Inside Track: From a humble beginning, Curt Mulder has found success
A construction job in Lansing in 2002 set the stage for continued work in the housing development arena.
It’s fair to say that Curt Mulder swept his way into his executive position at one of the region’s top builders.
Mulder has been a vice president at Wolverine Building Group for nearly three years, heading the multi-family housing construction division. But when he started at the firm in 1998 when he was a full-time student at Calvin College, he became familiar with a somewhat uncommon, though useful, construction tool.
“I can tell you that I pushed a lot of brooms in my beginning stages of working for Wolverine,” he said with a smile. “I really wanted to get into the construction industry and I was in Calvin’s engineering program. If you’re in an engineering program, you don’t have a tremendous amount of interaction with how construction happens.
“I knew if I wanted to get into construction, I needed to get in soon. So after my sophomore year, I was lucky enough to land a job at Wolverine and pushed a broom for the next couple of years,” he said.
“It was a really valuable experience for me because when I went back to class, I’d be designing the size of beam and steel connections. Then later in the day, back when I was out pushing a broom, I could look at a steel structure and kind of put two and two together,” he said.
After he earned his civil engineering degree and his on-the-job education was finished, the firm made him a project manager in June 2001. Four years later, Wolverine promoted him to senior project manager, a post he held for five years, until April 2010, when he became a company vice president.
Mulder said his biggest career break came in 2002 when he’d worked as a project manager for about a year. He worked with a Lansing-area housing developer on a project that didn’t start out as a big job. In fact, when he got involved, the work to build 80 apartments and a clubhouse was already under way. Then, surprisingly, the project became a major development of 340 rental units.
“The relationship with that developer led to so many other relationships that I’ve built over the years that turned into lots of work in the Lansing and East Lansing areas and to some work coming back here to the Grand Rapids area,” he said. “It also led to work that we’ve done on the east side of the state.”
That Lansing job was the first one he ran on his own. “It just kind of set the stage for the work that I now do in the housing development arena,” he added. “I can say that I can track most of my current clients back to that one particular client. It was definitely the start of my multi-family (housing) career.”
Mulder, a Grand Rapids native, and his wife, Kate, live on 40 acres in Grattan Township with their three young children. Daughter Rylie is 6, Gideon will be 3 in March and Abby just turned 1 last month. With so young a crew, Christmas was an exciting time in the Mulder household.
“The oldest one, Rylie, kind of understands what Christmas is all about. Gideon really didn’t know what Christmas was all about last year, but he sure did this year,” said Mulder.
The couple met while Kate was living in Ramona, Calif., just northeast of San Diego. He went to visit a friend who lived in the area and they decided to do some volunteer work at Young Life, a nationwide nondenominational Christian ministry that reaches out to adolescents.
“Kate was basically the person that told us what to do when we showed up there, and ended up working along with us for that weekend — and, I guess, the rest is history,” he said with a laugh. They recently celebrated their eighth anniversary, after dating for two years.
The Mulders have livestock on their Grattan acreage. Curt became interested in farming as a youngster when his parents took him to a friends’ farm on Whitneyville Road. Kate got to know farming as a child, too, while growing up in Texas.
After they moved from the city and settled into their new rural location, they adopted about 30 chickens from Camp Roger, a Christian summer camp in Rockford. “We had no idea what we were doing then,” he said. “I think that weekend I ended up building a quick, make-shift chicken coop. Then my wife said it might be fun to raise a cow.”
So they bought two longhorns when they visited her parents in Texas in 2008, and suddenly the Mulders found themselves in the agriculture business.
“Now we have anywhere from 20 to 30 head of cattle, which includes calves, some mother cows and some older-brood cows. What’s nice about the longhorns is, in the summertime they pretty much take care of themselves,” he said. “The kids love to go out and feed the cows. It’s a fun thing for the whole family.”
With work, the farm and the kids, Mulder doesn’t have a lot of spare time on his hands, but when he does, he likes to hunt deer and ducks and can do so on his property. In addition, Mulder spends as much time with the kids as he possibly can. He plans to continue teaching Kylie how to swim this summer.
“The other thing I love to do is I love to fix things. So I’ve got some old trucks that I like to tinker around with,” he said.
Despite his tight schedule, Mulder stays active in the community by being involved with the Economic Club, Young Life, Urban Young Life, Blythfield Baptist Church and Camp Roger. At the professional level, he belongs to the Michigan Housing Council, which advocates for affordable housing, and the U.S. Green Building Council.
Mulder is starting his 15th year at Wolverine and his favorite project over those years is the Bunker Interpretive Center at Calvin College, which he worked on in 2004. He said it was a fun project, one that Wolverine designed and one of the first done to LEED guidelines. His role in the project was to select the systems that met those green standards.
“It’s a really, really unique building and, at the time, I believe it was the first gold-rated building in the Grand Rapids area. So that was certainly something I was proud of. The folks over at Calvin like to do things right, and we spent a lot of time designing that project, and it was a great learning experience for me,” he said.
This year looks to be a good one for Mulder and Wolverine. He said 2013 has a good chance to turn out to be the best year he and his firm has had so far in the multi-family housing market. “In fact, from a volume standpoint, we’ll double our best year ever in terms of doing housing work,” he said.
“Overall, as a construction company, we still continue to maintain a similar volume. Whether it’s health care work, manufacturing or retail, the overall pie is still roughly the same, but the housing is becoming a very large piece of that pie and that continues to take us all over the state and the Midwest. I guess the future is bright in that, and we continue to be leaders in that arena."