Earth Construction & Engineering, Inc.
An Entrepreneurial Profile
December 24 2001
Published by The Entrepreneurial Institute 2001*
His faith, football, and Scouting were significant influences in the life of Cook Lougheed. From these he learned perseverance and dedication with a “can do “attitude, discipline and determination the ability to take risks, an innate confidence in himself and belief in “The Golden Rule.”
Cook’s football career included an Indiana State High School championship as a member of Fort Wayne’s North Side Redskins, and a national championship as a member of an undefeated 1943 Purdue University football team. Cook admits that he might not have been the biggest guy on the field, but proudly proclaims that he “was the fastest guy – for the first five feet!”
From the age of eleven right on into his seventies, Cook has been very active in Scouting. Over the years he has attained most merit badges and national honor awards and classifications known to Scouting.
As the Lord led Cook through these and other experiences, he acquired the attributes and qualities that inspired and enabled him to become a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist.
Olin Pierre Lougheed was born in Montpelier, Ohio, in 1922. He had an older sister, Olene. His father, Olin D. Lougheed, was an automobile salesman. Prior to starting her own family, his mother, Ethel Weaver, had been a teacher. She was a graduate of Bowling Green University, where she was a member of the women’s basketball team.
In 1928, the Lougheed family moved to Fort Wayne. Cook’s father had taken a job as General Manager of the Lion Clothing Company, which tailor-made suits for farmers, by marketing their product to the wives. This suit purchase was likely the only such purchase most farmers ever made. The farmer’s suit mostly was used for church weddings and funerals -often his own. Many farmers bought their suits on credit, paying a quarter a week.
In the late spring of 1929, the Lougheed family packed up their “28 Overland automobile and started on a 6-month cross-country camping adventure. Since she was a schoolteacher, Ethel Lougheed had no qualms about taking her two children out of school. She made sure that the children didn’t miss any lessons as the family toured the Western states.
When the family was touring Texas, they realized 1heywere getting low on funds. But this didn’t turn out to be a problem as Mr. Lougheed just took a job as a roofing salesman on commissions. He worked for about a month generating the cash needed to continue their odyssey.
“Dad was an entrepreneur,” Cook recalls, “a salesman, capable of doing just about anything.”
The family traveled from Texas to Arizona, where they picked up Cook’s mother’s sister who had tuberculosis. They continued on through Arizona into California At this point, Cook’s sister, Olene, became homesick for her grandmother, and the family headed back eastward. By the time they got back to Indiana, the Depression hit – hard. The family kept on going, to Bryan, Ohio, as employment opportunities were more promising there.
Cook’s dad immediately got a job-at Bryan’s Art Arrow factory as a tool-and-die maker, a skill he always felt was invaluable. He believed he could always count on his tool-and_ die capability to provide for his family. But after months of inside factory work, he longed to be back outside.
Cook’s dad decided on a new venture: he”d buy eggs from area farmers, candle, sort, grade and crate them, and then take them to Toledo and sell them to Kroger’s. He made a deal with Kroger to supply them with eggs, working with a Kroger’s purchasing agent.
Mr. Harry Rogers, Sr., (who would one day have his own grocery store chain in Fort Wayne.) Young Cook helped his father in this venture.
“”To this day, I could candle eggs two at a time-with either hand! It’s a skill like riding a bicycle -you never forget!”
As this egg business developed, Cook’s father saw another opportunity. After delivering the eggs in Toledo, he’d go on to Sandusky and buy fresh fish, which he”d deliver and sell to Kroger in Fort Wayne. Then he”d head back to Bryan and get another load of eggs and start the cycle all over again.
The fish business eclipsed the egg business, so he moved the family to Fort Wayne and started Lougheed Wholesale at 410 Madison Street. The business ultimately became quite successful and Mr. Lougheed then sold it to his sales manager, when the venture became less challenging – Another endeavor had crossed his mind.
Cook’s dad, Olin, rented a large old barn on Clinton Street. He went back to his farmers and made a deal to buy their chickens. The Lougheed family would then dress and clean the chickens in the old barn. Cook’s dad had made another good deal with Kroger and the other local markets, and he supplied them chickens to order -pieces or whole – whatever the store wanted. This, too, became a very successful enterprise. He then sold it, again to move on to more entrepreneurial challenges.
