As executive at Kiewit and president of The Beavers, CM alum Miles invests in future of industry
David Miles enrolled at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1981 and began studying in the College of Engineering as a civil engineering major.
Despite his switching to the construction management program the next year, Miles’ career path has remained intertwined with many of the areas that construction and civil engineering both serve, especially heavy construction projects.
In more than 33 years with Kiewit, Miles has risen from an entry-level assignment in Southern California just after graduation to now being Kiewit Companies’ executive vice president of the infrastructure group and a member of the board of directors for Kiewit. Miles oversees all of Kiewit’s six infrastructure operations on the West Coast, which account for roughly one-fourth of the company’s revenue.
He is also president of The Beavers, a mostly West Coast-based social, honorary organization formed, organized and managed by the construction companies and individuals who work in the heavy engineering construction industry. Through its foundation, The Beavers contributes more than $1.5 million annually to support construction education programs throughout the country.
Recently, that support included a gift of state-of-the-art equipment simulators to the construction programs at The Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction that are being integrated into construction program courses this current semester.
Miles recently reflected on his career and how his College of Engineering experience and education have been integral to his success.
How did you come to being a student in the construction programs in the College of Engineering?
"I started out in civil engineering, but after a year I realized I didn’t like to do engineering design. So, I switched to construction management in 1982 and graduated in December of 1985. I wasn’t your typical four-year student. I took one extra semester. I tell people now that I stayed around to catch one more season of Husker football.”
How long have you been with Kiewit and what has been your path to your current roles?
“I got an opportunity to work for Kiewit in 1986 and I’ve been with them ever since.
“My wife and I are originally from Lexington, Nebraska and I went to school down in Lincoln. I didn’t do much moving around in my early years, but my original assignment with Kiewit was in California, where I was hired on to our Southern California district. We moved right out there in 1986. Then we moved 14 times in 17 years – up and down the West Coast, back and forth to Hawaii, down to Atlanta and back here in Omaha since 2011.
“I personally wanted to get out of the cold weather and managed to do that right after graduation and did that for a significant part of my career. Then we wound up right back home, kind of the circle of life. It’s been good for us because our parents are here and we can get back to Lexington and see them. It’s the right time to be back in Nebraska.”
So that’s how you came to know The Beavers, through your Kiewit experience. What is The Beavers and how did you become president?
“The Beavers is a construction industry organization that is specifically focused on heavy construction. We are more West Coast-focused, with about 140 primary companies that have members and some associate members as well. Our member companies’ markets are focused on heavy construction – lots of roads, bridges, highways, heavy earth moving, and structural and infrastructure – for the majority of our work.
“I was on the board of The Beavers, since I was on the West Coast a long time. I was elected as an officer four years ago, and the officers work through the rotation – secretary, treasurer, vice president, and then president. I am president for this fiscal year – from January to January 2020 – then I’ll then pass it off to another board member.”
What is it about the Beavers that you value being part of this organization?
“The Beavers Foundation trust started in the early 1970s and created a fund, and it has grown from roughly $3 million to $33 million recently. We like to say we use it to grow little Beavers, young construction program students, into strong members of the heavy construction industry. We’re very much focused on universities that have curricula that support our initiative and that identify students that will most likely enter the heavy construction industry. We help to drive up-to-date curricula that fits the needs of our industry, support and select professors with a construction background, and give a lot of scholarships.
“The mere fact we’re making a longer-term impact on this industry is so gratifying. With our trust fund, recently, we’ve been in a position to sponsor a number of activities, like helping The Durham School get equipment simulators that can give the faculty and students the tools they need to stay up-to-date with the needs of the construction industry. The simulators are portable and they take them to classes in Lincoln (City Campus) and Omaha (Scott Campus) and can share them with students at Metro Community College. It’s one of the examples of the opportunities we have to provide additional funding to schools that support our initiatives.”
Being an alumnus, how important is it to be giving back to the construction program that produced you?
“That’s the greatest benefit of all. I had already established a scholarship in Lincoln with the Construction Management group to try to give back to the students. I feel an obligation to give back for being allowed the opportunities I have had here at Kiewit because the education I got prepared me to do what I’m doing here.”
Kiewit hires a lot of our Nebraska Engineering graduates, and they keep coming back to hire more. Obviously, there’s something about Nebraska engineering and construction students that is so attractive. What is it that makes the construction program graduates good employees?
“There’s got to be something about the culture you’re growing up in and that attributing significantly to the success you have professionally when you move forward. I used to do a lot of recruiting when I was in California. I’d try to come back here and do some recruiting and try to get kids from Nebraska when they graduated. There’s just something special about people who are comfortable in the environment that Nebraska has to offer. It’s a good Midwestern, high-level-of-work ethic, people who are really professional and respectful. Maybe that’s upbringing or the environment of growing up in the state of Nebraska. That carries over to the university’s programs and it’s demonstrated in the success of alumni from the University of Nebraska in our company and throughout our industry.”
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