Fayetteville engineer, UA grad Carl Yates dies at 88

by Paul Gatling (pgatling@nwabj.com) 494 views 

Carl Yates, the former president and majority owner of Northwest Arkansas’ oldest engineer firm, died Sunday (April 1). He was 88.

Yates worked for Fayetteville engineering firm McGoodwin Williams & Yates Inc. for most of his life. MWY was founded by L.M. McGoodwin in 1946 as McGoodwin Consulting Engineers. Yates joined the company in the 1950s along with Terry Williams, and was appointed president in 1966, when the firm incorporated as MWY.

Yates was succeeded as president by his nephew, Brad Hammond, in 2004 as part of the company’s leadership restructuring, but he kept working as CEO and board chairman, even while semi-retired.

Yates remained in those roles until this past January when MWY, which has 29 employees including 12 registered professional engineers, was acquired by Olsson Associates, an engineering and design firm based in Lincoln, Neb.

“It is no exaggeration to say that Carl was an icon in the consulting engineering profession as well as the water and wastewater industry,” Hammond said in a statement to the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. “Carl had tremendous integrity and sense of purpose, and he taught us to always put our client’s needs ahead of our own.  He was a tireless advocate for both the engineering profession and the clients he served, and he will be greatly missed.”

According to his obituary, Yates’ leadership helped MWY become a pioneer in the state for unique technologies. The firm was the first to use ozone as a disinfectant in 1993 with the construction of the Clarksville Water Treatment Plant.

Among his most notable accomplishments in Arkansas, according to the obituary, was serving as a key engineer in development of both the Beaver Water District (BWD) and Carroll-Boone Water District (CBWD). The two water districts provide water to nearly 370,000 customers throughout Northwest Arkansas.

In his 62-year career, Yates was recognized and awarded by several groups, including:

  • Alumni Distinguished Career Award, University of Arkansas College of Engineering, 2017
  • Glen T. Kellogg Water & Wastewater Hall of Fame, 2015
  • Distinguished Service Award from the American Council of Engineering Companies of Arkansas, 2008
  • Inducted into the Arkansas Construction Hall of Fame, 2004
  • Engineer of the Year, Arkansas Society of Professional Engineers, 1998
  • He was the first Arkansan named to American Consulting Engineers Council College of Fellows, an elite group of only about 200 members nationwide, 1985
  • He was one of 19 charter members inducted into the Arkansas Academy of Civil Engineering in recognition of outstanding contributions to the civil engineering profession, 1981
  • Engineer of the Year, Arkansas Society of Professional Engineers Northwest Arkansas Chapter, 1980
  • Engineer of the Year by the Arkansas Associated General Contractors, 1979
  • Life Member of both the American Society of Professional Engineers and the American Water Works Association

Yates, according to his obituary, graduated from Elkins High School in 1948 and served in the U.S. Army from 1951 to 1953.  He earned a civil engineering degree from the UA in 1958.

In an interview with the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal earlier this year, Hammond recalled a discussion he had with Yates two years ago about the company’s future.

It’s a conversation they’d had more frequently in recent years, determining the best path forward for MWY.

“Every time we started planning and having those discussions, the thought was we needed to grow, both geographically and with our breadth of services,” Hammond recalled. “Then the question was [what is] the best way to do that.”

Carl Yates

There were two likely options — Hammond and other employees with a minority ownership in the firm could buy Yates out, grow organically and keep the business locally owned. Or, the business could merge with a larger firm.

Hammond was surprised at the path chosen.

“You know, with all the changes in the industry now, if we could find the right firm and combine with the right firm, that might make the best sense,” Yates told Hammond. “It might position us and our [employees] for more success in the future if we had those additional resources.”

“Carl, your name has been on the [building] since 1966,” Hammond said. “What would you think about the firm name going away?”

“Brad, all I care about is that the people at our office have the best pathway for success,” Yates said. “That’s really my legacy. The name on the door doesn’t matter. What I care about is making sure our people are successful in the future, and we continue to serve our clients in the best way possible.”

Hammond said he was surprised with the decision, but not with his uncle. He recalled Yates’ decision as truly admirable.

“And he really meant it,” Hammond said. “Because we could have gone either way.”

Financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. MWY, which has 29 employees including 12 registered professional engineers, is operating as a division of Olsson Associates until July 1, when it will take on the Olsson Associates name permanently. The firm will maintain its Fayetteville office at 302 E. Millsap Road.

A funeral service through Moore’s Chapel of Fayetteville will take place at 2 p.m. Thursday (April 5) at Mount Comfort Church of Christ in Fayetteville.