For a change of pace, Cook’s dad bought a lakefront home on Lake James, north of Fort Wayne. After spending time remodeling it, he sold it for a nice profit and moved on to other ventures.
The summer before Cook’s senior year in high school, his father bought another lake home, this one on Lake Wawasee, and opened a tool-and-die shop. Cook didn’t want to move to Wawasee. It was his senior year, he was on the football team, and he had an after-school job. So, he moved into the YMCA.
“I was always independent – with my work and football and scouting and stuff,” Cook says.
Ultimately, Cook’s father sold the Wawasee property and moved to Sarasota, Florida He opened a real estate trading company. This business traded residential and commercial property between clients in Indiana and Florida
Cook noted that his father was always successful, and always had enough money. However, once his dad made a business venture successful, he lost interest in it as soon as the challenge to succeed had been met, he”d sell that business and move on to something else. Although Cook wanted to be successful too, he decided that he didn’t want to copy his parents” vagabond lifestyle. He preferred setting down roots to establish a more consistent family atmosphere.
Early Years, Continued
Cook always had his own money. From early on, he”d been an entrepreneur, too. He”d had a paper route in Bryan before he was eleven. As a child in Bryan, Cook also had a business where he bought broken bicycles from other kids, repaired them, and then sold them at a nice profit.
In 1934 at the age of twelve, Cook and his family moved back to Fort Wayne. He went to Smart Elementary, and then to North Side High School.
By this time, he’d gotten his nickname, “Cook.” During halftime at a grade school basketball game in which he was playing, Cook wanted some popcorn. When he went to the concession stand the girls running it told him the popcorn popper was broken. Cook stepped behind the counter, looked the popcorn popper over, and set about fixing it. And then he popped some popcorn just as the rest of his teammates came looking for him.
When they found him working the concession stand they began to call him “Cook.” The girls said he was no cook; he was their “cookie.” The name stuck. After graduating from high school, he changed his name from “Cookie “to “Cook.” Some years later, he had his name legally changed to “Cook Lougheed/” since most people knew him by that name.
Starting in the eighth grade, Cook worked part-time as an usher at the Scottish Rite Theater. By the time he was a sophomore, Cook was supplying the ushers to the Scottish Rite.
Cook had joined the Boy Scouts back in Bryan at the age of eleven. He continued his involvement with the Scouts when he moved to Fort Wayne. Cook was Handicraft Director at the Boy Scout Camp during 1938 and 1939. Of course, Cook became an
Eagle Scout. It is interesting to note that he obtained this high honor at 16 years old, an age much younger than most.
In his senior year, along with class and Scouts and football, Cook got a job working in the hardware department at Sears. A dedicated worker, he attended school and yet worked Wednesday and Friday nights, and all day Saturday.
“I learned a lot about tools,” he says.
He learned a lot about football, too. His North Side Redskins” football team lost only two games in the four years Cook played guard.
He”d also learned a lot about money.
“I always had my own money. Of course, I earned it myself In 1940 when I was a senior in high school, I had a beautiful “39 Buick Road master 4-door. Paid cash for it, too. And it was the third car I’d owned by then, and I was only 17 Y2 years old.”
The War Years
After he graduated from North Side, Cook applied to and was accepted at the General Electric Apprentice School.
“My dad wanted me to learn the tool-and-die trade, because it was something you could always fall back on,” Cook says.
After about eighteen months in the apprentice school, Cook decided that he didn’t like factory work at all.
“Too mundane,” he says drolly.
It was about this time in 1942, at the urging of some of Cook’s former North Side teammates, that the Ball State football coach offered Cook a football scholarship. Cook headed to Muncie.
In typical Cook Lougheed fashion, as soon as he got to Ball State, he got a part-time job in a local factory as a jig-and-fixture maker, where he worked from 6PM to midnight. He also got a job at the school bookstore, which he opened at 6AM, and where he worked until class began at eight. Cook attended class from eight till noon, at which time he had a quick lunch and went back to the bookstore until two. Then it was time for class again.
