employees, families and friends participate in Duluth’s dragon boat race each summer
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John Lee

President and CEO

John Lee, at the helm of the family pontoon
For John, home improvement projects are a way to relax.
John Lee wears his dedication to Barr on his front pocket—in the form of an embroidered company logo. His work wardrobe consists almost entirely of Barr shirts. There are, of course, some practical benefits: “It limits the universe of clothes to consider in the morning,” he says. But John truly is a company guy, and that conviction made him a perfect fit for his job as director of business development.

While John may have had only one employer since 1979, he’s not in a rut. “People always ask how I can work in the same place for more than 30 years,” he said. “But I’ve probably had six different jobs since I’ve been here.”

Hired as a structural engineer after earning his civil engineering degree at Iowa State University, John worked on only one structural project at Barr: a retaining wall adjacent to a Grand Rapids, Minnesota, dam. (A wall, he quickly points out, that is still standing.) A demand for geotechnical engineers sent his career in that direction and to the University of Minnesota, where he completed graduate coursework in soil mechanics. From there it was on to landfill design, permitting, utility-related projects, and business development.

“It was a position I hadn’t held, but something I thought I could do well,” John said, describing his 2009 move to business development. “So, I thought maybe I should try. I’m a driven, extroverted, high-energy kind of guy, and the breadth and length of my experience helps. I know all that Barr does.” In 2013, John was elected president and CEO. 

John’s energy is evident even when he sits. He fidgets. Relaxation comes from doing projects at home, where he has replaced all the windows and doors, built multiple decks, remodeled his kitchen, and even dug a garage addition foundation—by hand. “It’s therapeutic,” he said. “I’m goal-oriented. I like hands-on work, having a tangible product you can see at the end. And I like to break a sweat.”

A family cabin offers more home-improvement opportunities. It’s also a recreational spot for John, his wife, and their four children. “I spend a lot of time in the boat, pulling the kids behind various flotation devices,” he said.

If the past predicts the future, you can expect John to have more career lives at Barr: work that demands his considerable experience, problem-solving skills, and high-octane energy. You can also predict a few more Barr shirts in his closet.