Podcast - Alumni Edition 1

The Complete Engineering® Podcast

Rear Admiral Douglas J. McAneny

Never lose an opportunity to network.

Douglas J. McAneny
Rear Admiral (U.S. Navy) and Federal Business Group President for HDR Inc.

Taking advantage of every opportunity to network is an important reason that 1978 civil engineering graduate Doug McAneny rose to the rank of rear admiral in the U.S. Navy and in his transition to the role of federal business group president for HDR Inc. During the recent Alumni Masters Week, he discussed how his engineering education has served him well in other career fields.

Rear Admiral Doug McAneny
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Doug McAneny: Never lose an opportunity to network.

(Husker Fight Song)

Karl Vogel: Welcome to the Complete Engineering Podcast, Alumni Edition. A series of alumni interviews featuring people who have graduated from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln College for Engineering, and are making a mark in the professional world. I'm Karl Vogel, and today we are with Rear Admiral Doug McAneny, who is the Federal Business Group president for HDR, an Omaha-based firm specializing in engineering, architecture, environmental, and construction services around the world. Prior to joining HDR in 2013, he served 35 years in United States Navy, rising to the rank of Rear Admiral. In that job he commanded a Pacific Fleet Submarine Force based in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The fleet has more that 60 submarines and 12,000 personnel. McAneny was the honored alumnus for the College of Engineering during the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's annual alumni masters. Where outstanding alumni from the university's nine colleges returned to share their experiences with students. He is a 1978 civil engineering graduate and is our guest today. Welcome to the show.

Doug McAneny: Well, thank you for having me. It's great to be here. It's always good to be back at the mother ship of the most important part of my education. So the University of Nebraska has got a fun spot in my heart. And I only wish the Husker Football Team was playing a little bit better, but I know that's gonna come around. (chuckles) I know that's gonna come around.

Karl Vogel: I hope so too, and back in 1978 when you graduated, with a civil engineering degree, the football team had story games and story things I'm sure.

Doug McAneny: Yeah, their only problem was they couldn't beat Oklahoma. In tough summer days? Back in those days. Right after I left. That's right. I was an undergraduate for five years, took a little bit longer, because I had a little bit of trouble deciding what I wanted to major in, and five straight years they lost to Oklahoma that was tough. That was tough. And there were a couple of very, very close games where the Huskers manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory as we say. But they had a heck of a run after that and a lot of fun to watch with. I was telling the undergraduates in a class that, when I started at the University of Nebraska, Tom Osborne was in his second year as head coach. That's how old I am.

Karl Vogel: (laughs) And obviously, this isn't the first time you've been back to the campus since you graduated. Since 1978, what have you seen most change in the college of Engineering and what's impressed you the most during this visit?

Doug McAneny: Well, I think it would be for me at least the facilities. When I was an undergraduate civil engineer, we were in Bancroft Hall and Bancroft Hall is no more.

Karl Vogel: Right.

Doug McAneny: It was raised and probably should have been, many, many years ago. It was a needle building, but probably not conducive to the way we teach students in this day and age. I was a touring the labs this week and I mentioned that when I was an undergraduate student, there were only three labs, for a civil engineering major. You had a materials lab, you had a soil mechanics lab, and then you had a computer science lab and computer science isn't exactly civil engineering course. It was a course that I was required to take, but that was my third lab. So you look at the laboratory facilities today and you just can't help, but be amazed at how much better they are and how, I'm sure they compliment a lot of the courses that our undergraduates civil engineers are exposed to.

Karl Vogel: We get students undergraduate, graduate from not just Nebraska, but all over the country and all over the world, and they all have different paths of getting here. What was your path to getting to the University of Nebraska and especially the College of Engineering?

Doug McAneny: Well, I think, first of all, my parents instilled in both me and my sisters that there was no option other than to go to college. So that put a sort of a focus and an emphasis on my high school education. My decision to attend the University of Nebraska was sort of a natural, I felt really comfortable with the people that I'd grown up with, most of them wanting to come down here and get an education. And so the cohort group that I had growing up in my school all came down here and it goes to school and it was a great decision, a decision that changed my life dramatically for the better. And after about a year as an undergraduate, I attracted the attention of the United States Navy and they offered me a scholarship. So I was given a scholarship to continue my studies in an engineering field so that I would be eligible to join the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program. That's sort of my story in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Karl Vogel: And Nuclear Propulsion Program, is that kind of a code for submarines in the Navy?

Doug McAneny: Yes submarines, and back when I joined the Navy, there were some surface ships cruisers that were nuclear power as well. We don't have any nuclear powered cruisers anymore in the Navy, but our aircraft carriers are 100% nuclear powered. I had a choice to go either surface or submarines. I thought the submarine force, I saw the submarine forces more appealing and so I decided to choose submarines.