At three-ten, he went to football practice until -forty-five. He reported for his factory job at six.
“I don’t remember how I ever found time to study, but I did. And for me, I got really good grades, too,” Cook recalls.
Cook, the Marine
In the fall of “42, Cook and two of his Ball State teammates went to Indianapolis and enlisted in the Marine Corps. Because they were all “college boys,” the Marines told them to apply to Officer Candidate School. Cook was the only one of the three to pass all the tests. The Marines told Cook to go back to Ball State and they”d be in touch.
Cook continued his football and educational career throughout the “42/”43 school year at Ball State. Cook truly loved the game of football and had aspirations of one day becoming a football coach.
In the summer of 1943, Cook was told by the Marine Corps to report to Purdue University. Standing in formation at Purdue, the Marine Officer Candidates were asked to name the type of engineering they were planning to study. This question caught Cook by surprise, as he hadn’t planned on studying engineering. He”d always wanted to be football coach. However, Cook was quick to realize that if the Marine Corps wanted to put him through engineering school at Purdue, he would be wise to seize the opportunity. Besides, believing that God was in control, Cook felt that perhaps this was God’s leading.
He quickly thought about what he knew about the duties of various disciplines of engineering. He concluded that while his knowledge of engineers” duties was fairly limited, he did feel that civil engineers seemed to spend more time outdoors than any other type of engineer. So while standing in the formation line at Purdue, Cook impulsively decided to pursue a degree in civil engineering. This decision set the course for an entrepreneurial adventure.
It was during this time that Cook was a member of the Purdue national championship football team of 1943. It is worth noting that he may have set a family precedent: Cook’s son, Scott, was Purdue’s punter from 1968 to 1972, and Scott’s son, Pete, is currently a starter for Purdue. That makes three generations of Lougheeds on the Purdue football team, which is quite a remarkable accomplishment.
It was also around this time that Cook decided to marry his sweetheart, Jeanne Sibbitt.
Cook and Jeanne bad been in love for a couple of years. Jeanne bad grown up in Flora, a little town south of Fort Wayne. When she graduated from high school, she came to Fort Wayne and went to International Business College. Upon graduation, she interviewed for a job opening at the Boy Scout Office. Cook, of course, spent a lot of his time at the Boy Scout office. But he never ran into Jeanne there, because Jeanne discovered a better opportunity at the Fort Wayne Traction Company.
“It was the Lord’s destiny that we should meet!” declares Cook solemnly.
In spite of Jeanne not taking the Boy Scout job where she very likely would have met Cook, the Lord apparently intervened. Cook’s Boy Scout troop friend. ironically named Chuck Lord, was working at Fort Wayne Traction. He met Jeanne shortly after she began her employment there. Chuck suggested to Cook that he ask Jeanne out.
“Chuck said, “She’s a keeper, Cook!”” laughs Cook, “and he was sure right about that!” Cook and Jeanne married that fall of 1943, at his parents” home at Lake Wawasee. When he”d first joined the Marines, there had been no restriction of officer candidates getting married. Some time after that, but before Cook and Jeanne married, the Corps changed its policy. Cook and Jeanne got married anyway. They just didn’t mention it to the Corps. For the next twenty months, Jeanne lived in her own apartment in Lafayette and worked in the Personnel Department of Alcoa. She and Cook got together whenever they could.
At the end of that twenty months at Purdue, Cook was ordered to Parris Island for Marine Boot Camp. Ironically, Cook says, “football practice was harder” than Boot Camp.
Following Boot Camp graduation, Cook went to Camp Lejeune.
At Camp Lejeune, the Marine Corps announced that OCS candidates now could be married after all. Jeanne then joined him there. She and Cook were married (again) by a Navy chaplain in June of 1945.
“I got the weekend off to celebrate our honeymoon, while the rest of my unit had to spend the weekend camping out in a swamp!” Cook says with a grin.
The day the United States first bombed Japan, Cook’s Marine training stopped. He was discharged from the Corps at the Maine base at Quantico, VA. He had spent three years, four months, and twenty-eight days in the Marine Corps.
