How Jack Freeman, Karl Passetti, a hardworking team, and a great deal of gumption made our Orlando office what it is today.

In the late summer of 1998, firm Principal John Zegeer told Wayne Kittelson, Kittelson’s founder and president/CEO at the time, that a good friend of his—a well-respected member of Florida’s transportation engineering community—was looking for a career change.

At the time, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was Kittelson’s only office outside Portland, and still gaining traction in its second year. Expanding into Orlando had been a consideration, but no plans had been made.

That changed after a two-hour meeting with Jack Freeman.

On literally a moment’s notice, six people booked flights, and hopped on a plane for a red-eye flight.

- Wayne Kittelson, Founder, Kittelson & Associates

“We called everyone on Kittelson’s management team and asked if they could travel to Fort Lauderdale the following day, when we could all meet and talk with Jack in person. And on literally a moment’s notice, six people booked flights, and hopped on a plane for a red-eye flight,” says Wayne.

The flight landed in the morning. The meeting started at 11 a.m. Mid-afternoon, the Kittelson management team invited Jack to join them as the lead of a new Orlando office. By the time their plane touched down in Portland that night, Jack had accepted the invitation.

The Office That Almost Didn’t Make It

“It wasn’t the easiest way to start an office,” says Wayne. “Kittelson still wasn’t well-known in Florida generally, and in Orlando in particular.”

Three and a half years after Kittelson opened the Orlando office, Wayne remembers being chided by a colleague for keeping an office open that still hadn’t recorded a net profitable year.

Fast forward to today. Home to 30 employees, Orlando is Kittelson’s second largest office. It’s spun off new offices in Tampa and Tallahassee; it’s created opportunities for staff all over the country; it’s served clients across Central Florida; it’s advanced the transportation industry through groundbreaking projects throughout the region and the country.

In true Kittelson fashion, the “secret sauce” to the Orlando office’s success is nothing less than the hard work of an entire team that believed in this vision and, year by year, turned it into reality.

But in 2018, two of these team members deserve extra recognition. Jack Freeman and Karl Passetti—both instrumental individuals in Orlando’s growth—are celebrating 20 years with Kittelson, in a tandem timeline with the office they call home.

Jack Freeman and Karl Passetti are celebrating 20 years with Kittelson Orlando.
Kittelson’s Karl Passetti (left) and Jack Freeman (right) are celebrating 20 years with Kittelson in 2018.

Jack Freeman: Passionate, Principled, Trustworthy

Jack Freeman’s choice to work with Kittelson was far from expected. In 1998, due to his extensive experience, credentials and connections in Central Florida, Jack had a number of options on the table, and Kittelson was a small firm that was relatively unknown in the market area.

“Now that I have the ability to look back after 20 years, I think I know why Jack took the risk,” says Wayne. “First of all, he embraced the core values and the unique business culture that Kittelson was living. Secondly, he liked, respected, and believed in the professional skills and capabilities of the people with whom he would be able to work.”

Jack’s passion for the firm continues to be evident, as he always takes the lead in describing Kittelson’s values-driven culture to new clients and contacts.

“His passion is obvious to the prospective clients and teaming partners we meet,” says Wayne. “Even after long days of travel and meetings, Jack has unending energy and commitment.”

Mark Vandehey, president and CEO of Kittelson, is consistently impressed by Jack’s energy and dedication. “Decades into his career, he’s still as engaged as ever, moving the profession forward, leading important projects, and mentoring young staff.”

Principal Planner Jane Lim-Yap agrees. “Even with all the experience he has, he’s still the one making site visits, taking photos and driving projects forward.”

Left: Jack Freeman (center) at an early Fort Lauderdale office holiday event. Right: Jack poses with Kittelson’s Yi-Min Ha, Benazir Portal, and Nathalie Rodriguez Sosa at a regional meeting.

Jack’s contagious passion for the profession has impacted many industry professionals. His involvement with the Institute of Transportation Engineers culminated in his role as international president from 2003 to 2004. In 2011, the FSITE Board voted to name the FSITE Transportation Professional of the Year Award in honor of Jack for his continued contributions to promoting transportation professionalism in ITE.

Along with the PD&E (project development and environment) work for which he is known regionally, Jack’s dedication to serving the profession is evident in his critical advancements in safety. He constantly brings a safety lens to the table—performing advanced work through the Highway Safety Manual, road safety audits for the State of Florida, and early studies that have paved the way for key projects throughout the region. He recently supported the effort to develop an intersection control evaluation program for the Florida Department of Transportation and is providing statewide training.

Billy Hattaway, Director of the Transportation Department at the City of Orlando, appreciates Jack’s safety emphasis. “He is one of the few engineers I have known in my career who truly cared about transportation safety and made it a priority in his work for his clients and their communities,” says Billy.

