Trenchless Pioneers: Bernie Krzys

When it comes to covering the trenchless industry, it’s safe to say that Bernie Krzys is the father of trenchless media. With his simple of idea of creating a magazine to cover a relatively unknown construction segment, Krzys helped to usher the trenchless technology industry into the global lexicon.

Thirty-plus years ago, he created Trenchless Technology magazine — focusing 100 percent on a market on the cusp of becoming the next big thing in underground construction that no one was talking about. But would anyone read it? It was the right idea at the right time.

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Today, Trenchless Technology continues to be the leader of trenchless news, amassing 50,000 global print and digital subscribers, as well as a well-respected educational conference division — it stands as the only 100 percent trenchless-focused magazine in North America, covering rehab and new install work. Krzys’ tireless pursuit of the trenchless industry started with American Augers in 1984.

He credits Leo Barbera, the founder of American Augers, and Leo’s brother Jim for mentoring him on the industry. The company gave him the opportunity to become involved with the National Utility Contractors Association (NUCA). He had the company join the Equipment Manufacturers Institute (now the Association of Equipment Manufacturers) where he spearheaded SAE safety and nomenclature standards for auger boring machines. He helped launch NASTT and the Trenchless Technology Center at Louisiana Tech University. He led a buy-out of American Augers as it expanded its manufacturing of HDD equipment and microtunneling, systems, and even TBMs.

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Krzys’ time at American Augers had him interact with many industry icons at that time, including Tom Iseley (now Purdue University), Dick Melsheimer (Melfred Borzall), Ed Malzahn (founder of Ditch Witch), Maynard Akkerman (Akkerman, Inc.), Paul Nicholas (now with AECOM), Bob Affholder (now with SAK Construction), Frank Kinnan (small HDD rig guru), Len Liotti (Midwest Mole), and so many others.

Jim Barbera left American Augers to do his own thing and founded Barbco Inc. Krzys left the company to create Trenchless Technology, launching it as a bimonthly publication in 1992 with 16,000 subscribers.

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When he initially gauged interest in the magazine, people questioned whether there would even be enough news to share about this largely-unheard of construction industry. The magazine would also organize and, in 1993, host the first industrywide trenchless in-person education seminar, known then as Trenchless Field Seminars, to educate a growing base of trenchless professionals, owners and engineers.

Those initial one week seminars were held in Orlando and California and even included a mini-construction site. The seminars have grown to separate events on rehab, HDD, microtunneling, tunneling, water finance, underground risk, and pipeline construction.

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“We’ve seen coverage of the trenchless industry incorporated into many construction industry magazines,” Krzys says. “I’ve seen trenchless magazines come and go as they’ve also tried to cover the market. There has been a huge increase in media coverage internationally. So many live and digital events today are another example of the industry’s growth…I’d like to think we had a lot to do with it.”

Bernie Krzys, publisher of Trenchless Technology magazine.

Evolving Landscape

Krzys describes the early years of producing Trenchless Technology as challenging. “People would ask: How can you find enough trenchless things to write about? Fortunately, knowing so many contractors helped.

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The magazine’s blueprint for success was simple: focus on the people and organizations that are the industry and put them on the front cover. And the front covers over time have featured the legends of the trenchless industry, including David Magill (founder of Avanti Int’l), Ed Malzahn, Bob Affholder and Jerry Kalishman (founders of Insituform), Martin Cherrington (the father of HDD), Gary Vermeer (founder of Vermeer Corporation) and his family successors Bob Vermeer and Mary Andringa, and of course, Leo Barbera. Projects and industry experts are celebrated with its coveted annual Projects and Person of the Year awards.

Legacy

Krzys deflects his impact and influence on the trenchless industry and pivots the question to his family-owned business, Benjamin Media. “Legacy is well-addressed by contractors as many are family businesses,” Krzys says. “I’ve been fortunate to have my son, Rob, with me all 30 years since we started Trenchless Technology. In 2014, my granddaughter, Meghan Krzys-Squires, joined Benjamin Media. A few years ago, Rob took over running the company. A testament to his buy-in and commitment to the industry is shown by the fact that he recently was named NUCA’s Associate Member of the Year. As we expanded to other magazines/brands, it was Rob who developed our corporate name Benjamin Media, Inc.

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Trenchless Pioneers is a special monthly series, sharing with readers the trailblazers who made their mark on the trenchless industry.

Sharon M. Bueno is editor of Trenchless Technology.