Cook left Quantico on a Thursday, hitchhiking to Washington, D.C. He got a train back to Indiana, arriving Friday night. Cook then hitchhiked to Purdue, arriving in time Saturday to sign up for his remaining classes, which he started attending that Monday.
As luck would have it, he and Jeanne got their old apartment back, a block from the Purdue Student Union building. A semester later, Cook graduated from Purdue with degree in Public Service Engineering, a management degree that includes civil engineering coursework, along with public speaking and accounting.
About the same time Cook was graduating from Purdue, he and Jeanne were graduating to parenthood. Their first daughter, Nancee, was born in Lafayette in March of 1946.
Cook’s Career Commences
After graduation, Cook and Jeanne decided they would move to Fort Wayne. Cook dropped Jeanne and Nancee off in Flora with her parents and came to Fort Wayne to find employment and a place to live.
Cook found an opportunity on Lake Avenue: half a house for $30 a month, about a quarter of the going rental rate in the city. The place was big and old, with a coal furnace, but the price was right.
He then went out to the Salvation Army store and bought an old gas stove, an ice box, and some pieces of furniture. The lady in the apartment behind Cook’s was moving out of town to be with her husband, and sold Cook her nearly new bedroom suite at a very good price. He put it in the downstairs bedroom.
Upstairs were three bedrooms. The wheels were turning in Cook’s brain. He went back to the Salvation Army and bought three more beds — two doubles and a single — and put them in the upstairs bedrooms. He then drove out to Indiana Institute of Technology and found five young men in need of housing to rent his bedrooms. He now would not only be living free, but would be making some money on top of it.
He proudly drove down to Flora and brought Jeanne and Nancee to their new home on Lake Avenue.
Still very interested in sports, Cook became an umpire for the Indiana Umpires Association, refereeing both football base and basketball games in Indiana, Ohio. and Michigan.
He also took a job with The Magnavox Company as an “industrial engineer,” which really turned out to be nothing more than an assistant expediter’s job. When Cook got the job, his boss, Mr. Miller, said that Cook was overqualified and the job would not hold Cook’s interest for long. Mr. Miller’s prediction soon became true.
One Friday evening some months later, while Jeanne and Nancee were in Flora for a few days visiting her parents, Cook went to an outdoor wrestling match downtown. Sitting at ringside, Cook struck up a conversation with a fellow who was a distributor of a waterproofing product called “Sera-Seal.” One of this fellow’s dealers was May Stone and Sand. In the course of their conversation, the man told Cook that May might be in the market for an engineer.
The next day, Saturday, Cook went out to May Stone and Sand. They hired him as a sales representative for Sera-Seal, gave him a 2-year-old company car, and sent him out to sell to hardware stores and the like.
“Sera-Seal was such a neat product,” Cook reminisces. “It worked great on concrete block as well as canvas!”
A short time later, Cook was promoted to engineer, when his predecessor left to take on a county political position. As May’s engineer, Cook learned all about excavating and how to accurately estimate, using time and measurement functions.
After four years at May Stone and Sand, Cook was running everything in May’s Construction Division – all the bidding, field supervision, and engineering.
I told them I wanted to buy in,” says Cook. “I guess I kind of took them by surprise. They said they”d need a couple weeks to think it over.”
A couple weeks turned to four. Jeanne was pregnant with son, Scott, who would be born in May of 1950. Obviously this was not a good time to be unemployed. Yet, when May’s finally said they “weren’t ready” to let him buy in, Cook was confident enough to take the risk, so he quit.
Cook took a job managing a cement plant for Old Fort Supply. The pay was very good, but after six months on the job, Cook was bored stiff.
“”It didn’t satisfy the creative side of me,” declares Cook.
The Entrepreneurial Adventure
It was 1951, and Cook finally realized the only way he”d really ever be happy was to call his own shots – to own his own business.
So, Cook turned in his resignation to Old Fort, leaving on excellent terms. He and two other fellows – one a bulldozer operator, the other a crane operator – prepared to start their own business. At the last minute, the bulldozer operator backed out.
ln spite of that setback, Cook and his crane operator/partner, Al Bergdall, bravely started Earth Construction & Engineering, Inc.
