work included installation and repair of potable water mains and service leads, as well as sewer mains and sewer service laterals.

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He became involved in the trenchless industry long before he even knew it existed. Once he realized the work he was so focused on — rehabilitating sewer laterals — was part of a much larger and fascinating industry, he embraced it. He became a sponge to learn everything he could about it. Larry credits that tenacity and his interest in trenchless technology to his father, whom introduced him to the conditions of laterals through his plumbing business in Ottawa, Ill.

“Without my father, grandfather and my great uncle who were all plumbers, I would not be in the trenchless industry,” Larry says matter-of-factly.

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As a contractor, he started his first company, Performance Pipeline Inc. in 1990 and others followed: LMK Enterprises Inc. in 1993, LMK Fabrication in 2004 and LMK Pipe Renewal in 2005. Larry has grown from his early years’ garage operations into a five-acre, 40,000-sq ft operating facility in Ottawa, employing more than 80 people. His drive to solve problems and develop innovative technologies has led to 91 issued patents, with 67 patents pending. Larry has authored two ASTM Standards relating to lateral and sectional lining and is currently balloting three new ASTM standards. Other innovations that Larry has engineered and built include the T-Liner, Insignia End Seals, Performance Liner Lateral, VAC-A-TEE, CIPMH and Full Depth CIP-Manhole.
Sitting behind a desk and computer isn’t Larry’s style. He has personally been involved or installed his technologies in projects in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Germany, Argentina, Singapore and Australia. As his businesses have grown, so has his devotion to sharing his knowledge and experience with others who are entering the trenchless field. He is a longtime member of several leading industry associations — NASSCO, NASTT, ISTT, MSTT, WEF, ASTM, AWWA and ASCE — and uses his time to lead seminars and training courses, as well as write industry standards.

It is for all of his lifelong professional accomplishments, innovations and dedication to education that Larry Kiest Jr. is the 2013 Trenchless Technology Person of the Year — a true advocate for an industry that has propelled him to an extraordinary professional life.

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SITTINGBEHIND A DESK ISN’T LARRY KIEST JR.’S STYLE. HE CAN BE FOUND ON THE JOBSITE ANYWHERE HE IS NEEDED.“While the trenchless industry is vast, they are immersed in it on a national level attending workshops and conference events; you discover a small core of individuals whom you respect. Larry’s innovation, integrity and energy in the pursuit of trenchless solutions make him unique,” says longtime friend and colleague John Jurgens of Trenchless Resources International.

“Most of you know that Larry has the gift of creativity; however, he also has the remarkable gift of turning dreams into reality. Knowing him as well as I do, I can say that his greatest gift is not the gift of creativity. It is his faith. His faith that hard work and perseverance can make his dreams come true,” says AP/M Permaform president Bill Shook, who first met Larry Kiest Jr. in 1991.

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“Our trenchless industry is in its infancy and many of its pioneers and innovators are still active today. A distinguished list of leaders have been recognized in previous years with this high honor. It is all together fitting that Larry Kiest Jr. receives this recognition for his contribution to our industry as the 2013 Person of the Year,” Shook adds.

Personal History

Plumbing and sewers have been a part of the Kiest family for as long as Larry Kiest Jr. can remember. Growing up in Ottawa, Larry was introduced to the family business at an early age, running through his uncle’s plumbing shop and its aisles of pipe and pipe fittings. He spent his last two years of high school working at his father’s shop. At that time in his life, attending college wasn’t something that Larry was interested in pursuing.

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“The day I graduated high school, my father had me down at the union hall to get my union card,” Larry remembers, laughing. “I didn’t know anything else. I knew I wasn’t going to college and I was counting the days until high school was finished. I just wanted to go to work and make money.”
Soon after, Larry entered the state plumbing license apprenticeship and operating engineers apprentice program. He noted that as an owner-operator, his father made sure that he received the training he needed. The work father and son focused on created the foundation that Larry needed to succeed in business over the years.

“Working with my father, we encountered many opportunities and by working hard and providing quality service, we were the contractor of choice for our home town of Ottawa, which meant we did all of the difficult water main breaks and sewer repairs through conventional excavation,” Larry says. “We also installed most of the sewer and water infrastructure in our hometown since the late 1970s, which led us into auger boring, tunneling and sliplining.”

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Growing up and working in Ottawa also proved to be a stepping stone for Larry’s entry into trenchless technology. He describes Ottawa as the silica sand capital of the world, which means that the Kiests dealt with a lot of rock and sand. The many deep sewers and the silica sand that was used for trench backfill made it difficult and costly to dig in many areas.

“In the early 1980s, we started making small excavations up near house foundations and inserting short sections of PVC pipe to sleeve the old lateral avoiding costly digs in the street that would often require open-cuts from curb to curb,” Larry explains. “We never owned a CCTV inspection camera and, quite frankly, we never knew sewer cameras existed.

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“We simply took a measurement from the lateral pipe opening to the center of the main, inserting all we could and if the main was 8 in., for example, we would pull the inserted pipe back 8 in. and seal the upper end. We thought this was the best thing since sliced bread. We became quite skilled in the insertion process using a pipe strap to rotate the pipe combined with forward pressure on the pipe to skip over off-set joints but we couldn’t negotiate bends and we couldn’t seal the lower end.”

