University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of EngineeringOnline: Spring 2011
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McNeel photoConstruction Programs Alumnus of the Year Brad Nydahl, ’78

Throughout the career of UNL Construction Management graduate Brad Nydahl, ’78, taking advantage of opportunities as they arise has been key to his success. As CEO of Howard S. Wright Construction (HSW) based in Oregon, he recently shared his advice with students in The Durham School in Lincoln while on campus to accept the Construction Programs’ Alumnus of the Year award for 2011.

“Choose your opportunities not just because of money,” said Nydahl, who grew up in northwest Nebraska. “Learning and growing from a new opportunity is better than a raise, especially as the money may never seem to be enough.”

Nydahl spoke from experience, including recalling his time living in Guam while working for Fletcher Challenge, a diversified international company. During his family’s three years there, they faced such obstacles as seven major typhoons, the collapse of the Guam power grid system, and working with a third-world work force. While it was certainly difficult, Nydahl pointed out that the lessons he learned then have enabled him to become a better leader today.


When Nydahl returned from Guam, he helped the company survive a near shutdown and within three years, Fletcher had opened additional offices in the U.S. In 1996, the company exited its U.S. businesses and sold their Pacific NW company, HSW, to Nydahl and his partners. Ownership of the company is now spread among 34 employees. Nydahl is primarily focused now on mentoring, building values and culture, and training and strategic leadership for the company and employees.

Nydahl also stressed that students should build their “soft skills” along with their engineering knowledge, as industry needs employees who can communicate and interact effectively with diverse audiences. His company actually invested in a dude ranch in Oregon that has been converted into a training center for employees. Each month, approximately 35 people attend classes and work in teams on social aspects of their jobs, learning how to motivate and better communicate with others.

When asked what he looks for in new graduates, “balance” was his top response. He encouraged students, along with the faculty and the college, to take advantage of any opportunities to interact outside the classroom and in work environments and become vital members of their communities.

“It’s all about relationships,” he concluded. “Things are ultimately built by relationships, so take care of the people around you, underneath you, and above and beside you.”


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