They pooled their money and bought a used crane, using it to dig their first residential basement for a friend, “Fuzz” Schaefer. Al ran the crane. and Cook served as the “bottom man,” spending time in the hole, making sure it was dug to the right depth, and properly level. At the end of that first day, Cook climbed out of the hole and made an important discovery.
“I discovered that I didn’t want to do that forever. I told Al we needed to hire a bottom man. So that first day we hired our first employee – a Hungarian friend of Al’s named Steve Elonzo – who ended up becoming our General Superintendent”
And then I wondered what the heck were we going to do for work the next day? I told Al I needed to start networking to drum up some new business for us!”
And get business he did. Almost immediately, Earth Construction began handling all of the excavating work for Worthman Homes, starting with Worthman’s newest development, Woodhurst. Within two years, Cook and Al had all the excavating work that had previously been handled by May Stone and Sand. They also were now doing all the excavating for Lebrato Brothers Homes.
Cook proudly proclaims that the first key to the success of Earth Construction was simple – the work ethic of his employees.
“They were a dandy bunch of guys,” he declares fondly.
The second key was “The Businessman’s Ten Commandments,” which Cook and Al instilled in their employees, and shared with their customers:
- Thou shalt not have neglected thy family for thy business, but give each their allotted time.
- Thou shalt not make the green paper thy only goal in thy business, but try to keep honor and pride in thy work.
- Thou shalt not take the written laws as thy only guide, but observe The Moral Law without which all Freedom, including Free Enterprise, perishes.
- Remember the Sabbath day and close thy mind to business as well as thy office door.
- Honor thy supplier, employees, and thy customer, for without them thou would be helpless.
- Thou shalt not kill the soul of business which is true competition.
- Thou shalt not enter into collusion.
- Thou shalt not steal thy employees’ fair and earned portion of the profits.
- Thou shalt not bear false e witness against thy competitor by bringing to light their weakness and hiding their talents.
- Thou shalt not covet thy associate ‘s business, nor his customers, nor anything that is thy associate’s.
Cook and Al’s employees worked very hard, every day. That work ethic was there right from the start. From the beginning, as new employees were hired, they saw the standard of hard work that was already in place at Earth Construction. They either quickly met the expected performance standard of their co-workers, or they quit.
“It was self-policing and self-sustaining,” says Cook.
Cook and Al agreed that their firm would never work on Sundays.
“We never did, either,” says Cook proudly.
Cook and Al also did an unusual and innovative thing – they published their rates, which were higher than many of their competitors. The competition quickly raised their prices to match Earth’s. However, without the work ethic of Earth’s dedicated employees” (which resulted in jobs being done correctly and quicker), customers soon found that the competition couldn’t match Earth’s better service.
By the end of the second year, Cook and Al had bought used dump truck, a bulldozer, and a second crane.
From three employees at the start of Earth Construction, by the end of the first year there were eight. At its height, Earth Construction employed more than seventy, operating within a 150-mile radius of Fort Wayne.
While starting out excavating basements, Earth eventually was involved in many local and regional municipal projects, such as sewer and water line installation and repair, in addition to developing a number of well-known residential housing communities, like Sunny Brook Acres, Avalon, and Bittersweet Moors. Some of these projects would be over $3 million dollars.
Earth Construction always had a distinct competitive advantage, Cook believes. This included their ability to do the job when scheduled, doing the job right -the first time, doing the job quicker than the competition could, and finally, making sure the customer was happy. When it came to competitive bidding, the low price didn’t always get the job. Doing the job quicker and better often was more important than price.
“We had a good reputation,” says Cook, “all due to the men in the field. They knew what they were doing.”
Cook formed and ran other companies as well. Among these were Land and New Development, Inc.; Commercial Excavating, Inc., Lougheed Developing, LLC; and Bitter Sweet Moors Development Corporation.
He and Jeanne celebrated the birth of daughter, April, on April 3rd, 1956.
After Al retired, Cook ran Earth Construction by himself for a few years. In 1985, he sold it to long-time employee and friend, Mike Everson, an Eagle Scout. Mike continues to run Earth Construction in the same manner as Cook had, and enjoys similar success.
Over the years, Cook has been very involved in civic matters.
