DBIA Members Named in Engineering News-Record’s National Top 20 Under 40 List

By: Kara Brown, DBIA Digital Communications Specialist

Engineering News-Record (ENR) released its National Top 20 Under 40 list of AEC young professionals who have already achieved quite a bit of success in their careers. Some of the professionals recognized are DBIA members, and we sat down with a few of them to chat about their achievements.

KK Clark (She/Her)

Project Executive, Clark Construction Group – CA, LP
San Diego, CA
DBIA Member for 8 years

KK Clark, with short brown hair and a light brown blazer and black shirt smiling in portrait photo. ENR 20 under 40.
KK Clark, Project Executive, Clark Construction Group – CA, LP
Starting off with an easy question: How does it feel to be named to ENR’s 20 under 40?

KK: This is an incredible honor and is truly a reflection of the incredible support of my Clark team, my wife and my family. Our industry is a team sport, and I hope each person who supports me today and those who made such a lasting impact on my career are celebrating their equal contribution to this achievement.

What significant experiences have played a role in shaping your journey to your current position?

KK: Every significant experience that has shaped my 14+ year career is centered in a person that positively impacted my growth as a person and professional. I’ve had the unique opportunity to grow under early examples of strong female leadership, learn how to prioritize the well-being of each individual to drive a high-performing team, and expand my reach beyond a single project or geographic region. There are so many incredible people who have shaped the person I am today with their contributions to my life and career.

How do you use your DBIA membership in your work?

KK: I’ve spent most of my career leading design-build projects across the Western region, and at this point, it’s simply how I operate. My DBIA membership has shown me that, regardless of the contracted delivery method, each project and team benefits when we prioritize deep collaboration and alignment between the client, contractor and design partner. 

What advice would you have for someone just starting in the industry? 

KK: Prioritize showing up as your authentic self. That authenticity will draw the right influential mentors to you, drive your productivity and focus, and make space for those who will come after you as their authentic self. Showing up as my authentic self, which enabled me to clearly align my career and personal goals, was game-changing for me.

Ben Nichols

President & CEO, Harkins Builders, Inc.
Ellicott City, MD
DBIA Member for 3 years

Ben Nichols wearing a gray blazer and white shirt smiling for portrait. ENR 20 under 40.
Ben Nichols, President & CEO, Harkins Builders, Inc.
How does it feel to be named to ENR’s 20 under 40?

Ben: It’s an honor to be recognized by ENR as a young leader in the industry, and I’m grateful to be able to shine a spotlight on our awesome 100% employee-owned company, Harkins Builders.

What significant experiences have played a role in shaping your journey to your current position?

Ben: As a Division 1 wrestler at the Naval Academy, I cultivated a strong sense of grit, discipline and perseverance that has proven invaluable in navigating both personal and professional challenges. As a leader of Marines in combat in Afghanistan, I embraced the principles of servant leadership, prioritizing the well-being and success of my team. This experience instilled a profound sense of responsibility and commitment that has carried over into my civilian endeavors. While a Marine Corps liaison to the Naval Construction Force “Seabees,” I honed my project management skills while overseeing military construction projects on a global scale… I have been lucky to have supervisors and mentors who have taken an active role in helping me grow my professional network. Joining Harkins marked a pivotal chapter in my career, where I was blessed to find a great home with an employee-owned company with a fantastic culture. My teammates at Harkins are top-notch in the industry, and they make coming to work every day a joy.

How do you use your DBIA membership in your work?

Ben: Harkins has a long history of pursuing design-build contracts, and we often leverage the strong DBIA network when seeking out the right design partners to pursue projects. Additionally, we take advantage of DBIA’s learning resources to train our employee-owners and ensure that we are following the latest “Design-Build Done Right®” processes.

Talk about some unique challenges young people face in this industry today.

Ben: A unique challenge the construction industry faces is the aging workforce that is approaching retirement. Associated General Contractors (AGC) President Les Snyder said regarding the future success of companies, “Those that master taking the knowledge of the generations that are moving on and getting that to transfer to the new upcoming generations will be most successful.” I found this quote insightful, emphasizing the importance of younger industry professionals taking the lead in the knowledge transfer process by reaching out to those with more.

What advice would you have for someone just starting in the industry?

Ben: Be a sponge and soak in as much construction knowledge as you possibly can. Never say no to meeting new people and building your network. Lean into being a servant leader and a team player in whatever role you are filling. 

These young professionals and many others will be recognized at ENR’s Emerging Leaders Forum March 18-20 in Chicago, IL.