Freese and Nichols’ Leaders and Legacies: Lee Freese

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Brian Coltharp

President and CEO

As part of our 125th Anniversary celebration, we’re recognizing leaders whose vision continues to drive us forward.

​We all need mentors, and mine was Lee Freese. Lee’s mentor was his dad, Simon Freese. Lee’s account is that Simon made a point of not involving himself in Lee’s work, but Lee also points out that it was Simon’s idea for Lee to spend five years in the project construction phase to learn how things got built.

Lee says Simon created conditions for his growth. “Sometimes painful. Made me aware there’s a better way than ‘sink or swim.’ ” In talking about his dad, Lee reflects that he probably was “not aware at the time that I was learning from him, but I was.”

One of Lee’s earliest, most significant projects was the O.H. Ivie Dam project. During the project Lee lived nearby, in Colorado City and Big Spring. He has reflected that as a young engineer he learned about the relationship between the designer and the contractor.

With characteristic humor, he stated that learning about this relationship was one of the lessons his father thought was central. “That’s why he put me out in the field for five years,” Lee said.

When he recounts it now, Lee says his own mentoring of other employees was “my way of dealing with people who worked for me,” giving people additional responsibility as they showed abilities. I was fortunate that Lee saw those abilities in me.

A Good Job is Your Best Marketing

Years later, when I started working on projects for North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD) north of Dallas, I understood Lee’s advice that if you do a good job for a client the client will give you more work. He said that doing a good job for a client was our best marketing tool. NTMWD is still our client, and now one of our largest.

Another great attribute of Lee’s is that he had a knack for assigning new project challenges and sensing when I could step up and meet the challenge and when he needed to step in. Lots of people in this company have been mentored and helped by Lee. One fan is Ted Gay, who says Lee Freese was instrumental in developing water resources for the State of Texas and that we “should all thank him.”

Ted credits Lee with always understanding the tension between design and construction. He describes Lee’s approach to project difficulties as “We had a little problem …  worked our way through it … got it fixed … moved on down the road.”

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Brian Coltharp, PE, has been Freese and Nichols’ President and CEO since 2017.