Omaha Business Hall of Fame Welcomes Six Leaders from Five Area Companies 4/13/16 04/13/16 11:03:50 AM
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The Greater Omaha Chamber has named this year’s Omaha Business Hall of Fame inductees. They are, from top-left clockwise: John J. “Jack” Koraleski, Union Pacific Railroad; Gary Gates, OPPD; Steven Martin, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska; the late Irving Dana Jr., DLR Group, and Fred Hawkins Jr. and Kenneth “Kim” Hawkins of Hawkins Construction Co.
Omaha Business Hall of Fame Welcomes
Six Leaders from Five Area Companies
By Andy Roberts
The Daily Record
It’s always a stellar group, but this year’s inductees to the Omaha Business Hall of Fame would be tough for any class to match in terms of lasting legacies and dynamic impact on the community.
They include Jack Koraleski, Gary Gates, Steven Martin, Fred Jr. and Kim Hawkins, and the late Irving Dana Jr. The new class will be honored tonight at the Greater Omaha Chamber’s Omaha Business Hall of Fame Gala at the Holland Performing Arts Center.
Here is a closer look at the newest inductees of the Omaha Business Hall of Fame.
John J. ‘Jack’ KoraleskiUnlike the manner in which things generally unfold for the “Great Big Rollin’ Railroad,” the way things worked out for John J. “Jack” Koraleski was not according to plan. It did, however, land him in the Omaha Business Hall of Fame.
Union Pacific Railroad
The Omaha-born Koraleski, Union Pacific’s retired president and CEO, attended the old Ryan High School and earned his undergraduate and MBA degrees at UNO. The future for him and his then-fiancé Stephanie was not going to involve Omaha.
“We didn’t plan that,” he said. “It was kind of fate that played its hand there.”
With three job offers elsewhere in hand, Koraleski went to Sunday dinner.
“I had a good friend whose dad worked at Union Pacific,” he recalled. The friend’s father asked for a resume and Koraleski gave in during the meal.
By Monday the interview opportunities flowed in and, by Wednesday, there was a job offer. Koraleski recalled the other three offers were in the range of $675-$750 per month. “Union Pacific offered nine and a quarter.”
He told Stephanie they would probably be gone in a few years, so he took the U.P. offer and the three out-of-town jobs went away – but Koraleski didn’t.
After 27 years in finance – including 10 as CFO, and three years in marketing/sales – retirement had become a real possibility. But those plans also changed as his best friend, then-CEO Jim Young, became stricken with and passed away from pancreatic cancer. Koraleski stepped in and, for his last three and a half years, served as chairman, president and CEO of Union Pacific Railroad, retiring last fall as executive chairman.
“Garth Brooks has a song called ‘God’s Greatest Gifts Are Unanswered Prayers,’” Koraleski said. “That kind of fills the bill on that one.”
There were “so many things” that made his run at U.P. successful, as he led the company toward 12 consecutive quarters of record earnings and the price of its stock more than doubled. “No. 1 is it’s a great company,” he emphasized. “Started by Abe Lincoln … It’s fundamental to what makes America grow.”
Koraleski praised a “great team” and a culture “that made customers the focal point … and made sure we took good care of the shareholders.” With all three in place, he said, Union Pacific had everything it needed to be a success.
No one can properly discuss Koraleski’s legacy without pointing out that he was one of the first business leaders to really embrace diversity.
“It started as a focal point of a small group of black employees who organized themselves into what became the Black Employee Network,” he recalled. They came together in “a very positive way” to become a network for recruiting talented people.
“Not only recruiting them,” Koraleski emphasized, “[but] developing and retaining them. So that’s what we focused on.”
It is his view that, in some ways, similarities shared by the employees can help a company, such as a focus on getting the job done. But diversity, he believes, can be a game-changer.
“It’s really our differences that drive creativity,” he said. “Surround yourself with people who are different than you are … so you are not creating a kind of insolated, inbred type of management.”
That was not allowed to happen under Koraleski at U.P. “If everybody on your leadership team looks like you, thinks like you and acts like you, you’re not going to get very far.”
As Koraleski looks into the future, America’s railroads have “lots of upside.”
“The railroad industry in America is truly one of the crown jewels of the nation,” Koraleski said. The fact that it’s built with private dollars makes it even more special, he said, adding that America’s railroads are a tremendous infrastructure that is the envy of the world.
It is no surprise, then, that Koraleski calls Omaha a “tremendous place to do business.” The city is lucky, he said, to have a broad base of hard-working people with Midwestern values which inspire them to want to give back to the community.
Consider Koraleski as one of those Midwesterners who doesn’t seem to know how to stop giving back. His volunteer work has included time given to Heritage Services, Omaha Performing Arts Society, Lauritzen Gardens, Creighton University, and service as a member of the national advisory board for the UNO College of Business. Koraleski also was King of Aksarben, and acknowledged he may keep his fingers in the business world, too.
“This retirement thing hasn’t worked out too well,” he chuckled. “I think I’m busier than when I was working. Haven’t made it to the point where we’re going to travel the world.”
Gary Gates, OPPDGates, who began his career as a summer employee, retired last year from OPPD as president and CEO after nearly 43 years of service.
Born in Red Oak, Iowa, Wayne “Gary” Gates grew up as an only child and developed a fondness for engineering, in which he earned his undergraduate degree at Iowa State University, followed by master’s degrees from both the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Creighton University.
During his time at OPPD, Gates advanced from his summer job to serve in a number of positions ranging from manager of the Fort Calhoun Station, to executive assistant to the president, to division manager of nuclear operations, in addition to serving as vice president.
