I never thought I would leave California. I was raised in the San Francisco Bay area, and I came to Nebraska to go to college and law school because the University of Nebraska offered me a swimming scholarship. Coming here got me to think more broadly about where opportunities were. In California and maybe on the East Coast, too, you get a little biased that there’s so much going on there that there’s no reason to leave. By moving to the Midwest, I understood there are things worth enjoying everywhere.
David Hecker: Career Highlights
1982: Leaves the San Francisco Bay area for a full swimming scholarship at the University of Nebraska and serves as team captain in his sophomore and senior years
1986: Graduates from the University of Nebraska and is offered a rare law school scholarship
1989: Graduates from the University of Nebraska College of Law
1989–1998: Works for Erickson Sederstrom P.C. and Woods & Aiken, LLP
1998: Leaves Woods & Aiken for a partnership position at Kutak Rock, LLP, the largest law firm in Nebraska, to build a construction litigation practice there
2003: Joins Kiewit Corporation as a district attorney
2009: Becomes the group general counsel for Kiewit
2009: Joins the board of Voices for Children of Nebraska and eventually becomes board president for the nonpartisan children’s advocacy group
I didn’t grow up wanting to be a lawyer, but I followed in the footsteps of some adults I knew. I remember I wanted to be a mergers and acquisitions attorney because I read that the lawyers that helped start Apple Computer took stock as part of their fee and became wildly rich. That seemed like an exotic kind of practice. I quickly realized that wasn’t my skill set. I started clerking with a general-practice law firm in school, and I found that litigation was something that fit more within my comfort zone. I enjoyed the intellectual competition you get into with litigation.
I went to work for Erickson Sederstrom P.C. and then Woods & Aiken, LLP, where I specialized in construction-related litigation at the highest level all over the country. Construction is a great field because we’re always building things. When the economy is generally poor, we are building to spend our way out of difficult times. When the economy is great, people are building because we can and we want to. The work tended to be quite litigious. From [Woods & Aiken] I went to Kutak Rock, LLP, the largest firm in Nebraska; then, in 2003, Kiewit called. Kiewit is one of the Fortune 500 companies headquartered here, and it was an industry I knew. If I didn’t say yes this time, they wouldn’t ask me another time. It’s worked out great.
I started with Kiewit as a district attorney, and I was named group general counsel in 2009. I’m responsible for the legal issues in our 17 operating districts. The company has tripled in size since I’ve been here. We did $3 billion in revenue in 2003 and will be pushing $11 billion this year. I enjoy our legacy of success, the diversity of the work we do, and the people I get to work with on the operations side and legal side. Almost every day is different and something new comes up.
The average size of our projects is bigger, so that presents different kinds of challenges. The risks you take on a $1 billion project are different than a $10 million project. When we sign a contract, we are telling the owner we are going to do what it takes to get the job done, even if it costs more than the contract says. The ability to identify risks early on is at a premium.
I was adopted, and I’ve always had this sense about the randomness of being adopted. Your parents pick you. It struck me that a child’s success and opportunities in life shouldn’t be dictated by whom their parents are. I’ve always wanted to make sure all kids have the opportunity to be successful. I serve as president of the board of directors of Voices for Children of Nebraska, which advocates for children who can’t vote and can’t lobby. We focus on public policy issues in the areas of education, health, welfare, safety, and economic stability. Recently, we defeated a proposal to cut government funding for prenatal care to women who are undocumented. The issue embodies our focus because those unborn children can’t advocate for themselves. We were successful in the last legislature in defeating that bill. ABQ