He served on the Parkview Hospital board for thirty-five years, two years as president. The former Frances Slocum School recently was renamed and rededicated the “Cook Lougheed Center” in honor of Cook’s long-time involvement with the Parkview Foundation.
Cook also has served on the Zoo board for thirty-five years, two years as president.
Speaking of boards, Cook has served on many: The Civic Theater, Boy Scouts, Better Business Bureau, Goodwill, Purdue University, Christ Methodist and Aldersgate Methodist Churches, Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, Allen County Children’s Home, Fort Wayne Kiwanis Club, Downtown Rotary Club, Indiana Order of Masons, and Wesley Manor Retirement Home in Frankfort, Indiana.
Now that Cook is retired, he has limited his involvement to the Zoo, Parkview, the Boy Scouts, Purdue University, and Aldersgate Methodist Church.
The Boy Scouts of America have had a special place in Cook’s heart from the time he was eleven. Cook became an Eagle Scout as a teenager. Years later. Cook was the Area Inspector of all the Boy Scout Camps in Indiana. He’s served on the National Council of Boy Scouts, and was president of the Anthony Wayne Council of the Boy Scouts of America for three years. Cook also has been the recipient of the Boy Scouts” Silver Beaver, Silver Antelope, and prestigious Distinguished Eagle Scout Awards. He has achieved his Wood Badge and the Tri-Order of the Arrow. He is a Gold Member of the Founder’s Circle.
Cook also served as Allen County Councilman for six years.
These days, “retired” Cook is still actively engaged in entrepreneurship. He is involved in commercial real estate. Among his holdings are the Metro Building downtown, several parking facilities around the Metro Building, the Keystone Complex on the north side of Fort Wayne, a building on the southwest comer of Wayne at Barr, and the oldest building in downtown Fort Wayne, 818 S. Lafayette.
Cook also is involved in residential development. His Bittersweet Development Company has developed an area roughly bounded by US 24, Amber Road, Liberty Mills Road, and Homestead Road. Cook is also developing Lake Trails Estates east of Columbia City, which includes beautiful lakefront lots on its two lakes.
“I”m pretty busy these days,” admits Cook the Entrepreneur, with a grin.
On Borrowing Money·
“Early on my accountant said I should go borrow some money from Fort Wayne National Bank. They were our bank back then. I said “Why? We don’t need it.” He said. “Well. just go borrow some money and pay it back in a little while. Then sometime when you want to borrow some money, they”ll know who you are and that you”ll pay it right back.”
It was good advice. Later o we did have to borrow money. Remember some subdivisions we did where we had to borrow over a million dollars!”
Weren’t you scared?
“I don’t know – I was just stupid enough not to know what the hell was doing! Seriously, though, I always just kept on plugging along – never had any real fears.”
On Written Business Plans
“The only plan really ever had was to treat my employees the way I”d want to be treated.”
“We did a lot of employee entertaining. We always had a big Christmas party, and they”d all get pretty decent gifts. We set up a pension plan where they”d put in some of their wages, and we”d contribute to it. We had a health plan. We had a couple of party buses – we”d converted a couple ABC flexible buses – and we”d take employees and their wives to football games. We had twenty season tickets per bus. We”d take customers and employees canoeing on the Pine River up by Cadillac, Michigan. We took our superintendents and their wives to Grand Cayman Island. We took them to New York. We”d rent a Greyhound bus and take customers and employees and their wives to baseball and football games in Chicago, and to the museums.”
“One thing I didn’t do – I never gave a special gift to somebody in city government while they were still with the city. I remember a head of the Water Department – we did a lot of work with them – and when he retired, I gave him a real fancy fly-fishing outfit. I wouldn’t give him anything as long as he was employed by the city, but once he retired, I felt I was free to give him something to say thanks for past business. We were very careful to stay within the guidelines of what was proper and ethical.
“I always had an inner confidence that in anything – if you would work twice as hard as the other guy, that you could become a success! And I still believe that!”
“But as far as a plan, well, we paid good wages – and we were a family. That’s what it was. It was a family.”
“I always treated other people the way I”d want to be treated. Sales techniques? Simple. The customer was always right. Whatever we”d do, we”d do it to please them, hoping to get the next job, which we generally did.”
