Nineteenth in a series on this year’s 20 Under 40 winners.
CEDAR FALLS — Mark Watje took the reins at a major Cedar Falls manufacturer before turning 30.
The president of Curbtender Inc., which builds garbage trucks and street sweepers, may be young among his industry peers. But he’s been in training since grade school, when he went along on his father’s sales calls.
“I vividly recall being in people’s offices as they’re making deals and structuring different arrangements for business,” Watje said. “I thought this is something normal that people just did.
“I’m listening and soaking this all up,” he added. “I was surrounded by business culture and the lingo and how people do the give and take to make a deal.”
Two decades later Watje was brokering the sale of Wayne Engineering between two groups of investors, restructuring the company under the Curbtender name.
That accomplishment, along with Watje’s willingness to give back to the community, led Randy Pilkington to nominate him for The Courier’s 20 Under 40 recognition.
“Mark served as the key mediator between the sellers and buyers and positioned the company for future growth in its Cedar Valley location so it can remain an important employer in the Cedar Valley,” said Pilkington, executive director of Business and Community Services at the University of Northern Iowa.
Watje came from Carroll, in western Iowa, to earn a degree in marketing and management at UNI. He began working part time during college at Wayne Engineering, where his father, Kevin, was chief executive officer, and then joined the company full time after graduation.
“I was doing everything from driving garbage trucks to customers, writing technical manuals, doing part sales, taking photographs of trucks, whatever the company needed,” he said. “(My dad) has kept me humble throughout.”
Watje left Wayne Engineering briefly to take a job managing dealers and sales forces for Daimler Trucks North America in Dallas, where he was reportedly the company’s youngest executive in North America.
But he returned to the Cedar Valley in 2016 to become president at what is now Curbtender, where he worked to codify the company’s values and make sure actions aligned with those goals.
“Our company vision is to be the most respected manufacturer in our industry,” he said. “It is a moonshot goal, something that we want to strive and aspire to being, and we believe with that vision we will really unify around the right things that will prosper our business.”
Watje continues to give back to UNI, where he serves on the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center Advisory Council, mentors student entrepreneurs at the R.J. McElroy Student Business Incubator, and gives guest lectures to business transfer students.
“The thing that I try to hammer home to all of them is: Learn to ask yourself what is the value that you bring,” he said. “You can do a million things that you’re not any better at than anyone else. Figure out what that thing is that you do better than anyone else, where you provide value ... and lean into that.”
Watje noted he really enjoys the work he does at Curbtender, which is currently developing electric vehicles.
“We build big trucks,” he said. “It’s kind of like Tonka toys for adults. It never gets boring. We’re always bringing out new innovation, new products.
“At the end of the day our products are used to help improve our communities. We’re keeping them cleaner. We’re keeping them safer. There’s a lot of value in that, and there’s a lot of feel-good about building a good-looking truck that goes out into the streets and makes a community better.”
Watje and his wife, Heidi, have a daughter and are active members at Candeo Church.
The Courier’s Most-Read Local Business Stories of 2019.
The Courier's Most-Read Local Business Stories from 2019
Here are the most-read stories about local business openings, closings and happenings in The Courier in 2019, as measured in users to wcfcourier.com.
The proposed Lost Island Theme Park would include roller coasters and other thrill rides on nearly 200 acres near the Isle Casino Hotel Waterloo.
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Moline-based Deere & Co. rolled out a volunteer employee buyout program Wednesday morning.
CEDAR FALLS — It began in December 2017 with a song.
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The breakfast-all-day, lunch and beverage Farm Shed eatery and market pantry features locally sourced and organic products on Cedar Falls Parkade.
University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics helicopters will now be on standby at the Waterloo Airport for patients needing transport from local hospitals to the Iowa City hospital.
A Waterloo native, Hart is now the plant manager at the complex in his hometown after years of working in the business.
“You can do a million things that you’re not any better at than anyone else. Figure out what that thing is that you do better than anyone else, where you provide value ... and lean into that.”
"You can do a million things that you're not any better at than anyone else. Figure out what that thing is that you do better than anyone else, where you provide value ... and lean into that."