Karl Vogel: But what was it about submarines that you found appealing? And what was it about it in that 35 years that you enjoyed the most?

Doug McAneny: Well, the submarine community is a cruise size on a submarine. It's a small unit, so it's about 150 people. You go to an aircraft carrier, you're talking 5,000 people. So it was a pretty easy decision for me to go submarines. I was taught, while I was in my training mostly by submariners and they struck me as a very capable group of people, and I wanted to be a part of that. So it was a very little thought given to going surface. It was submarines all the way.

Karl Vogel: What kind of engineering work did you initially do with the Navy or did you do with it much?

Doug McAneny: So really I got my undergraduate degree in civil engineering and the Navy's bargain with me was always that they were going to turn me into a nuclear engineer. So I left Lincoln, took a temporary job in Washington DC for just a few months while I waited for my class to begin in Orlando, Florida. And I was converted immediately from a civil engineer to a nuclear engineer. The training pipeline in the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program is six months of rigorous classroom training requiring 14, 15 hours a day of classrooms study. And then after that six month period, one is sent to a land based prototype site, where you get all the practical training that culminates in qualification as an engineering officer to Watch. So I did my classroom training in Orlando, Florida, and then I went to Idaho National Engineering Laboratory in Idaho Falls, Idaho for my practical training out in the middle of a desert facility, way away from populated areas. That's the way they set them up. These DOE facilities, they didn't want me anywhere near populated facilities, really for classified reasons. They wanted them to be in an isolated location.

Karl Vogel: It kind of helps you keep focused on the work too. There's not a lot of outside distractions-

Doug McAneny: No. In those places. Occasional coyote, (laughter) So he had nothing to do, but work on getting qualified and that's what my job was. I was expected to get qualified as an engineering officer to Watch. Once I completed my qualifications, then, all the focus and attention on that was off. And I mean it should do it very quickly. And so my last seven or eight weeks of this 26 week training period was pretty relaxing.

Karl Vogel: That sounds good, when you're going through six months of training to have some time off at the end.

Doug McAneny: Yeah, I actually got to see my wife for a while. (chuckles) I married my wife before I started my training pipeline and she was beginning to wonder whether she would ever see me again. So after my qualification was completed, that Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, I was able to spend more time with her, which was nice.

Karl Vogel: And then begins to career, that is a kind of typical in the armed forces lots of moves and lots of stations that you were at.

Doug McAneny: Yeah. I mean there's an expectation that you will move. It is possible to sort of geo locate in one area. It's not particularly good for your career to do that because we're sort of a mobile, agile Navy, and we want to encourage our people to move around. I moved in a 35 year career, we moved 23 times so you can do the math on that. That was a lot of moves and my wife was absolutely essential to being able to move that often. She is amazing person who deserves a whole lot of credit as do my children for my career. I mean I got to do what I wanted to do. It did require some sacrifice and it wouldn't have been possible without the family that I have.

Karl Vogel: Now, I've talked to some other alumni masters in previous years, especially Don Voelte who works in Australia and has built a career in the energy fields out there. He's mentioned the moving and the settling into new places and getting to know new cultures and the way things are done. And part of our complete engineer initiative here, which is a relatively new thing here at the University of Nebraska and one of the components is intercultural awareness, teamwork, self management. That's the kind of things you have to learn in the Navy.

Doug McAneny: Right.

Karl Vogel: Those are the kinds of things you learn in a supervisory position. Did you get most of that, obviously, from the Navy? And then it was at “a learn on the job kind of situation?” Or where you always making some energy?

Doug McAneny: Yeah, I grew up in the military family. So I had a bit of an advantage in that, I was required to move. I didn't get a vote,

Karl Vogel: (laughs)

Doug McAneny: I was just required to move and so I learned to adapt. I think adaptation is a big part of growing and developing as a professional. I would say I had a bit of an advantage. I've talked to the students a little bit this week and explained to them that if your aspiration is to move to the top of your professional community, the one piece of advice I would give you is that, you need to learn how to network and take advantage of people who have come before you, who know a little bit more about what you're facing and they can give you advice, okay. And that's both up and down what I would call the chain of command. So that's your seniors and your juniors because those junior people are following in your footsteps. They need that support. And never lose an opportunity to network because you'll never know when that person or that company or whatever, will be in a position to help you out at some future point in your career. And along with that, I think it, you develop the interpersonal skills that are important to being an effective leader, but you have to work on it just like anything. You know, you're not going to be good at it. And I think it's true, it's not uncommon for people to say this. Engineer's are tend to be an introverted group in the aggregate and you just got to come out of that show and you've got to work on that, or if you want to aspire to be the best in your profession, those skills will come to bear eventually.

