By Beth McGinn
Nick Ivanoff always knew he wanted to be an engineer.
He came from a family that made a living using their intellect and creativity to build great things. His father was a self-taught mechanical designer, and as a young boy, Nick enjoyed watching him work.
His uncle was an aeronautical engineer trained at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, and Nick knew early on that was where he wanted to get his degree. “Becoming an engineer—it was almost preordained,” Ivanoff says. But what kind of engineer Nick would become had more to do with circumstance than family.
During the early 1970s, the aeronautical field, which had a large presence in the New York area, was coming on hard times. The industry he had planned to enter after graduation was experiencing significant downsizing and consolidation. Unsure which direction to take his career, Nick asked his school counselors for guidance. Mechanical and electrical engineering were suggested, but neither appealed to Nick. Then the counselor suggested civil engineering, and his interest was piqued.
“They told me it’s all about buildings, highways, bridges,” Nick recalls. “I said, ‘That sounds great. I’m in!’”It was a decision that set-off a distinguished 35-year career.
Now a registered civil engineer in more than 20 states, Nick has worked on major highway, airport and transit projects across the country and the globe.
Ivanoff is the first of two sons born to Russian immigrants who came to the United States in 1952. Raised in a modest, working-class family in Brooklyn, Nick only learned to speak English when he entered grade school. Growing up in New York, Nick’s parents made sure he stayed immersed in his heritage.
“I attended ‘Russian school’ as part of our local church for 10 years. I’m one of the few people who can actually say they read War & Peace in Russian, and that was fairly traumatic also,” Ivanoff says with a smile.
But life in the Big Apple also afforded lots of formative sights and experiences. “When I was a boy growing up, I witnessed the construction of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge,” Nick explained. “It just so happens that Othmar Ammann was the designer of that bridge. So, it’s kind of full circle here, many years later, having the privilege of being in the company he founded.”
The boy from Brooklyn now heads operations for the venerable engineering firm Ammann & Whitney, which is headquartered in Manhattan. As President and CEO, Nick has technical, marketing, administrative and financial responsibility for company operations worldwide and serves as principal-in-charge for some of the firm’s larger, more complex projects, including past efforts for the Central Artery in Boston and Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C.
A Passion for Sailing
One of Nick’s greatest passions is sailing, a fascination that began in early childhood. During weekend trips to visit relatives, the Ivanoff family passed by Long Island Sound. Nick would stare out the window admiring the hundreds of sailboats in the bay.
“Coming from a modest background, it was almost like an unreachable dream to be into ‘yachting,’” Nick said jokingly. “It was always a fascination, but the first time I had the opportunity to try sailing was not until I was a college student. I rented a catamaran. I had never been on a sailboat before, and I had no idea how a sailboat even worked. But after the rental period was over, I was able to get back to land without having to be rescued, and I’ve been hooked ever since.”
Today, Nick, and his wife, Robin, own a 42-foot sailing boat named “Silver Lining.” When they aren’t working, or cooking for friends and family at home in New Jersey, the couple can be found cruising the coastal waters of New England.
When asked if there are any parallels between sailing and his new role as the leader for ARTBA, Nick explained the key to success in the year ahead will be a combination of patience and persistence.
“Like sailing, in business or in politics, you have to be patient because the wind isn’t always blowing, and when it is, it’s not always blowing in the right direction. So, sometimes you have to tack until you find a better wind to get to your ultimate destination. There are always going to be obstacles, but the key is to find the alternate path and persevere.”
ARTBA will rely on Nick’s steady and strategic leadership in the months ahead as he seeks to implement his agenda as ARTBA chairman. The federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF), which makes up about half of all highway and bridge capital investments by the states, has suffered five revenue shortfalls in the last seven years. The next cash crisis will occur in May 2015, just at the beginning of the busy construction season. The continued uncertainty over federal funds is hindering the ability of some states to plan their projects.
Nick plans for ARTBA to continue leading the industry charge for a permanent solution to boost the revenue stream flowing into the HTF. In a series of post-election opinion pieces that were published in newspapers across the country this November, Ivanoff called on key Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee to work together to find a sustainable financing solution, calling it “one of the greatest opportunities for bipartisan cooperation.”
Once the HTF’s solvency is addressed, Nick says ARTBA will continue to lead the industry charge in advocating for a significant boost in federal transportation investment as part of the
reauthorization of MAP-21—the 2012 highway, and transit law.
ARTBA’s “Transportation Makes America Work” grassroots lobbying and advocacy communications program will continue to be the vehicle to advance the association’s HTF and MAP-21 reauthorization agenda. Ivanoff believes that it is critical for industry firms and organizations to continue providing the “financial muscle” necessary so that ARTBA has the resources to fight the fight on Capitol Hill, and back in the states when appropriate.
Nick also plans to leverage the upcoming 20th Anniversary of the Foundation’s Young Executive Development Program to initiate an effort that aims to engage Generation Y in helping build their careers, and their companies’ market share, in transportation. He’s already announced the creation of the “Young Executive Leadership Task Force,” which is slated to hold its first meeting in January.
“Bringing new, young leaders into ARTBA is essential because they will think outside the box,” Ivanoff says. “They are the ones who will say, ‘Why not? Why can’t we do it this way?’”
To make ARTBA even more effective, Nick says he is also committed to growing its membership. Membership development is key to the association’s future growth, and Ivanoff, as a past chairman of the ARTBA International Affairs Advisory Council, says his focus will be not just on companies at home, but also on international firms doing business in the U.S.
And finally, Nick plans to engage fellow association leaders in the safety arena by expanding ARTBA initiatives in risk management and preventing falls during construction, inspection and maintenance.
Brighter Days Ahead
The name of Nick’s boat says a lot about his dynamic and optimistic personal leadership style. When asked how he and Robin chose the name, he said, “It’s similar to a light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes when there are clouds in the sky you will see a silver lining on them, so you know there is a sun behind them somewhere.”
The transportation design and construction industry has certainly seen its share of storm clouds over the last several years, but Ivanoff is now at the helm, ready to steer the industry to a brighter future.