Keith Harenda has been an entrepreneur for most of his professional life.
The Class of 1984 New Berlin Eisenhower alum owns and operates KPH Construction, a Milwaukee-based general contracting firm offering construction, environmental remediation, construction management and design/build services throughout the Midwest.
“Owning your own company has a lot of ups and downs,” Harenda says. “When things are going good, you feel great. Life is good. When things are hard, whether it’s [due to] the economy or struggles in business, you wonder whatever possessed you to start your own business. What is rewarding is controlling your own destiny.”
According to Harenda, his time at Eisenhower High School gave him a strong educational foundation and inspired him to start his own business. One of his teachers had even invented a game to give students an immersive business experience.
“New Berlin was and still is one of the best school systems in the state,” Harenda says. “That basic education helped prepare me for college and my business.”
The first company Harenda founded, American Asbestos Removal, was started with venture capital funds. He went on to start a construction and concrete company, of which he had a 25 percent stake. With KPH, founded in 1999, he is a 100 percent owner.
“It was a long progression to get to KPH,” Harenda says. “But it was always my dream to own my own company that I financed myself.”
Over the pasts 19 years, KPH Construction has served a wide range of clients in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, including school districts, hospitals, government agencies, commercial developers and more. The company has built its reputation on responding quickly to its customers’ needs, the creative solutions it provides and its close relationships with project managers, estimators and supervisors.
Harenda, now with several decades in construction under his belt, says that the field remains a dynamic industry that’s ripe with opportunities for growth.
“Currently, the [construction] career is in high demand and pays very well,” he says. “I think it will be a long time before the industry slows down. That said, I think it is a good career choice.”
He also says that the construction industry can be a great option for individuals who can think creatively and who enjoy tackling challenges—many of which come up out of nowhere. Current district students are able to explore this field as a possible career choice by taking coursework designed to provide a deeper dive into the industry. A brand new course, Construction III, will be available beginning with the 2018-19 school year for those students who have previously completed Construction I and II.
“Construction is all about solving problems when you break it down to its simplest form,” Harenda says. “No matter how much planning you do, there is always something that just doesn’t work in the field based on how it was designed. Then, you go to work on the best course of action to modify the design to make it work within the field. The goal is always to maintain the integrity and quality of the project without a cost change to the customer and owner.”
If you know an Eisenhower or West alum that we should interview as part of our next Alumni Spotlight feature, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your nomination.