Dr. Kathy Farrell, James Jr. and Susan Stuart Endowed Dean, and Lisa Smith, ’90, senior vice president with D.A. Davidson and Company and chair of the Dean’s Advisory Board, hosted the 36th annual College of Business Advisory Board Awards virtually in April. Those recognized at the event included Allan Noddle ’62, food industry veteran; Mike Dunlap, ’86 & ’88, executive chairman at Nelnet; Jack O’Holleran, ’05, Skale co-founder and CEO; and Kiewit, one of the largest construction companies in North America.
“The annual Advisory Board Awards provide us with a platform to recognize and celebrate incredible individuals and organizations for their outstanding accomplishments in Nebraska and beyond. They help make our Nebraska Business community strong and vibrant,” said Smith.
Farrell recognized the 16 corporate sponsors of the award luncheon. They included Ameritas, BKD, CDBykerk Consulting, Conagra Brands, Cornerstone Bank, D.A. Davidson & Company, Deloitte, First National Bank, Lincoln Industries, Lutz, Nelnet, Pinnacle Bank, Talent Plus, Union Bank & Trust Company, U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo.
“You set high standards of achievement, and we continue to work every day to be bold and create a better future for business. Your generous support is a great example of the strong partnerships we have in the community,” Farrell said.
Lifetime Achievement Award – Allan Noddle, ’62
Noddle received the Nebraska Business Lifetime Achievement Award for his outstanding leadership, time, energy and guidance provided throughout his career. A native of Omaha, Nebraska, he graduated cum laude from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln in 1962.
“The best course I've ever taken in my entire life was business speech at the College of Business. That course taught us how to communicate, pick a subject, take a position and convince somebody else what your position was without any prior preparation,” Noddle said. “That single course put me on the right track. It was absolutely a life-changing event."
After serving in the U.S. Army and working at IBM, he responded to a blind newspaper ad for a buying and merchandising position in Omaha. Two days later, he received a call from Hinky Dinky with a new opportunity.
“I figured out right away food is something everybody’s going to have to have, and here we are, 60 years later in the middle of a global pandemic, and one of the only enterprises that's doing well is food stores,” Noddle said.
Named the youngest vice president at Hinky Dinky, he was later elected executive vice president and chief operating officer. Then Giant Foods hired him to help them expand.
“Allan was accessible. He was always in the stores with people, knew their names, knew their family’s names and was always an approachable, humble leader, who had very high expectations,” said Nick Bertrum, current president of The Giant Company. “He spoke with purpose and integrity and had dramatic transparency in everything that he did. Everybody knew who Giant was because Allan became the face of the brand and a local celebrity.”
Giant grew significantly and was acquired by Dutch grocer Royal Ahold. Noddle became president and CEO of Ahold’s USA Support Services division. In 1989, he became the first American to serve on the corporate executive board and moved to Amsterdam.
“Not many people will ever get the chance to work for a global company, and I jumped at that,” Noddle said. “It was an enriching experience for me personally, it was an enriching experience for me professionally. Our company was present in 32 countries on four continents.”
Officially retiring in 2002, Noddle continues to advise and mentor. The food industry veteran also gives back.
“When I look back on my career, I never had a bad job. I had some bad days, but I never had a bad job,” Noddle said. “I was lucky and blessed to be successful, and even more fun than getting there is giving somebody else the experience I had.”
Business Leadership Award – Mike Dunlap, ’86 & ’88
Honored as an outstanding example of a successful leader in his field, including business ethics, community service and overall business excellence, Dunlap started at Nebraska in the ’80s with the goal of becoming an engineer. However, he realized his natural talents after one business course.
“My dad suggested I take an accounting class. It started off with 60 kids, ended with nine and I think six of us passed the class,” Dunlap said. “I did relatively well with not a lot of effort compared to some of my engineering classes and thought maybe this fits more with my abilities.”
After graduating with degrees in finance and accounting, he earned his juris doctorate and became a member of the Nebraska Bar Association. Then he entered the world of business.
“I worked for Union Bank & Trust and my dad was CEO. On my first day, I asked what he wanted me to do, and he told me to figure it out. I had an interest in investments and so I went over to the trust department and said I wanted to work on the investment side, and that’s how I got started,” Dunlap said.
He used his talents to start the business that became Nelnet, headquartered in Lincoln, in 1996. The company started off acquiring student loans, and later serviced and originated student loans. Eventually, it also provided guarantee servicing and software, and student loan servicing software to other organizations.
“Over time we looked at the educational market and started to diversify across the horizontal timeline of education. We helped set up the 529 Plan in Nebraska and then plans in Alabama and Illinois to help people save for school,” Dunlap said. “Then we looked for different ways to diversify, and now we’ve got high-speed fiber and real estate and other things.”
Jeff Noordhoek, ’88, CEO of Nelnet, calls Dunlap a true entrepreneur. He also shared how an element of fun becomes part of all they do, even when times are tense.