Gates provided leadership as OPPD built a state-of-the-art coal plant, engaged in a major overhaul of its nuclear plant, and developed the organization’s first 10-year strategic plan. He also enhanced cybersecurity measures – an ever-growing area of concern for all entities, public or private.
Gates and his wife, Kathy, were last year named United Way’s Citizens of the Year. He continues to serve the community through his work with the Boy Scouts, Boys Town and Creighton University.
Upon his selection to the Greater Omaha Chamber’s Omaha Business Hall of Fame, Gates called it a “fantastic” group of men and women. “Of course I was honored and really humbled to be a part of that group,” he said. “Omaha is such a great place to do business. The Chamber provides a great path for people to do business.”
There are many benefits that come with Nebraska being the only all-public power state in the nation, he said. “It is a great separator.”
Steven MartinSteven Martin is the long-time president and CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska, and a firm believer in the team concept.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield
Delivering newspapers and mowing lawns as a 12-year-old in his hometown of Horton, Kansas, Martin moved on to concrete construction at 16. That taught him the value of hard work, and he paid for his own college education by combining athletic and academic scholarships.
With a nurse for a mother, his involvement in health care came naturally enough. He started a home health services company, HealthCheck, Inc. with two partners after his graduation from Washburn University. Not surprisingly, his father had also been an entrepreneur.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska (BCBSNE) welcomed Martin in 1986 as its first director of reimbursement. Eleven years later he left to become Prime Therapeutics’ first CEO. That BSBSNE offshoot is now the nation’s largest privately held manager of pharmacy benefits. In 2002 he went back to Blue Cross and Blue Shield, this time as president and CEO.
He is likely to tell you that his greatest fortune came in meeting his wife, Dr. Amy Haddad, and sharing three decades of marriage. Together they have chaired the United Way of the Midlands annual campaign and donated their talents to numerous other nonprofits. Those include Community Alliance, Omaha Children’s Museum, TeamMates and Voices for Children.
“Well, I’m pretty humbled considering all those who came before me,” Martin said of his Hall of Fame selection. “My first reaction was: ‘They made a mistake.’”
The consummate team builder, Martin emphasized such success does not come solely from the work of one man.
“Building trust and building teams are key,” he stressed. “[And] focusing always on the customer first.”
Martin added, “You can go a little way alone, but you can go a long way and get a lot done with the team.”
Irving Dana Jr.The late Irving Dana Jr. founded two tremendously successful Omaha-based enterprises. One is the architectural firm Dana, Larson, Roubal & Associates, known today as DLR Group. The second was PSI Group, a mail sorting operation.
He grew up in the family poultry business, but it didn’t take long for him to know that his passion was elsewhere. A junior high mechanical drawing course led to an interest in architecture.
The GI Bill was available after his service in the U.S. Navy during World War II, allowing Dana Jr. to earn his degree in architecture from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
That led him to Leo A. Daly in the early 1950s but, with help from his family, he founded Irving R. Dana and Associates around 1962 working from home. The original firm focused on schools, churches and projects to help the lives of Native Americans.
In partnership with William Larson and James Roubal, the three founded what became DLR Group in 1966. One of America’s largest architectural-engineering firms, its base remains in Omaha, with offices from Houston to Honolulu. With that firm, the most notable of his designs might be the Gene Leahy Mall.
He later sold the architectural firm to its employees, and within a decade he founded PSI group. It wasn’t long before seven percent of all first-class mail in the United States was being processed by PSI Group.
Dana gave his time and service to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, earning an honorary chief title with the Ogallala Sioux. He also served the Greater Omaha Chamber, Nebraska Arts Council, United Way, and the Alumni Board for the University of Nebraska.
Irving Dana Jr. died in 1998, seven years after his diagnosis with stage four prostate cancer and the founding of PSI Group.
“Obviously it’s really an honor for my father and our family,” said his son, Irving Dana III. “He certainly contributed a lot to the community.”
Dana III said his father always wanted to make sure the headquarters of DLR Group was in Omaha.
“He always felt there was no place like Nebraska,” Dana III said, acknowledging his father stayed true to his UNL roots.
DLR Group has become the eighth largest architectural firm in the nation, Dana III said, with 21 locations and more than 700 employees.
“It did blossom.”
Fred Jr. andBorn and raised in Omaha, Westside High School graduates Kim and Fred Hawkins Jr. grew up in the family business. That firm’s history dates back to 1922 when their grandfather had a contract to build one of the state’s most iconic structures: a little place in Lincoln called Memorial Stadium.
Kenneth “Kim” Hawkins
Hawkins Construction Co.
According to construction lore, the man who owned Parsons Construction didn’t want the job, so Kenneth Hawkins and his brother bought the company and raised the home of the Huskers.
Kenneth and his son, Fred Sr., incorporated the business into what now is Hawkins Construction Co. When their father retired 36 years ago, Fred Jr. became CEO and Kim became president.
Making a mark with highway and bridge construction in the 1990s, their work since the turn of the decade has included the Nebraska State Correctional Facility in Tecumseh, the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Durham Research Center, the widening of Interstate 80 from Omaha to the Platte River, and Omaha’s elevated West Dodge Expressway.
Kim and his wife, Karen, have long been advocates for the Boys and Girls Club. Fred Jr. and his wife, Marianne, have worked to provide scholarships for students who otherwise might not have attended college.
Their induction into the Omaha Business Hall of Fame follows the footsteps of their father, who was inducted 17 years ago.
Kim was out of town when The Daily Record attempted to contact the brothers for comment, but we were able to catch Fred Jr. He expressed his thanks and appreciation for the recognition saying he was “Busy, but excited.”