“We established the reputation that whatever cost we bid, we”d stand behind it. And we did.”
On Initial Operating Capital
“We started with six thousand dollars back in 1951. Al was established, and he had three thousand dollars. I had to borrow mine. My dad co-signed a $3000 loan for me at his bank in Syracuse. With that, we were able to put a down payment on the crane, plus some shovels and other incidentals. We paid it back yet that summer, and just kept on going.”
“From early on, I don’t remember any. I found the work and the guys did it. We got a lot of work because our bids were often lower than our competitors. But we could do the jobs for the prices we quoted because we had better crews and harder workers. We weren’t unionized. Our guys cared. It was their company!”
“I would always look at things and analyze it four or five ways. Sometimes we used unconventional means, but we always got the end result we needed. We were innovative. There was always another way to do a job better and cheaper. We did a lot of that stuff.”
“If you run into a problem, you just solve it Period.”
“Common sense was the best tool I had.”
On Being Self-Employed
“I never could have worked for someone else for all my life. I wanted to be my own boss – to do my own ideas.”
By the time Cook started Earth Construction he”d been working for nearly twenty-five years – and he wasn’t quite thirty years old! At the age of seven, Cook’s entrepreneurial spirit exhibited itself, as Cook sold a Jell-O-type product door-to-door in Bryan, Ohio. As a child, he also had fixed and sold used bicycles, and had both a paper and a Saturday Evening Post route. As an adult, at May Stone and Sand, after two months, Cook was running May’s entire construction division single-handedly. Cook always had lots of drive, and energy.
“Until I was way past my fifties, I never understood the word ‘tired.””
How about the word “fear?”
“I didn’t know enough to fear anything!” Cook laughs.
“I”ve always been a loner. I think things out for myself. There was no one person I would call a “mentor” someone to help me figure it out … I”m sure I missed a lot of opportunities – could”ve made more money – but, the mistakes were fewer than the successes!”
Did you learn from your mistakes?
“O yeah! Gosh, yeah. Yes…”
Did you make the same mistake twice?
“I don’t even remember making the first one,” says Cook slyly.
“Sure, we had some fail but nothing really major at all: like when you run into nock and you”re not expecting it -or water -but, you just buckle up and work harder!”
“Oh, we”d get in trouble once in a while digging in the wrong spot – like on someone else’s property – but most of the time we”d have a city inspector with us showing where to dig.”
On Important People
“There have been more than a few people that have meant a lot to me in many ways over the years. Obviously, Jeanne’s been my life partner going on nearly sixty years. And there’s my Constant Companion, the Lord. Glen Beams has been my long-time attorney and Scout Master. Al Bergdall, my good friend and business partner. And all our employees, the best workers in the world! There’s my friend Lowell Griffin, the realtor. And Jerry Kramer, Sr., my insurance man. Barry Sturges and I have been in a number of limited partnerships together. Jeff Thomasson has been a great financial planner for me. And I don’t want to forget James Johnston, my banker. I”ve been blessed with great customers who”ve also been friends- like John Worthman, and Max Shambaugh; Jim Brooks, and Lebrato Brothers. Then there’s Mark Slen at Parkview Hospital. And Earl Wells of the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo. And I can’t forget to mention R. L. Van Horn and Oral Smith of the Boy Scouts. All very important people to me.”
“We had a welder one time who was blown out of the crane when he was welding a diesel tank – or maybe it was a gas tank – I can’t remember. Anyway, he got burned very badly. He passed away after a couple of weeks. That was real hard. Just one of those fluke things ….”
“We had a sand pit – a bank – on our property off Engle Road. One of our employees and his family lived half a block away. In spite of their parents telling the kids not to, the kids would dig in the bank, making tunnels. Our employee’s little girl was playing there with the other kids when the tunnel caved in on her. The other kids were afraid to go home, and they waited half an hour. Then when they went home and the parents came running back, the kids indicated where they thought their friend was. The parents dug for another twenty minutes, but it was the wrong place. Finally, the littlest young boy said: “Uh, no, she’s up here….” Then, of course, they found her – and she was gone….”
The dead girl’s parents assured Cook he was not responsible. They had told their kids not to play in the sand pit many times.
