John Okland emigrated from Norway to the U.S. in the early 1900s, and the company he founded in 1918 is now one of the largest construction companies in the country.
The fact that Okland Construction – ranked No. 56 nationally by Engineering-News Record in 2009 revenues – continues to thrive into its fourth generation of family management is not lost on Randy Okland, current company president and grandson of John Okland.
“One thing that’s been good as a family business is the fact that we’ve been able to phase in and out generations,” Randy Okland says. “It’s pretty rare to have that continuation from one generation to the other. That’s one thing instilled by my grandfather, my father and myself.”
Brett Okland, a vice president in the firm’s Salt Lake City office and one of Randy’s two sons working in the family business, says, “Construction has been strongly instilled in our minds since a young age. It’s what we love. We want to be cutting edge and innovative and keep at the forefront the principles that made us successful.”
Besides the Salt Lake headquarters, Okland has offices in Tempe, Ariz.; Durango, Colo.; and Ketchum, Idaho. Brett’s brother Bill runs the Tempe office, while Randy’s brother James is an executive vice president in Salt Lake.
Jack Okland, father of Randy and James, helped the company transition from John’s early days into the major player it has become today. Jack died in fall 2007, but his influence on how the company works remains a hallmark.
James says about his father: “When I finished college, Dad said, ‘You’ve got a week and you’re going to show up at the office.’ He had a lot of confidence in us. Within my first year, I was doing major estimates. There has always been a high expectation of us.”
Journey from Norway
John Okland came to the United States from an island in Norway, hoping he could ultimately go to engineering school, but he started out working on the farm of an uncle who had immigrated to North Dakota. John had worked in Norway building large wooden boats. He had a keen eye for craftsmanship and a solid understanding of how to build things correctly.
His path took a fortunate turn when he met a woman from Norway who had converted to the LDS Church. He ended up converting, and after working a year for his uncle, he moved to Utah and got married.
Randy Okland says John’s skill as a carpenter brought him jobs in Salt Lake City working for other Scandinavian immigrants, including Soren Jacobsen, founder of Salt Lake-based Jacobsen Construction; and Kaspar Fetzer, founder of Fetzers Inc., a prominent woodworking firm in the city.
John founded Okland Construction in 1918, and from then until 1945, he focused on residential construction, along with some infrastructure work and smaller commercial projects. His son Jack, an All-American football player at the University of Utah, helped take the company to the next level.
“We’ve always been committed to making people proud,” James says. “My grandfather lived across the street from my dad, and family was always important.”
John pushed honesty and quality work, Randy says. He lived to be 92, and even in his later years, John was never shy about doing hard labor.
Okland Construction’s work is evident across the western U.S. Utah projects include the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City, a joint-venture with Jacobsen Construction; the LDS Conference Center, a joint-venture with Jacobsen and Layton Construction of Sandy; the Utah One Center and Brigham Apartments in Salt Lake; Park City Medical Center; St. Regis Hotel at Deer Valley in Park City; and a slew of LDS temples.
Randy Okland says the firm has always been attentive to detail and to doing things above and beyond what clients expect.
“We’ve built a lot of great projects over the years,” he adds. “The Conference Center was one of many great projects. Even some of the smaller projects are memorable.
“We’ve built a lot of temples for the LDS Church, and we had the opportunity to build eight temples in Mexico at one point. We got to go down and see what they meant to the people there.”