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Leadership Spotlight with Josh Van Abel: Vice President

Josh Van Abel family

We recently sat down with Josh Van Abel to learn more about his new role as a Vice President and Twin Cities Engineering Group Manager. We asked him about his new role, how he got his start at Braun Intertec and the advice he has for new engineers entering the field.

What is your current role at Braun Intertec?
My current role is Vice President and Manager of the Twin Cities Engineering Group, which includes around 55 professional staff based in Bloomington and White Bear Lake, Minnesota. My other primary responsibilities include account manager and Principal Engineer on projects. 

What is your professional background?
I got my Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering from Michigan Technological University. In school I started in general engineering, but planned to pursue civil engineering because I was always interested in construction and being outdoors. After going through my classes in the first year, and realizing chemistry wasn’t right for me, I was set on civil engineering!

What interested you about your profession? What interested you about Braun Intertec?
My career started with a co-op and internship at Braun Intertec during college. That was my first real experience with construction and the integral role of geotechnical engineering in construction.

Even after the two co-op experiences, I didn’t fully understand the scope of geotechnical engineering. But I really enjoyed the opportunity to be involved in a wide variety of projects, especially those involving significant earthwork and site grading, and the interaction of the geotechnical engineer (and Braun Intertec) with the project team and contractor. That’s what really sparked my interest and why I chose to pursue a career here after graduation.

What has your career path looked like at Braun Intertec?
I had a few different job offers after college, but because I had done my co-ops at Braun Intertec, liked the company and the people, I went back and started out in the field for the majority of my first year.

After the field role, I transitioned into the office as a staff engineer and have progressed through the engineering ranks here in the Twin Cities to my current role. I’ve been here going on 18 years since graduation. As an employee owned company, there’s a lot of opportunity at Braun Intertec and if you’re driven, the sky’s the limit.

What is your favorite aspect of your role or the most rewarding part of what you do at Braun Intertec?
My favorite part of my job is helping people understand the value of geotechnical engineering. Most people don’t—and take it for granted because they can’t see what is below the ground surface. However, this unknown is one of the biggest risks going into a construction project, whether its geotechnical or environmental. Our consulting business model and strong reputation were built on being a trusted resource for clients to help understand and mitigate those geotechnical and environmental issues and risks.

The most rewarding part of my work is seeing the staff mature and grow into professionals that can continue to build the Braun Intertec culture and reputation.

What is your favorite thing about working at Braun Intertec? What do you feel makes it unique?
My favorite thing about Braun Intertec is the people; we have a great team and many people spend their entire career with the company. In regards to being unique, employee ownership (as a fully employee-owned company) and an entrepreneurial culture really define Braun Intertec. Another differentiator at Braun Intertec is the opportunities for success that are available here. If you’re motivated and work hard—the opportunities to advance on your career path will be there.  

What technical specialty/service(s) do we offer that you feel differentiates Braun Intertec from other firms?
As consultants, it’s rare to have as many engineers, architects, scientists, project managers, certified inspectors and technicians and offer the wide variety of services as we do—so I don’t think it’s fair to say just one thing differentiates us.  The variety and depth of our services is probably the true differentiator. However, I do think the strength of our geotechnical and environmental consulting groups and how well these groups work collaboratively to efficiently service clients and solve problems as a team, really sets us apart in the industry.

What is your approach to client problem-solving?
Collaboration with the client and project team. I specifically try to understand the client’s perspective, their role (developer, contractor, long-term owner, etc.), and key hot buttons. Cost is usually the primary decision driver for clients, but cost can come in many forms. People tend to focus on initial design or construction costs, but longer-term costs such as replacement or maintenance, or potential cost in terms of risk or probability of an issue may be equal or greater considerations.

What traits do you look for in your team members?   
We prefer team members who have a strong work ethic, are self-starters, and good communication skills. Specifically, in regards to communication skills, it’s very important for consultants to learn how to be concise (in both verbal and written communication), as well as being a good listener.

What should new Braun Intertec employees know about working here? Do you have a piece of advice for someone entering your profession?
Culture and teamwork are big here. Our culture is a combination of employee-ownership and a work hard-play hard mentality. Our engineering group does a lot of external events together and many are friends outside of work. 

My advice to someone entering the profession would be: be willing to take chances in your career and don’t be afraid of spending time in the field. In fact, field work early in your career sets you up better for success in the long term. It’s tough to be a good engineer if you don’t understand how projects are actually built in the field. 

What are some of your hobbies, or things you like to do outside of work?
I love taking any excuse I can to get outside but, my main passions away from work are waterfowl hunting, fishing, and spending time with family and friends.