Meet & Greet with Lydig Construction CFO Katie Burton
~June 8th, 2023
Spokane Valley-based Lydig Construction Inc. recently appointed Katie Burton as the company’s new chief financial officer. Burton, 42, succeeds Mark Bray, who retired at the start of the year after serving in that role for 28 years.
Burton grew up in the small farming town of Deary, Idaho, 24 miles east of Moscow, Idaho. She attended Walla Walla Community College, in Walla Walla, Washington, where she played basketball for two years before transferring to the University of Idaho, in Moscow, and receiving a degree in accounting.
Upon graduating and passing the certified public accountant exam, she joined the Spokane offices of Seattle-based accounting firm Moss Adams LLP, where she specialized in audits before transitioning to taxes. In Feb. 2018, she joined Lydig as the company’s controller.
Burton is a member of several boards including the YMCA of the Inland Northwest, Second Harvest Inland Northwest, and the Spokane chapter of the Construction Financial Management Association. At Lydig, Burton is the sole female in Lydig’s ownership group of 12 people.
Lydig has a staff of 160 full-time employees between its offices in Spokane Valley and Bellevue, Washington. About 85 employees report to the Spokane Valley headquarters located at 11001 E. Montgomery.
Lydig currently has about 60 projects in the works and a projected annual revenue of $375 million.
In a recent interview, Burton, a 2016 Journal of Business Rising Star, talks about her career, what drew her to accounting, and what she hopes to accomplish in her new role.
How did you choose accounting as a career?
I think I knew early on. When I was 5 years old, my mom would give me a bag of M&M’s, and I would ask for containers so I could sort them by colors, then divide them into their containers. I was just that type of person. My parents were like, I think you’re going to be a businessperson. My dad was a partner in a business that was an S-corporation, and when I was a sophomore in high school, he took me to meet his accountant.
It was a large firm, and I got to tour the offices, and I was just like, this is really cool. Then I took an accounting class in high school, and it was easy and made sense to me. My teacher was like, you’re kind of good at this, you should consider this as a career.
I majored right away. I feel lucky because I didn’t deviate from my goal. I set a plan, and I was interviewed by a local paper—I still have the clipping where I say, I would like to go to Walla Walla Community College for two years, transfer to the University of Idaho where I’m going to pursue my accounting degree and then work in a public accounting firm after that.
How did you come to Lydig?
I used to be an auditor here at Lydig, and I always said that if I would ever consider leaving Moss Adams … Lydig was at the top of the list.
At Moss Adams, I worked in audits for eight years, then switched to taxes for the remaining seven years, always focused on construction. I’ve worked with probably 80 different contractors in my career. When a marketing position opened (at Lydig), I told my husband, I know this means I have to step off (Lydig’s) audit, but you really need to work here. He has been with Lydig for over 15 years now. Then when the controller position opened, I went to Mark Bray, and we had a discussion. We met at Perry Street Brewery, and he offered me the controller position pending approval from the rest of the management team. He said, “As long as you don’t screw it up, the CFO position will be yours.”
When I started at Lydig … we were a little old school on some things. But it was a really great foundation I could build on. I had known Chris Noel, the prior controller, and Mark for a long time. Chris had the financials locked down. There was not a lot of room for error.
Is construction still a male-dominated field?
Yes, I’d say the industry is. I’m proud of Lydig’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, not just gender. There are a lot of females who are rising ranks at our company, and it’s great to see. But in the industry, if you go to any construction project anywhere, you’re not going to see a lot of females.
Accounting is more diverse. I’m grateful for the mentors I’ve had and the females who have plowed the way for the rest of us, including some at this company who have retired.
It has not always been easy. At Moss Adams, they started a women’s initiative maybe 15 years ago, and I was on the committee. Some of the partners at Moss Adams were women and were huge advocates for me. I talk frequently to Kelly Franco, who is still with Moss Adams, and she’s still coaching me.
Men have been advocates for me too. Mark is a huge one. We have a really good relationship. I call him all the time. Chris Noel, the controller before me, was there for about 25 years. She came alongside Mark, and I think those were probably the years when it was more difficult to be a woman in the industry.
What obstacles lay ahead in your new role?
I’ve been here for five years, and I guess one of the biggest obstacles we’ve had is the succession. We had four legacy owners who owned it for years, and they all happened to be the same age. It is hard to transition a large company in such a short amount of time. Larry Swartz, our CEO, is still here, but we have been slowly transitioning stock and all that.
Building the next generation is going to be one of the biggest obstacles of the company. Not just for our four management owners, which includes me, our CEO, and two presidents, but also our operations management team. That group includes people like our vice presidents of safety operations and our general superintendents. Succession just continues to be an obstacle, and building that next generation is probably one of the biggest obstacles we will face as a company.
What do you hope to accomplish in your new role?
I feel that I am in the role that I’m going to retire in. It’s taken me a while to grasp, because as a first-generation college graduate, I always had the next thing ahead of me. Now, there is no position ahead of me, and I want to turn my focus more on the development of others. The succession will be a big part of that.