Happy Retirement, Marty!

With our warmest regards, PACE wishes Marty Penhallegon a happy retirement! After creating the company 33 years ago, Marty has led the expansion of new service lines, overseen the acquisition of eight firms, and supported the company’s growth to over 145 employees. With over 53 years of experience designing and managing major public works and private development projects, he has established PACE as an industry leader in civil engineering in the Pacific Northwest.

We interviewed Marty to hear about his wonderful career and journey at PACE.


Q: How did you get into the engineering profession?

A: Math always came easy to me. As a kid, I went to school to play sports and have fun. After graduating high school, I attended Yakima Valley College (YVC) for two years, recognizing the importance of adopting a mindset focused on good study habits and academic success. A friend‘s dad taught entry-level engineering classes at YVC, so I signed up and fell in love with civil engineering basics. I got all my required physics, chemistry, and math classes out of the way, which allowed me to get accepted into the University of Washington’s (UW) Civil Engineering Department. Living at home for those years allowed me to work afternoons, evenings and summers and save the money that allowed me to attend the U. I enjoyed my classes at UW and worked long hours to achieve good grades and “Tau Beta Pi” honors. I had such a great experience that I took another year and a half of master’s classes while working full-time.


Q: What was your first job out of college?  

A: I was extremely fortunate to have one of my favorite professors at UW notify me about a job opening in Seattle. The company was looking for a graduate engineer. A few phone calls later, an interview, and a recommendation from the professor, I had my first professional-level job at Horton Dennis and Associates. I remember being ecstatic having about a thousand dollars in the bank, the family’s old beat up “62” Belair Chevy, and a $10,000 a year in salary! My first project was designing water and sewer infrastructure for a major development area along Lake Whatcom, about five miles south of the City of Bellingham. The development was planned for 20,000 people. I was designing reservoirs, water booster stations, and a water system connecting them all, plus a five-mile sewer interceptor to the treatment facility for the City of Bellingham. How could I have fallen into a more fun project? My first municipal client was the Bellevue Sewer District before Bellevue was a city. I designed miles of sewers for the unsewered areas in Bellevue.


Q: What has been the biggest change in the engineering profession since you started in the industry?

A: Easily, technology in designing and operating systems in laying out civil and environmental infrastructure. When I started running hydraulic models to size piping in water systems, the company had a connection to a Boeing computer system. I had to connect to it on a special machine to run the Hardy Cross analysis. Back in the day, drafting was done on drafting boards with ink, mylar, and a lot of erasing. Does anyone remember what a slide ruler was? I also did all my typing on a Selectric Typewriter.


Q: What is your most memorable project?

A: This is a challenging question because I have been involved in so many significant projects in my career. My very first project, was creating the infrastructure for Sudden Valley as described above. Also about this time I was designing the “Mid-Town Interceptor” a sewer pipeline that served what is now the heart of Bellevue. Then, there was coming home late at night from the council meetings in the City of Soap Lake. I was their engineer for several years, designing their water system improvements, including their reservoir, sewer treatment facility and several street upgrades. Additionally, there was the design of the Bothell North Creek Valley development from the county line south to what is now Home Depot, the relocation of North Creek, and the first open water quality treatment pond in the State. I could go on!


Q: What piece of advice can you give to the younger generation of engineers?

A: Get experience on as many projects as possible that let you explore and develop your passions. See your clients’ projects from their shoes to understand what success means to them!  As you gain experience, ensure you do what it takes to help your team succeed. You become a more valuable engineer as you build your work portfolio and are willing to push work down and mentor the next level and show a desire to grow in areas that help the company’s success.


Q: What have you enjoyed the most about starting a new company and working at what is now called PACE?

A: I could write a book on this subject. I had a successful career at Horton Dennis & Associates, rising to the position of president while learning how to lead a successful Company. After the passing of the prior owner without a formal succession plan, I made multiple attempts over several years to acquire the company that were unsuccessful. Finally, I was asked to leave. Fortunately, I had Penhallegon Associates Consulting Engineers (PACE) incorporated as a backup plan. I got PACE’s first client, Coal Creek Utility District, to switch to my new business as I had been their Engineer for years. Shortly after that I was off and running. I persuaded a major developer to switch the 140-acre Pickering Place project to us. By the end of the first year (eight months later), we had seven employees, an office in Kirkland, and many clients pushing their work in our direction to the amazing team that had joined me.

So, to answer this question, it must be working with the amazing employees who have joined me on this adventure. Witnessing their passion to make our clients happy has made this an amazing experience. I have always preached, “We exist to make our clients successful!” That has been the driving factor behind what is now officially PACE. The Puget Sound Business Journal (PSBJ) named PACE one of the “Fastest Growing” (and, as I always say, one of the most successful) private companies in the Northwest eight times. We have also been named the “Best Place to Work” by the PSBJ several times. Growing a company from one to 145 employees is very rewarding. However, completing the succession plan I started over 28 years ago by transitioning the company ownership and leadership to the next level of owners has been an amazing experience. Handing them the keys to drive PACE’s future down their chosen roads is exciting, considering the route I had to take to get here!


Q: What will you miss the most about PACE?

A: Working alongside my amazing team at PACE and helping clients succeed. However, I am looking forward to enjoying the fruits of the many successes I’ve experienced over my career.

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