Cook was still distraught. The deceased girl had an older sister who was graduating high school, and Cook offered to put her through four years of college – all expenses paid. The girl went a year, and dropped out. To this day, Cook’s not sure why.
On Fort Wayne’s Importance to his Success
“Fort Wayne’s been great to us – been wonderful to us. Being known and being from here’s certainly an asset. But I think with the right ingredients, you can be a success anywhere you want to go.”
“I was known here. I got involved in the Purdue Club, which had a lot of contractors in it. That, to a degree, was important. I think we”d have eventually ended up the same way if we”d gone any place – because we had what I felt were the things that made a company successful: good service, decent prices, and the customer’s always right… Entrepreneurs can go anyplace where there is a need of their talents, and they”ll be a success.”
On Hiring Good Employees
“We discovered in hiring individuals that if we”d hire a boy off the farm he was used to dirt, mud, and work. There were very few city boys who had any idea what work was. Just that little idea right there gave us better men. The only other asset we looked for was if some kid came in and said he”d been involved in scouting- especially if he were an Eagle Scout, we hired him on the spot.”
Advice to Would-Be Entrepreneurs
“If you really want to be (an entrepreneur) – just DO IT!”
“I think being an entrepreneur just comes naturally. An entrepreneur doesn’t stand back and wonder: “Am I sure that can be done?” He just does it. To me, an entrepreneur just has a “can do” attitude, the desire to move ahead.”
“I can’t relate to a lot of businessmen here in town – your bank presidents, your CEOs of companies. They have a lot of committees, a lot of people under them, and they have a board of directors they have to cow-tow to. I don’t think I could”ve done that. I had to make my own decisions. I”m independent. I was lucky, I made more right decisions than bad ones.”
“You”ve got to be a leader -even leading yourself forward.”
“I can’t imagine having to sit down and report to a board of directors. Even though I am and have been on many boards, when I settled down (to just six boards), I became president of three of them!”
“But never get so married to your work that there’s nothing else in your life.”
It appears Cook Lougheed was born to be an entrepreneur, a self-starter, a leader of men; in some ways, perhaps, a Legend of sorts in his own time.
Cook’s father obviously was an entrepreneur. His dad’s two brothers owned their own businesses, one with a service station in Bradner, Ohio. The other ended up with a furniture store in Montpelier, Ohio, after creating four or five other businesses, from eggs and poultry to cabinetry. Cook’s cousin still runs the furniture store in Montpelier.
Cook and Jeanne’s three children are entrepreneurial, too. Nancee has a doctorate in counseling psychology, with her own practice here in Fort Wayne. Scott has his own environmental engineering firm in Fort Wayne. April is a web-designer running her own successful company in the Indianapolis area, with clients from Indiana to Israel.
Cook and Jeanne have been blessed with a loving marriage that has spanned nearly sixty years, with a harvest that includes three children and three grandchildren and two step-grandchildren, who are incorporating the Lougheed entrepreneurial legacy and are sure to become successes in their own right.
In the Introduction, we mentioned that Cook’s life revolved around his faith, football, and Scouting. Until the Marine Corps made him an engineer at Purdue, Cook had planned on being a high school or college football coach who taught science and math. Prior to going to Purdue, Cook wasn’t aware of the different engineering disciplines. He chose “Public Service” engineering because he felt it would put him in charge – to be the one “making the decisions,” he says, “much like a coach.”
As it turned out, Cook Lougheed ultimately became the “coach” he”d always wanted to be
-but with a lot more players, and a much larger field of play.
In addition, Cook took to heart the “coaching” of the Almighty, and followed “The Golden Rule” to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Since he was eleven, Cook has never stopped being a Boy Scout. He’s lived his life guided by the following:
The Boy Scout Oath
On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and country, to obey the Scout laws, to help other people at all times, to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.
According to Cook, “”Everything I am came from the Boy Scouts, and the Lord. I”ve had such a wonderful life, and the Lord’s been so good to me!”
Cook Lougheed is a shining example of an entrepreneur whose faith, family, focus and fortitude all have blended together very successfully. One need only follow the “Cook’s” classic recipe to achieve a very good life.