Jim Schnieders is standing at a crossroads.
“The key to solving the country’s energy challenge will be in how it combines domestic and international expertise, equipment and financing,” the 1985 Ottawa High School graduate said. “... Energy development is at a crossroads.”
Schnieders wasn’t talking about the United States.
The Black & Veatch executive was addressing the energy challenges facing a fast-growing Indonesia. Schnieders recently was appointed president director of Black and Veatch’s energy business in Indonesia.
Since his days growing up east of Ottawa, Schnieders, 47, said he dreamed of “building bridges.” Now, the 1990 Kansas State University engineering graduate finds himself building energy bridges halfway around the world from eastern Kansas. But Schnieders said he hasn’t forgotten his hometown roots.
“I think a sense of community probably sticks out more than anything,” Schnieders said about growing up in rural Ottawa. “It is a value often shared through my work at Black & Veatch, but it’s also something I’m committed to in my social life. It helps me connect back and feel part of the fabric of the city wherever I am working.
“It’s from this solid footing that I believe my family and I draw our success and happiness,” Schnieders said in an email from his Jakarta, Indonesia, office.
Schnieders has been the “architect of many major power plant contracts” where Black & Veatch brought together multinational partners, Black & Veatch said in a news release announcing Schnieders’ promotion to spearheading its Indonesia operations, where the international engineering company has had a presence since 1972.
“It’s a brave new world,” Schnieders said. “Asia can’t grow fast enough, and people can’t survive without basic water and power. Critical human infrastructure needs are huge, and we are trying to keep up with the pace of things on this side of the world.”
Water treatment and power generation engineering are in Schnieders’ blood. His father, John H. Schnieders, founded Ottawa-based Water Systems Engineering in 1978. The consulting firm and investigative laboratory specializes in ground water and surface water applications, industrial heating, cooling and water handling systems, and corrosion analysis and control, according to its website.
“I think when you grow up the son of a small business owner, and I think the same of farming families, you gain an appreciation for taking responsibility and knowing that ultimately you need to see things through,” Schnieders said. “I think my father’s level of patience probably had a lot to do with getting that across to me more than anything, and I believe this helped me advance my career.”
Mike Schnieders, 39, Jim’s younger brother who took over the family business when their father retired in 2010, said he was not surprised by his brother’s success.
“Jim is ambitious and not one to back down from a challenge,” Mike Schnieders, president and principal hydrogeologist of Water Systems Engineering, said. “A lot of big infrastructure projects taking place worldwide are going on outside our borders. [The energy infrastructure demands in Indonesia] fall in line with Jim’s skill set and mind set, so it doesn’t surprise me that he ended up there.”
It’s an international homecoming of sorts for Jim Schnieders and his wife, Katherine Bromert Schnieders, who also grew up in Ottawa and attended the same schools and church as her husband. The couple moved to Indonesia in 1993, where Jim worked on two large gas-fired combined cycle projects in Jakarta and Semarang until 1997 when the couple moved back to Ottawa before the birth of their first son. While based in Ottawa, Schnieders continued to work on projects that touched several continents. The Schniederses and their two sons moved to Beijing in 2006, where Jim continued his work for Black & Veatch.
“My wife, Kate, has been highly committed to working in an orphanage in Beijing, and I believe will do the same here in Jakarta,” Schnieders said. “We attended Our Lady of China Catholic Church in Beijing and participated in that community and relate that directly back to the community we grew up in at Sacred Heart Parish in Ottawa.”
Church and family have been an important part of the couple’s lives, Schnieders said, adding his father-in-law has been another important figure in his life.
“I think I should probably add my father-in-law Roland Bromert to that list [of influential people] as well, as he did let me take his daughter half way around the world,” Schnieders said. “I also believe getting the chance to work with and help him and his brother, Gene [Bromert], in their farming operation while I was back in Ottawa further reinforced a commitment to doing things on time and doing them to the best of your ability. I never felt a reservation to move and work outside of the U.S.A. However, I certainly reflect back on Ottawa and the friends, family and community, and look forward to returning.”
OTTAWA SCHOOLS AND SCOUTING
Schnieders said Ottawa’s schools and scouting program figured prominently in shaping his future. All three Schnieders boys, John A., Jim and Mike were Eagle Scouts with Ottawa Troop 77.
“Coach Bourke’s and Coach Laws’ classes in biology and drafting, respectively, were ones that I remember,” Schnieders said. “I appreciated the chance to participate in Cytones with Mr. Fox and probably should have spent more time paying attention in Ms. Ecroyd’s English class (any budding engineers should take note — it’s not all about numbers). I probably also look back on my time in the Boy Scouts and Troop 77 under Scout Master Joel Nordeen. Achieving my Eagle Scout badge has always been a point of pride for me.”
From Jakarta, 13 hours ahead of Ottawa, Schnieders reflected on his return to Indonesia.
“I think what is neat is that I am returning to Indonesia where I cut my cloth on many projects, and I find many familiar faces who I will be working with again,” Schnieders said. “That long-term employee commitment is something that I always associated with my uncle and others who work at our Kansas City offices. I am happy to see what I thought was a Midwestern trait is very much alive in our Indonesia operations. When I think about our plans for the future in Indonesia, I’m proud that I can also point to Black & Veatch’s heritage and continuous presence in Indonesia.”
The demand and need for a large coal-based power generation market continues in Indonesia, Schnieders said.
“However, as Indonesia also sits on around 40 percent of the world’s geothermal resource, I think the opportunity to move more towards viable renewable energy sources is tremendous and presents a challenge,” Schnieders said. “The latest projections show that the geothermal market could increase in excess of 400 percent. Indonesia also has a large volume of proven gas reserves, which provides opportunity in particular as this is an archipelago nation and the need to transport liquefied natural gas (LNG) among 6,000 islands is a must.”
In terms of his new management position, Schnieders said his challenge is to “find time to balance many priorities: plans for growth of our business, in a capture-and-revenue sense, how our ongoing projects are performing and also other aspects like how our organization is set up to grow. It certainly is a step up in level and exciting times.”
K-STATE SPORTS AND SOUTH
When he isn’t at work, Schnieders said he enjoys a variety of activities.
“Well, we are all pretty committed to Kansas State athletics, and while it is a challenge with the time zone we were so happy for the Wildcat teams this year,” Schnieders said. “We do try and make two or three men’s and women’s basketball games over Christmas and if my work schedule finds me in Kansas City in the fall, attending a home football game is must.”
Diving also has become a family passion, he said.
“My older son has gotten his diving certificate, so he and I have made a few dives, which is a lot of fun in the South Pacific,” Schnieders said. “I do enjoy playing golf as a means of relaxing and chance to entertain our guests and clients. My younger son swam on the school swim team in Beijing, and I believe will attempt to do the same here. I have enjoyed time with him at his swim meets and early morning practices as a chance to connect with him.”
Water Systems Engineering, which serves clients worldwide in such locations as Canada, Mexico, North Africa and Botswana, has provided brother Mike Schnieders a chance to do extensive traveling, but Schnieders said he is content residing in Ottawa.
“I’ve seen enough things in other countries and in our own country, that I have deep appreciation for Ottawa, Kansas,” Mike Schnieders, a 1992 OHS graduate and a 1996 K-State engineering graduate, said. “I think it’s safe to say Jim is proud of his hometown and certainly K-State University. I think if the opportunities were available here locally for him, he would be just as involved here. Needless to say, we are all very proud of him.”