“There is not a problem we run across that Mike doesn't believe we can solve or a business we couldn’t run with the right people, the right capital and the right innovation,” Noordhoek said. “That whole aspect of entrepreneurship is ingrained in everything he does, and we do as a company because of it. Throughout our history, we've had a blast working and growing a company, and doing great things for the community.”
Dunlap serves in leadership positions in organizations throughout Nebraska. He also supports efforts in and around the state, including supporting the capital campaign for Howard L. Hawks Hall.
“One of our main values at Nelnet is to give back to the communities we work in and work with. It’s key to try to keep the community vibrant for our associates, so they want to move to and live in Lincoln and want to stay in Lincoln. It’s a great community, so how can we make it greater in the future?”
Young Alumni Award – Jack O’Holleran, ’05
O’Holleran received the Young Alumni Award for being an outstanding example of a successful leader who provides inspiration and insight to College of Business students and members of the Nebraska Business community. After graduating with a degree in business administration, the former Husker football player headed to California to work for a startup and three years later, he co-founded his first company.
“Being a Husker prepared me to start my own business in a lot of ways, and there’s something about Nebraska football – about toughness, resilience and giving it your all that carried over very well into being a founder of a company,” O’Holleran said. “When you start companies, you have to fight through tough times. There’s just an element of not giving up and bringing your best every day. It’s really helped me as an entrepreneur.”
While in high school, O’Holleran was recruited by Coach Ron Brown, now senior offensive analyst for the Nebraska Football team. Brown visited North Platte, Nebraska, to learn more about O’Holleran and his family.
“I could see Jack had a foundation that was really strong.” Brown said. “If the house blew down, there would still be a foundation there, and he would just rebuild it.”
When his company became Aktana, O’Holleran spent nine years building it into a leading global technology platform for pharmaceutical and biotech companies. Then he left to co-found Skale Labs.
“We started Skale with the goal of helping blockchain architecture and infrastructure grow so that it can support hundreds of millions or billions of users. Blockchains typically run with one database where every computer runs the same software,” O’Holleran said. “Imagine that’s a highway, there’s just one big lane of traffic. You’re going to get there, but it’s going to be slow and expensive. The Skale network is designed so that every application gets its own blockchain so at any given time, you’re randomly assigned a subset of a large pool of computers in a secure manner. Instead of every car sharing the same highway, each car has its own lane and can drive as fast as it wants.”
O’Holleran taught himself to code to make himself more impactful as co-founder. He shared how learning and investing in techniques also carried over from his time as a Husker.
“I'm not surprised Jack has done well in the business world,” Brown said. “In football, you have to think quickly and sometimes the way it was drawn up, isn’t what happens on the field. You’ve got to have instantaneous reaction to something that might be very new and very different for you. He has adapted and gone on to build empires because of training and ingenuity.”
Corporate Leadership Award – Kiewit
Dave Freeman, ’99, corporate operations controller, accepted the Corporate Leadership Award on behalf of Kiewit, headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska. The award recognizes excellence in successful, dynamic Nebraska-based companies with a high level of commitment to their communities, customers and employees.
Kiewit began in 1884 with two brothers forming a masonry contracting partnership in Omaha. The company constructed landmarks like the Lincoln Hotel, the Joslyn Art Museum and continued to innovate and expand into new areas. Today, the Fortune 500 company is one of the largest construction companies in North America.
“Kiewit’s a solutions provider, so we listen to our clients. We try to understand their needs and then comprehensively address those needs,” Freeman said. “During the Great Depression, we were primarily a vertical building contractor. Then we started building highways. During World War II, Kiewit built Army barracks in the U.S., as well as a missile defense system up in Greenland. Ten years ago, we were building nuclear and coal plants, and now we are building solar and wind farms. We recently built the Los Angeles Rams Stadium and then a very large-scale energy project called Cove Point, which is supplying natural gas to Japan.”
Kiewit’s core values include conducting business with the highest levels of integrity and consistently focusing on quality and excellence. They also hire the best and brightest people to develops the next generation of leaders.
“Kiewit recruits at the College of Business because we’re looking for talented folks with strong business ethics that will make Kiewit even stronger. We also find people looking for distinctive experiences and provide that for them,” Freeman said.
After meeting with faculty and staff at the college, Kiewit developed a recruitment plan to better communicate with business students. Freeman shared the benefits of building those relationships.
“We’ve hired more than 65 students between interns and full-time hires out of the College of Business at Kiewit. We currently employ many alums, including myself, and the partnership is going to be key for Kiewit to really lead the future of business,” Freeman said.
The four honorees join an impressive and long list of past Nebraska Business award recipients, including Bruce Lauritzen, Skip Hove, JoAnn Martin, Jim Seacrest, Alice Dittman, Dick Chapin and Warren Buffett. A complete list of all award recipients honored since 1984 can be found at: https://business.unl.edu/abawards.