From humble beginnings, Keith Hovey has become one of the leading Project Superintendents for mechanical and process contractor Cortez, In., which last year joined the Haskell family of brands.

June 15, 2023

‘A Simple Guy,’ Keith Hovey Found a Career and a Family in Cortez

A key Project Superintendent for the process mechanical contractor, Hovey appreciated his welcome to the Haskell family of brands.


Keith Hovey grew up in Red Oak, Oklahoma, where they don’t have a stoplight. His family didn’t have much money or, for that matter, hot running water in their house, but they had hogs and chickens, and they gardened and canned.

When he graduated high school, he first tried to make a go of it in Red Oak, but there just wasn’t enough industry to provide enough work.

“I had very humble beginnings,” Hovey said. “I think it teaches you a work ethic because, at my house, if you want to eat, you’d better work. I realized real quick that you have to get out and make it on your own. My parents made it look easy on nothing, but it’s not easy. So, I decided to start traveling so I could make more money and provide a better life for mine.”

He picked up welding and went to work on a hazmat team performing maintenance on an ammonia pipeline from Louisiana to Indiana. After four years, a buddy called to ask him if he wanted to be a pipefitter, “and, honestly, I said, ‘Well, I don't know what a pipefitter is, but if it pays all right, I’m in.’ I took off as a pipe fitter when I was 27.’”

In the early 2000s, he found his way to Cortez, Inc., a family-owned process mechanical contractor with nearly 100 years of experience in fabrication, installation and maintenance, serving primarily the food and beverage industries. He knew he had found a work home.

“It didn't take long to figure out that they were very family-oriented, and they did a lot of things to help me out as a young man and have done a lot for me through the years,” he said. “I just worked through the ranks, and Paul gave me opportunities.”

Paul Robertson is Cortez’s Vice President of Operations, who with his wife, Patty, VP of Administration, has led the Cortez team that was founded by Patty’s father Ed Cortez. Last June, Haskell acquired Cortez, based in the Orlando, Florida, suburb of Ocoee, to expand its in-house capabilities as a leading integrated builder. Cortez, a process mechanical contractor, works in most of the markets Haskell serves and has worked alongside the Haskell team for owners and OEMs as a subcontractor to Haskell for decades.

Paul Robertson distinctly remembers the first time he saw Hovey.

“He’s a big Oklahoma boy,” Paul Robertson said. “The first time I saw Keith was at Pepsi Cola in Houston. We were upgrading their syrup room. He had a seven-inch grinder on the side of a tank, and he was sitting down cutting these big agitators off the side of the tank. Cutting a two-inch piece of thick stainless steel off the side of a tank without cutting into the tank takes a lot of strength but a lot of finesse, too.”

As time went by, Hovey showed the Cortez team valuable attributes in addition to uncommon finesse in a husky 6-foot-4 frame.

“You pick up from certain individuals that they want to progress, Robertson said. “They're open. They want to learn. They're not scared to take on responsibilities. They're not scared to make a decision and deal with consequences. Keith came up through the ranks and evolved into one of our lead guys. Whatever it is, he’s there to help. He’s the type of person who is open and available.”

Currently, Hovey is one of two superintendents on an aseptic project for Niagara Bottling in Temple, Texas. The pair and three foremen have spent the past six months leading a crew that peaked at about 55 team members and subcontractors. Numbers are starting to fall off as the project moves toward a July conclusion.

“That’s been a lot of men for that much supervision, but everybody stays on task all the time,” Hovey said. “We’ve had a great supervision team. We've all got delegated jobs, and we back each other up. I take care of a lot of parts things. I'm really OCD about that because if you don't have parts, people don't have anything to do. They're gonna get a bad attitude. They're gonna slow down. So as long as they're not waiting on me to get them parts, they'll stay busy, they'll stay focused. And you'll keep moving.

“I really feel like you can lead a crew easier than you can push a crew. My brother had a mule when I was a kid, and you didn't get behind it and push it because you’d get kicked. So, you got in front of it and you pulled it. And I think crews are the same way.”

Cortez crews are no strangers to working long hours and traveling to projects throughout the country. When he’s back home – now home is in Alma, Arkansas – during his time away from the job site, Hovey devotes his time to his wife of nine years, Monaco, and their blended family.

Recently, he and several other Cortez superintendents left their projects to attend Haskell’s annual Superintendents Meeting, a two-day event held at TIAA Bank Field, the home of the Jacksonville Jaguars. He said he had heard horror stories about corporate acquisitions, but any nervousness he felt about the new parent company evaporated during that visit.

“Being at that meeting, getting to be face to face with a lot of the different people – the conversations we had, the hands we shook – I think everybody felt more comfortable when they walked away,” he said. “It was impressive the way they brought us in and introduced us and welcomed us into their family. I left with a sense of relief. You can tell by talking to me, I'm a simple guy, so to be welcomed in and treated the like part of their family, I felt like, ‘You know what? This is this is gonna work out.’”

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