Karl Vogel: And it seems to be that way in every line of work, no matter what you do.

Doug McAneny: Absolutely.

Karl Vogel: You have to have that solid background to able and contacts to be able to get ahead.

Doug McAneny: Right. You know, the focus naturally at the university is on building your technical acumen and that's obviously, very, very important to your career as an engineer, but at some point you got to work on the soft skills, and you've got to figure out how to exercise yourself in a manner just like you did when you were an undergraduate in the civil engineering curriculum. You've got to devise ways to stretch the limits of what you're capable of doing. You know, what I tell young professionals is you got to learn to adapt to feeling uncomfortable because part of growing is getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Karl Vogel: And I imagine that feeling of being uncomfortable was not new to you when you transitioned into your civilian position.

Doug McAneny: That's correct.

Karl Vogel: So how difficult was that transition coming from the armed forces in a long career there, into working at HDR?

Doug McAneny: Well, honestly, I was hired, not for really my technical ability as an engineer. I was hired as a leader into the company. I oversee a broad group of folks. Of course, there was a lot that I had to learn, no question about it, but I was confident in my ability and my dedication that I would learn. It was a little overwhelming in the beginning. I'm not going to lie to you. (laughs) But like most things, I focus time and effort and attention on and asked a lot of questions and it was eventually something that I learned to master. You don't want me designing a bridge. As I tell students, (chuckles) the days are long gone, when I remember the principles of my structural engineering courses, but I am capable of sort of getting to the bottom of an issue and asking the right questions. And I have the technical background to understand a deeply technical matter when it's explained to me.

Karl Vogel: Right. And so what types of work is it that you do as president of the Federal Business Group for HDR?

Doug McAneny: So my group is responsible for about $170 million worth of revenue per year for a broad array of federal clients. What my time and energy is spent on is dealing with issues that we have to confront with our major clients as we deliver that design effort, that $170 million worth of design. So I represent my group at the executive level. We spend time frequently talking about where we're facing challenges and what we're going to do. That's really the crux of what I do as a federal business group president. It's consistent with my counterparts in the company as well. They're not paid to get down and create a plan set, if you will. They're really paid to make sure that we're consistently delivering quality results.

Karl Vogel: How much was that stressed when you were a student, consistency?

Doug McAneny: Well, I don't remember that it was necessarily something that we talked about on a regular basis, but certainly through the courses that I took, there was a lot of focus and attention on mastering the technical skills of a given area of study and very rigorous application of examinations and classroom presentations that made it pretty dog on clear that, I'm gonna decide whether that you've mastered this to the level that you need to master it, based on the results that you show to me on an examination that I'm gonna administer it to you four times a year or a semester, I should say. So every four weeks, because we were on a 16 week program, you took a series of examinations and that graded paper coming back was pretty important, and it certainly was clear evidence and to me where I needed to maybe focus a bit more of my time and effort. The school did a very, very good job of making sure I understood what the standard is. Of course, I had no experience at all with clients. I'm really encouraged to see that. You talk about the,

Karl Vogel: Complete engineering.

Doug McAneny: Complete engineering initiative, there's a lot of, I think, well deserved focus on, so how does this apply to your client? How does this apply to a negotiation? And there wasn't much emphasis on that when I was an undergrad. And I think it's well deserved emphasis.

Karl Vogel: You learned a lot from your Naval career, that you're now transitioning into the private sector. How much longer do you see yourself working or do you have a plan ever in place to retire?

Doug McAneny: Oh yeah, I'll retire someday. Clearly I'll do that, but what's kept me going for 41 years is really the opportunity to work with great people. I tell my staff this all the time, we're very, very fortunate. We're an employing firm of 10,000 people. All of them come to work each and every day trying to do the best job they can for their clients. And that's pretty exciting stuff. We are challenged sometimes in delivery, and that's where I get involved. I have to deal with that with our larger clients and try to explain to them what it is we're doing and why we're doing it. But I enjoy getting up in the morning and coming to work, and as long as I can say that, I'll be working for HDR. Will that be another 25 years? I don't think so because at my advanced age,

Karl Vogel: (chuckles)

Doug McAneny: I'll have trouble getting out of bed 25 years from now. But God willing, my health is good. I'm gonna keep doing it because I have a great team that supports me and I enjoy it.

Karl Vogel: And you got to get back here to some football games.

Doug McAneny: Yeah, that's right. That's right.

Karl Vogel: All right, well, Doug, thanks for stopping by, and taking part in our podcast.

Doug McAneny: Thank you.

(gentle music)

(Narrator): Thank you for listening to the Complete Engineering Podcast. For more information, visit us at engineering.unl.edu.

(gentle music)