When you hear the name Kier, you think local leader in the construction and property management industries. With their family of companies—Kier Management, Kier Construction and Kier Corporation—they earned a combined $200 million in revenue last year. But did you know that founders Norma and Jim Kier are Canadian natives who came to Ogden with only $100 in their pockets as young newlyweds?
The Kier family success comes from humble beginnings, hard work and sacrifice. Norma often jokes that they lived on “scrambled eggs and beans” so they could invest in their growing company. Their family grew quickly and they mentored all five of their children in the business. Four still work full-time in the business today.
Norma Kier reflects, “People often say, ‘If I worked with my family, we’d kill each other!’ The truth is, we didn’t always get along. Jim and I had a great marriage, but we would sometimes go the rounds and we each got to have our say. But when you make a lifetime commitment, you keep working it out, no matter how many times it takes. Our children have made a lifetime commitment to each other. They are business partners and best friends, "most of the time.” When Norma accepted the Chamber’s Wall of Fame award in 2016, she talked about her children. “When your kids are little you think you couldn’t love them any more. But today I would rather spend time with my five adult children than anyone. I believe it’s because we all have the same amount of crazy in us. I am so proud of the fine citizens they have become, and how they are continuing Jim’s dream. Truly, they are our very best accomplishment.”
For both Jim and Norma, one secret of business was treating employees and subcontractors like family. They also expected their children to work twice as hard to earn respect. Jim taught his children to diversify their projects to weather economic storms and to take risks without over-extending in good times. During lean years, Jim and Norma fed the business first and in good times, they exercised restraint. Integrity and compassion are hallmarks of their philosophy. Norma is proud of the way her children have continued this legacy, while far exceeding her dreams.
Their story of hard work, family values and true love is one that begged to be told. Now it has. Norma had thought about writing their family’s business story, especially after Jim’s unfortunate passing in 2005, so when local biographer and friend Rhonda Lauritzen discussed the idea for writing a book together, Norma was both intrigued and delighted.
Norma and Lauritzen started meeting on Tuesday nights to record Norma and Jim’s story and Lauritzen also interviewed other family members and work associates. Norma admits with a quiet laugh that sometimes she would ask herself, “Why am I doing this? No one wants to hear from me.” But she has since realized otherwise. Her five children have discovered great facts about her and Jim’s love story they never knew and colleagues are thrilled at the idea of reading how they built a strong business and family. Norma now realizes that the story is worth telling. “I have lived a full life. I have been busy!” she says. And that is true. Utah is now dotted with homes, car dealerships, banks, apartment complexes, and commercial buildings that bear the Kier signature of integrity.
At 82 years old, Norma still spends time in the office although Kier Construction is owned and managed by sons Steve and Scott, while Kier Management is owned and managed by daughters Bonnie Kier-Herrick and Kimi Kier-Noar. Daughter Kara Kier-Fergusen is a commercial artist who designed the cover for the book and often contracts with the businesses. Norma is kind and happy in any setting. Even during the interview for this article, she stopped several times to kindly greet co-workers and wish them a nice day. In her spare time, Norma maintains an active exercise schedule and loves to travel.
Norma accepted the Ogden-Weber Chamber of Commerce Wall of Fame award on behalf of both her and Jim in 2016, although she often still feels like a shy Canadian girl who married her high school sweetheart. But she has come out of that shell, stepping up to fill the role of matriarch and founder, even speaking in public when called upon.
Through the years, she has learned to step forward from behind the scenes. When she lost Jim to a heartbreaking bout with cancer, she found her voice, although she had been happy to act in a more supportive role. She did whatever was needed from cleaning newly finished homes in the early years, to decorating those same homes while caring for each of her five children (there was a set of twins in the mix, too).
The Kier family has been active in the Ogden community for decades. Jim and Norma came to Ogden to work construction in 1957, transferring from Edmonton, Alberta. Once in Ogden, Jim was the superintendent over a subdivision project and Norma, only 21 years old, worked as secretary in their portable office. By 1961, they had saved enough money to start Kier Construction.
Jim and Norma have also been committed to giving back. “If you take out of the community, then you need to put it back in. That's the way I was raised, and that's the way I've always felt,” Jim once told National Real Estate Investor magazine. They have especially favored causes to help children and seniors such as the Children’s Justice Center and the Weber School Foundation, but they have done many acts of kindness and generosity anonymously and on a personal level.
Norma says Ogden has always felt like home, even though a couple of times they thought seriously of going back to Canada. “The plan was to go back after 5 years,” Norma said. Still, they stuck it out even at times when the economy was tanking. “We are sure glad we did,” Norma said with complete sincerity. The Ogden area is home now, although they have dual-citizenship and will always love mother Canada.
Norma is feeling excited for Remember When: A business success story constructed with love to make its debut and is throwing a bash February 17, 5 to 7 p.m. at the Ogden Country Club to celebrate. Norma is donating all proceeds from book sales to leukemia and lymphoma research in loving memory of her husband, James E. Kier.