A passion for construction is in Randy Okland’s blood. His family’s business, Salt Lake City’s Okland Construction, was founded in 1918 by his grandfather, John Okland, a Norwegian immigrant and shipbuilder. Randy swept the floors and cleaned and fueled company vehicles while working as a laborer and later as a carpenter and concrete former. After graduating from the University of Utah, Randy worked full time at Okland, eventually taking over leadership of the company from his father in 1980.
During his tenure, he helped Okland Construction grow from a medium-size regional contractor into a national firm with more than 900 employees and offices in three Western states. The firm consistently ranks in the top three Intermountain contractors on ENR’s regional list, this year ranked No. 2, with 2018 revenue of $767.5 million.
“Randy loves seeing teams being built and watching those teams build projects,” says his son, Brett, who today, along with his brother, Bill, comprise the fourth generation of Okland leadership. Randy, now 74, insists he isn’t quite ready to retire just yet. He has overseen construction of every project Okland has built since he took the helm 40 years ago and says he continues to be driven by the thrill that comes from seeing something built “from dirt up.”
Salt Lake City real estate developer Kem Gardner, chairman of the Gardner Co., has worked with Randy for 40 years and completed over a billion dollars in construction with Okland Construction. “Randy has instilled a culture of not just high performance, but of staying on the job, making sure everything is done right and taking care of problems as they arise,” he says. “We use five or six different firms, but on the big jobs, you want Okland there.”
For his leadership in establishing a high-performance culture at his firm and for his long list of community and industry accomplishments, Randy Okland has been selected by ENR editors as the Intermountain Legacy Award winner for 2019.
Okland Construction has been involved in some of the most challenging—and most important—projects in the region, including many large corporate campuses. Okland worked with the Gardner Co. on the 280,000-sq-ft Adobe Campus project in 2012, built to house thousands of employees in Lehi, Utah. The project included the kind of innovative design that Randy takes particular interest in building. Today Okland is building Phase 2 of the Adobe Campus, scheduled for completion in January.
Randy’s career has included building or renovating more than 30 LDS temples, including the iconic 1.5-million-sq-ft LDS Conference Center, which encompasses an entire city block in downtown Salt Lake City. Other memorable projects include the $350-million, 1.7-million-sq-ft Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City, built just before the 2000 Winter Olympics; Vivant Arena, home to the Utah Jazz; and the Intermountain Medical Center, the largest hospital in the Intermountain West. The Cliff Lodge at Snowbird was one of the first major resort projects for Okland. Since then, numerous others have followed, including the St. Regis at Deer Valley. Okland has won numerous ENR Best Projects awards representing the breadth and depth of the contractor’s vast portfolio.
“Generally, all the projects we build are new and different, and that has been exciting to me over the years,” Randy says. “Construction is not easy. There are always problems to solve, working with special conditions, different sites and challenges. But the challenges make the business fun and worth being involved.”
In 1964, Randy took a break from school to serve the LDS church as a missionary in Norway. His heart for service, combined with a strong faith, foreshadowed the role he would play in setting the tone for a solid community culture at Okland.
“Randy’s greatest strength is the way he treats people with respect, appreciation and gratitude,” says Jeremy Blanck, an Okland project executive who has worked with him for 20 years. “He wants everyone to feel important.”
Okland recently embraced the phrase: creating remarkable experiences. “We want everyone who touches the company to have this,” Blanck says. “Randy insists that everyone wins; our trade partners, especially, are entitled to and deserve success [as a result of] a good work environment and properly executed projects so they can achieve their own goals. That’s what Randy has always instilled in us. We’re all on equal playing ground; everyone is treated the same and has something to offer.”
“Randy is the kind of guy who makes you feel good when you’re in his presence,” adds Rich Thorn, CEO, AGC of Utah. “That’s part of his legacy—how his influence and example has helped set the table for future generations. He’ll hire the right person, mentor them, teach them how to do things. The number of people, both young and old, that he has influenced is just extraordinary.”
“You can have vision and values, but Randy’s culture is what I like: helping the community and participating in more than [just the] construction work,” Gardner says. “Randy’s firm just donated most of the work on two new homeless shelters in Salt Lake City. That’s a great community gift. It’s part of their culture of giving back, and it’s one of the reasons they do so well. People trust them and know they are supporters of community.”
Randy’s legacy in Salt Lake also has included serving on the boards of Key Bank, the Intermountain Healthcare Deseret Foundation (an LDS hospital), the Downtown Alliance, the Salt Lake Chamber and both AGC of Utah and AGC of America. He was honored by AGC of Utah in 2005 as a recipient of the association’s Eric W. Ryberg award for his lifetime of service to the construction industry in Utah.
“Our company was founded here in Salt Lake, and we have always felt a sense of gratitude and debt to this community for all it has given us. Salt Lake helped us in our early beginnings, and Randy has always wanted to get behind anything that promotes the community,” Brett Okland says.
Even in semi-retirement, Randy remains one of the state’s most respected contracting leaders. “The way Randy does business has elevated our whole industry. The reputation of all contractors in Utah is better as a result,” Brett says. “Even today he relies on the legacy and lessons he was taught by his father and grandfather, and we do the same. We reference John Okland quite frequently.”
“Randy has been a steady influence at Okland and in the community his entire career,” Blanck adds. “He doesn’t do things for credit, but for the satisfaction of working on them. He humbly leads and makes suggestions; he provides a great balance for today’s workforce.”
“This award is an honor, but it’s the company’s award,” Randy insists. “It’s a team effort. Building these large projects—it isn’t any one person. Things have changed—the whole outlook of the company has changed—but we’re still following in the steps of John Okland and the quality he created.”