Kittelson is grateful for the leadership of a principal engineer with Jack’s integrity, loyalty and trustworthiness. “We’ve had highs and lows over the years but through it all Jack has been fully committed to the Kittelson values, mission and culture and has always been a steady influence in the face of adversity,” says Mark. “He has helped agencies recognize they can trust us to serve them with the highest professional standards and ethics.”

The team surrounding Jack, of course, has also defined the transformation of our Orlando office, with one of them in particular—Karl Passetti—playing a key role in the office’s growth.

Karl Passetti: Dedicated, Intuitive, Service-Oriented

Karl Passetti joined Kittelson in 1998 in Fort Lauderdale as the first entry-level engineer outside the Portland office. Six years into Karl’s career—and six years after establishing the Orlando office—the Kittelson management team approached Karl with a bold request. Was he open to moving his family to Orlando to assume leadership of the office?

It was a daunting challenge for anyone, much less someone at an early stage of their career, but he accepted it. That turned out to be a major turning point for the office and firm.

- Mark Vandehey, President/CEO, Kittelson & Associates

“When Karl assumed leadership of the Orlando office, we were still struggling to gain traction in the market and had only seven people in Orlando and an office in Fort Lauderdale. Today, we have a staff of nearly 30 in Orlando and four more Florida offices,” says Mark. He attributes this growth to Karl’s strong business intuition and drive, integrity, fierce loyalty to staff and clients, and genuine humility—never being one to take himself too seriously. Karl has a unique ability to see the “hidden gems” in other staff to help them grow into their potential.

“Beyond engineering and planning, Karl teaches people how to develop personally and professionally, and to be consultants—using their talents to truly support clients,” says Associate Engineer Ryan Cunningham, who works with Karl in the Orlando office.

Karl has also guided many clients through effective decision-making using his “sixth sense” of business judgment and foresight.

“Karl seems to have a stronger crystal ball than everyone else,” jokes Principal Engineer Justin Bansen. “He anticipates what’s coming next and helps clients stay ahead of the curve. Back when Bluetooth data collection devices were still being built in people’s garages, Karl encouraged our clients to pay attention. Today, they’re mainstream, and our clients were among the first to implement.”

With integrity, humility and a healthy dose of humor, Karl Passetti has guided the Orlando office through consistent growth to meet our clients’ needs.

Jon Weiss, director of the Orange County Community, Environmental, and Development Services Department, has known Karl for nearly 15 years. Jon formerly worked as a government operations manager at the Florida Department of Transportation and quickly formed a good working relationship with Karl, as they discovered their strengths complemented one another, and their values were closely aligned.

“Karl is always very attuned not just to what was going on, but why,” says Jon. “He’s always looking to bring something else to the table, not just do what’s been done before.”

Jon names “The Great Concurrency Debate” as one of his fondest memories with Karl. After reading a heavily one-sided whitepaper on transportation concurrency, a hot topic at the time, the pair decided to prove a point: there is always another perspective. Personal opinions aside, they took the unpopular “pro” side on a concurrency debate at a Central Florida Transportation Planning Group meeting—and received applause from viewers for their creative presentation of information (including dramatic visual and audio effects).

Kittelson is lucky to have Karl, as he is the epitome of what transportation consultants should be.

- David Mulholland, Vice President, VHB

David Mulholland, vice president of VHB, also considers Karl a friend as well as a fellow professional. “We’re always looking for opportunities to work together, because together we’re stronger,” says David. “Thanks bunches, Karl.”

In true Kittelson fashion, the Orlando office’s growth in the last 20 years has been a team effort and shared responsibility—but Karl’s humble leadership continues to have a big impact.

“His belief in the company, his long-term strategic vision, and his unrelenting perseverance have put himself and his colleagues in Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Orlando, Tampa, and Tallahassee in a leadership position within the state and the region,” says Wayne. “His counsel and advice to me is something I respect and greatly value, and I know his leadership and management contributions to Kittelson are nowhere close to being completed.”

Orlando into the Future

All of us at Kittelson & Associates congratulate Jack and Karl on these milestone career anniversaries, and we thank them for the ways they continue to inspire their colleagues to better serve our firm, our clients and the transportation profession.

Led by Karl, Jack, and many others, and driven by the initiative and integrity of a passionate team, our Orlando office has a bright future. We’re looking forward to celebrating with many of our clients, colleagues and friends on Thursday, November 8, 2018. During this open house and education series, Mark will say a few words about the history of the office and the people who have made it what it is today.

Here’s to the next 20 years of supporting clients and communities in Central Florida!