Employees of CEC Infrastructure Solutions moved into their new 35,000-square-foot custom-built headquarters at 4555 W Memorial in November. But the multi-divisional engineering company, formerly Cobb Engineering Co., still is waiting on its outside signage to arrive.
Meanwhile, more than a few passers-by have dubbed it “the 316 building,” because the numbers appear to pop out on its facade. CEC Chief Executive Marty Hepp is more than OK with the moniker. In fact, he considers it “a God thing,” because of the powerful, often-recited gospel verse John 3:16.
Just inside the front door, Hepp was more pointed about his Christian faith and had Matthew 5:16, the full “let your light shine” verse, printed on a plaque.
CEC employs roughly 160 and has annual revenues of $20 million. With plans to expand to a regional engineering company, Hepp, 52, hopes to double that figure in the next five to seven years.
He sat down recently with The Oklahoman to talk about his life and career. This is an edited transcript:
Q: Tell us about your roots.
A: I was born in Oklahoma City, but moved to Cherokee in the third grade, back to Oklahoma City and then to Fairview for the fifth- through 12th grades. My parents divorced when I was 8 and my sister, who’s 10 months younger, and I lived with my father, who was a pattern maker for Waldon tractors. His father, my paternal granddad, owned Hepp Brothers paint store, which was situated in Mayfair Shopping Center for years.
My dad remarried and had two more sons, who are 12 and 16 years younger than I am. Along with feeding the goats and other chores in Fairview, I remember changing my brothers’ cloth diapers. It’s no surprise I became an engineer. I always loved building things, putting motors in cars and working on old motorcycles. My dad and I built our multi-level home in Fairview, just the two of us. We didn’t have a lot of money, so we offered to demo the old barns in the area and used the lumber for our house. My dad died at age 53 from cancer, which we think he got from working with fiberglass to make the molds. My mother lives in Owasso, and by her I have another half brother who lives near her.
Q: Who was the spiritual influence in your family?
A: My maternal grandfather and my stepmother. Emmett Hammer, of Bethany, who started the physics program at Southern Nazarene University and OCU, was a man of faith, and help found and taught Sunday School at the Shartel Church of God. A lot of our founders at Crossings Community Church knew him well, and my biggest compliment is when I’m teaching Sunday School and they tell me I remind them of my granddad. An elementary school teacher who now lives in Fort Worth, my stepmom was a nun for 13 years out of state, before she left the convent and moved to Oklahoma, where she met my dad. She’s the one who got us going to church — a Mennonite Brethren, which is similar to a Baptist church. I became a Christian at 13 at a church camp, and got involved in a singing group called “Shine” that toured Oklahoma and Kansas. We were booked as a sort of variety show at churches on Sunday nights. We’d have music and a skit, and then I’d get up and give a 10-minute sermonette. I considered going to seminary, but pursued engineering instead.
Q: How’d you meet your wife? At OU?
A: On a Colorado ski trip, sponsored through OU’s Baptist Student Union. I met her and her identical twin at a dinner the last night of the trip, and then sat by her and prayed together on the bus ride home. We got engaged 11 days later. Our first date, I took her to an Amy Grant concert.
She asked me out for our second date, a play at OU, which blew me away. We married a year later, after she graduated. An elementary school teacher (she teaches preschool at Crossings), Donna graduated first, because I had another year in my five-year program.
Q: Tell us about your advancement over the years with Cobb.
A: Following my graduation from OU, I answered a newspaper ad for an engineering intern/project engineer. Jim Cobb, son of Fred Cobb who founded our company in 1921, liked my drafting hand and hired me. I felt very blessed because jobs were tight. There were only five of us then. We grew to about 15 in the late ’80s, but in the downturn of ’91, Jim laid off everyone except me and one other employee. When times were good, it was good. But in the bad times, it was bad. We’d gear up for a big turnpike project, and then gear down. We eked along until the mid ’90s, when we got some big breaks with ODOT (the Oklahoma Department of Transportation) and more work from the city. By ’97, we were back to 10 to 15 employees, and Jim allowed me to buy in to the company 50-50.
That’s when we started diversifying, and adding services we normally subbed out, like surveying and construction management. In 2002, we added offices in Duncan and Tulsa. We lost money for three or four years, but by 2005, things turned around, and Tulsa became a significant presence for us. In 2007, we became the preferred provider for building the power infrastructure for OGE and several oil companies, and in December 2012, Jim and Laverna Cobb sold the company to me and three junior partners. Around the same time, we expanded our services again, and added MEP — mechanical, electrical and plumbing.
Q: So what’s your role in the company these days?
A: I’ve evolved from doing design work to designing people. I enjoy brainstorming, or vision casting with clients, and helping give legs to people’s dreams. But this business is really a platform for my ministry, which is helping business leaders and owners find perspective and meaning in what they do. I also want this company to be a shining light for our employees. That’s why we a year ago created our nonprofit, Civil Servants, which allows employees to use the gifts God gave them to lead Christian education classes, join in community service projects or launch other missions. We’ve planned a mission trip to Guatemala to help with a school and water project there. I plan to go. But my passion isn’t going on mission trips. My passion is developing leaders and influencing people.
•Position: CEC Infrastructure Solutions, chief executive officer and senior partner
•Birthplace and birth date: Oklahoma City; May 24, 1961
•Family: Donna, married 30 years; daughters Alisha Bloom, 26, and Kristi Hepp, 23; two grandchildren, 2 and 8 months
•Education: University of Oklahoma, bachelor’s in civil engineering
•Residence: Sportsman Lake subdivision
•Passions: Crossings Community Church, where he serves on the medical clinic board and just completed his second, six-year term on the board of elders, and Christian Business Men’s Connection of Oklahoma City, on whose board he serves
•Mentor: Steve Trice, CEO of Jasco Products Company LLC
•Hobby: long-distance cycling; he rides some 30 miles a day, five or six days a week
•Favorite footwear: he dons one of his eight pairs daily