Vice President of Federal Operations James M. Neilson, DBIA

How did you get involved in the construction industry?

I started designing things in High School.  In my second year at Clemson University, one of my professors convinced me my talents were best applied to building construction as opposed to design.  I changed my major from Architecture to Building Science.  That summer I found my first field job and never looked back.  15 years later I went back to Clemson and thanked that professor. 

How did you get involved in the Federal side of the construction industry?

I was in Texas in the late 80’s working in the private sector when the economy took a dive.  A colleague offered me a three month contract on a federally funded project in Hawaii.  I stayed there for two years and have continued with Federal sector work ever since.  


What are you passionate about in the Federal construction industry?

I feel we are impacting the Armed Services in a very positive way.  We improve the facilities they use to train, work, and raise their families.  


What is something unique about the Federal construction industry?

The way they procure work is always changing.  In some ways, the Government is out in front of other construction sectors.  They have long used Best Value as one method for awarding work. Many times they go out of their way to bring in the right contractor for the job to ensure the best value is obtained.   


What challenges are associated with the Federal market?

The funding has always been very cyclical. Getting the right people in the right place at the right time is challenging.  Our people have to be versatile to meet the Government’s changing construction needs.    


Can you share something you’ve learned from your 27 years in the business?

It is easy to do the right thing.  


The recent recession has hit the construction industry hard, what do you think businesses can learn or take away from it?

Stay cost effective in every aspect of your life.  Change will come easier that way.


Do you have any advice to anyone just starting out in the business?

Out work and out think your peers and the competition. If you work smart and hard you excel in this industry.  More importantly, become a student of ethical behavior.  Remember you never get a “do-over” when it comes to this. 


How would you describe your leadership style?

I’m not sure I have a style.  Each situation is different.  I am constantly trying to evolve.  I’d like to think I learn and grow.  


What are the most important qualities your team members must possess?

Honor, Courage and Commitment.  These are common traits in the core values of each branch of the Armed Services.  I believe a business should align itself with its customers.  


What do you feel sets Henderson apart from other general contractors?

Henderson’s ability to adapt to the market for 54 years.

Is there a gadget you can’t live without?

A wrist watch.  It helps me keep my commitments.  I like the mechanical type with no batteries.  The works and craftsmanship are amazing.  

Outside of Henderson, what do you like to do in your free time?

Like most people, my family comes first. I spend most of my time with my bride of 21 years and our three children.  I’ve also started playing golf again.  It is a very humbling game.   

Favorite quote?

“Adversity is the companion of a champion, the enemy to the weak.”  William Christopher Swinney said that this week.  

How do you deal with stress?

I try NOT to prepare mentally for every potential situation. I learned in a stress management class that your body doesn’t know the difference between what mental preparations is versus what is really happening.  This saves wear and tear on your body.  


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