All of this led Larry and his father to discussions on how they could line laterals — and Larry into a lifelong mission to make that process happen in the most cost-effective and efficient means.

Impact of No-Dig 1991

Plastic was the key to the lateral lining process that Larry was working on and he immersed himself with as much information about plastic as he could find, even tapping into the local plastic company, GE Plastics Engineering and later Drisco Pipe, for direction. In 1991, he learned of a tradeshow that he was told may be of some help in his quest to repair deteriorating sewer pipes. The tradeshow was the No-Dig Show and when he walked into the exhibit hall in Kansas City, he was blown away.

“I can still vividly see the coolest, most amazing equipment and technology I had ever seen or dreamed of seeing in my life,” Larry recalls. “It gave me an instant lump in my throat and when I learned there were presentations being given, I went to as many of those presentations as I could… I never saw anything like it in my life.”

Who knew that attendance to the No-Dig Show would open so many doors for Larry and his fledgling company? Through that experience, he met and became a licensee for AP/M Permaform and made a lifelong friend in the company’s president, Bill Shook. Larry says that Shook took him under his wing and taught him everything about manhole rehabilitation and led him to projects all over the country, even training a contractor in Israel on the Permaform system. Shook introduced him to people everywhere they went.

“Bill [Shook] became more than a friend. He was my mentor,” Larry says, with emotion in his voice. “I owe Bill a lot.”

Becoming proficient in manhole rehab did more than introduce Larry to the trenchless industry — it provided him the financial means to continue his pursuit of finding solutions to renewing sewer pipes and laterals. LMK’s first product was the Performance Liner, which is an inversion method for repairing a section of main pipe in lengths ranging from a few feet to hundreds of feet. There were more innovations over the years.

The No-Dig Show, produced by NASTT, has become a mainstay for Larry and LMK Technologies; he is well known for his training classes and live demos. He’s also invested in several other industry organizations that promote water and wastewater solutions and engineering, such NASSCO and WEF, NACWA, ISTT, AWWA and ASTM. “I wanted to learn more about our industry and I wanted to contribute what I had learned through a lot of hard work with others,” he says. “These associations allowed me a platform to really participate and today I enjoy nothing more than sharing what I have learned.”

Participation in these groups has led Larry to author two material and installation method standards, including one that stands as the industry standard for lateral lining and connection sealing, known as ASTM F2561-11. He has written white papers and conducted technical presentations, promoting education and training — all from someone who admittedly struggled in high school and lacked an interest in studying. Now he understands and touts its importance to students of all ages.

“In addition to higher education of our youth, there remains a serious need to bring current advancements and practices to owners and specifying engineers. I have worked hard with industry experts to share our knowledge and experiences through lunch-and-learn sessions, offering certified PDHs and putting on live demonstrations,” he explains.

Family Legacy

Larry’s passion for the industry has been passed down to a fourth generation of Kiests with his children working at LMK; his daughters Kristin, Kristina and Amanda have all worked for their Dad, with Kristina, who worked in marketing for several years, electing to leave the company recently to pursue her masters in marketing. Larry also has two step-sons, Dustin who also worked for LMK Fabrication, and Nick. He has been with his wife Karen for more than 10 years and recently, the couple relocated their primary residence to Florida.

Outside his passion for trenchless and his adoration for his grandchildren, Larry’s other passions include hunting, his boat (aptly named “No-Dig”) and his collection of antique motorcycles, which includes a 1940 Knucklehead and a 1942 Flathead. Fun and adventure are implanted in the family’s lives.
“We recently began what we call ‘Kiest Kamp,’ an 88-acre parcel where we have trap and skeet, ATV trails with a lot of big hills loaded with timber and a grand creek that runs through the entire property,” Larry says. “This is where I try to get away.”

Although Kiest Kamp is his place to get away from it all (no cellular service), work and his next great idea is never far from his thoughts. “I can’t turn it off and my wife, Karen, will tell you that I wake her nights because I always have pen and paper at the side of the bed. Really late at night is when most good ideas are generated.”

Larry knows his drive to succeed and work hard comes from his parents and he is proud that those qualities have touched his children.

Person of the Year

Larry was moved by his selection as the 2013 Trenchless Technology Person of the Year and says it is hard to put into words what this honors means to him. “Being the guy who was chosen to be the most likely not to succeed from the class of 1981 — I have the yearbook to prove it — I found myself just lucky to have a job with my father,” Larry says.

He says that every level he has reached in his professional life has been “a big deal” for him — from becoming a master licensed plumber to starting his contracting company to writing patents, white papers and industry standards. “These were achievements I never dreamed I could attain,” Larry says. “So to be honored with this award is nothing short of taking my breath away and though I have dedicated the greater part of my life to our industry, I have always been surrounded by good people who believed in me and supported my vision. It is those people who made a lot of what I have done a real success. But at the end of the day, it was God who allowed me success and it is my hope that I have done well by others as I am in debt for all the opportunities that have come my way.”

Sharon M. Bueno is managing editor of Trenchless Technology.

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