Upon being named NUCA’s Ditchdigger of the Year for 2016, Bruce Wendorf first had to share the news with his mom and dad. It’s almost cliché for any award winner to thank their parents in that moment of acceptance because, hey, you wouldn’t be here without them, but a case could be made that Bruce’s career in construction and this award, are due in large part to Richard Wendorf and his “loosely contrived plan,” as Bruce puts it.
The plan started when Bruce was five years old as he sat on his dad’s lap as he drove around a loader on the jobsite. The exposure to the dirt, grease and diesel fuel was captivating for a young boy. After a day on the jobsite, Bruce would then go home and play with Tonka trucks in his sandbox, recreating the day’s activities on a small scale.
Making that transition from childhood play activity to adulthood job doesn’t always take, but for Bruce it did.
“When I graduated from college in 1992, my dad told me over the phone, ‘You need to get down here and help me build the Naples job,’” Bruce recalls. “This is when I started to realize that he had a plan all along. And, to this day, it has worked out remarkably. It’s the only job I’ve ever really had.”
From there, the rest of the planning was up to Bruce.
Lifetime of Construction
Forsberg Construction is a privately held utility, excavation and road building company that has served Southwest Florida since 1982, when Richard Wendorf helped start the company with three other investors. He eventually became sole owner in 1997. After the sandbox and summer jobs, Bruce joined him full time in 1992 and gained experience in just about every aspect of the business. He spent a year in the field as an assistant to the project manager and project superintendent. Then he worked in the field as a laborer, pipe layer, operator and an all-around go-to person for just about anything that needed to be done. Next came a little bit of estimating experience, which was followed by his first job as project manager and foreman.
“I did everything from running miscellaneous equipment, setting a lift station, installing storm drainage, dug a lake with a Cat 623 scraper, installed silt fence, did my own surveying and staking, managed all of the subcontractors and did all the administrative office work — change orders, pay applications, letters, budgets,” he says. “It was the epitome of ‘Bid it, Build it,’ which is a philosophy we have stuck with to this day.”
Bruce was named president of Forsberg Construction in 1996 and became the majority owner at the end of 2012.
Forsberg currently employs about 75 people, and Bruce says if you work for Forsberg, you are part of the family — “a philosophy built and maintained over the past 35 years” — but really, this ideal of family shapes Bruce’s entire outlook on the construction industry.
“Construction is a people industry, and our success is directly proportional to the quality of our people and the way management respects their talents and hard work,” he says. “The more we, as managers, focus on developing, promoting and rewarding our people, the more success we enjoy. It is that easy, and it’s that important.”
The mid-2000s weren’t exactly the best time to be in construction — what with the Great Recession and all — but it was maybe the perfect time to get involved in NUCA because it was when the organization and the industry most needed support and leadership.
As fate would have it, Bruce was drawn to NUCA in that time period, joining the Government Relations and PAC Committees along with the Damage Prevention Committee.
“It was where my heart was, and I felt I could truly commit to the responsibilities of these committees and play an active role in their success and progress,” he says. “I was compelled to play an active role in the positive direction the association needed to head.”
To participate in NUCA is to also learn more and more about its greater role in the utility construction industry and the part one can play in it, especially for Bruce, who already felt like it was family. He eventually became a member of the Board of Directors.
“I wanted NUCA to succeed because I understood its importance to the industry I love and business I love even more,” Bruce says. “The challenge I faced, but embraced, was showing members the best side of NUCA and why they should support it. I could not have done that without first believing it myself.”
Connections Make the Difference
We asked Bruce to tell us about his accomplishments a few times, but those questions just led to the role others, and NUCA, have played in his career.
“Any good leader will tell you that you can’t do it on your own and you need to surround yourself with good people,” he says. “That structure is built into the NUCA leadership succession plan. When I was asked to serve on the Executive Committee, I understood that it is a serious commitment. However, I knew those ahead of me were natural born leaders and their approach to leading the association would be instilled in me.”
When he became Chairman of NUCA, Bruce understood that the association is led by consensus, and that if he was going to make a difference, he needed to hear from as many members as possible.
“I enjoyed talking to members from all over the country about our common goals, common interests and our common struggles,” he says. “That is when I made the best connections with my fellow contractors. I will miss that for a long time.”
In the end, we finally got to Bruce’s greatest accomplishment — this 2016 Ditchdigger of the Year award — because, of course, it’s an award given by industry peers.
“A decade of my life was committed to NUCA and its success; to be recognized for my service in the industry’s premier association is the highest honor I could ever receive.”
“What I have learned by being involved with NUCA is that we all share many of the same problems, but contractors are humble enough to take the advice of others and we are all happy to help a fellow contractor,” he concludes. “There will always be a need for utility and excavation contractors, but our profitability ebbs and flows with the economy. From the indications I have seen, the economy will be getting stronger and stronger in the months and years to come. I look forward to the future of this country and believe that even better days are coming. I will continue to be a contractor until I retire. It’s what I do, it’s who I am, it’s what I love. There is no close second place.”
Chris Crowell is a contributing editor for Utility Contractor.
Life Outside of Construction?
Believe it or not, Bruce does have hobbies and an actual family outside of his construction one. His dad’s influence is noted throughout the article. His mother, Janet, unfortunately passed away in January, but did get to hear the news of his winning Ditchdigger of the Year. “She was proud of her little ditch digger,” Bruce says.
Bruce is engaged to Hillary, a nurse, artist and an equestrian with a passion for horses who loves music, loves to help people and has “the biggest heart of anyone I know.” His two daughters, Katie and Daisha, are currently in college — Daisha is seeking a degree in social work and Katie is looking to get a business degree.
If not for his dad’s master plan, it’s possible Bruce would be touring the country in a rock band (at the very least he’d be playing weekends in a Rush cover band). Yes, while he subsumed his dad’s passion for construction early on, the drums became just as big of an obsession starting around age 14. He’s been an “unapologetic rock drummer” ever since. If you hear Bruce play, you might pick up hints of Alex Van Halen (Van Halen), Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater) and Neil Peart (Rush).