As impressive as it sounded, Russell Neudeck's title, Senior Subject Matter Expert in Haskell's Quality Department, fell short of describing his cross-disciplinary contribution to the company. Then again, there’s no way a true description would fit on a business card.
Neudeck’s nearly 50 years of experience as a geotechnical expert have served merely as a foundation for a lifetime of self-directed learning. His dedication to his craft has led him to become proficient in not only soils but also the surfaces that cover them, and his passion for the technical aspects of concrete has driven him to become a significant industry contributor.
Over his more than 30 years at Haskell, he has been a teacher and mentor to engineers across numerous disciplines, a role that moved more to the forefront as all involved realized the need to prepare for his eventual retirement.
“That’s the most important thing I do right now,” Neudeck said. “It’s vital that I can download all of my knowledge on these folks here. If I can influence 60 engineers, I’ve done more to benefit Haskell’s work and clients.”
That retirement arrived in January 2023, as colleagues sent him off with heartfelt tributes and gratitude. Fortunately for all parties, Neudeck remains on call to Haskell’s engineering leadership and maintains his deep interest in the field.
Matt McLeer joined the company three years ago as a Subject Matter Expert in Geotechnical Engineering after working for firms in Atlanta, Orlando and Jacksonville. He has worked alongside Neudeck and even officed with him as part of an intentional succession plan.
“So, I'm hearing him have conversations and hearing what the issues are with a project and hearing him give advice,” McLeer said. “You know how people talk about being a fly on the wall? That's literally what I‘ve been. I’ve uploaded a lot of knowledge from him. I've saved emails. I take my own notes any time we have an important conversation, I'll scan that and save it. There's so much I can gather that’s new information I hadn't heard before.”
After one year of college, Neudeck went to work for the first of several soil-testing labs where he would learn his craft over the first 15 years of his career. He contributed his growing expertise as a subcontractor on numerous Haskell projects and joined the company full-time in 1988.
“He's self-taught with everything he knows,” McLeer said. “He found concrete interesting, so he reads the books and figures things out and talks to other experts. He's always looking to find extra knowledge. He willing to learn what the next, best thing is and absorb more information.”
He has earned a reputation for being innovative and solutions-orientated in applying his expertise in soils, asphalt and horizontal construction. A case in point: On a recent project, he had the foresight to engage an outside firm for a preliminary geotechnical evaluation of the site of a 1 million-square-foot production and distribution facility for the subsidiary of an international beverage company. The specialists’ study reported the presence of a critical vertical fault running through the proposed building footprint. Armed with that knowledge, Haskell designed a structure that avoided the fault.
His knowledge of concrete is renowned in the industry, and he serves on two high-level American Concrete Institute (ACI) building code committees. A spreadsheet he created to analyze concrete mix designs has become used by concrete ready-mix producers across the country.
“I understood concrete work better than anybody else from the outset, and I continued to learn as I went and it took time to develop these skills,” Neudeck said. “Concrete is a very complex optic. How many times have you read about concrete floors cracking? I have put myself into a deep dive there for more than 25 years. I have been around some really smart people, and everything I have learned is a tribute back to Haskell.”
He was named Haskell’s Outstanding Engineering Mentor in 2017, the only non-engineer ever to receive the honor. Colleagues and proteges commonly say that working on a job site with Neudeck is a master class in the practical application of engineering theory – and the school of hard knocks.
“He has so much experience seeing what did work and what didn't work,” McLeer said. “Those are the key moments that most of us have. When we're on site with him and he's pointing out things, that's when you really grab it and learn it.”
McLeer and Neudeck recently were on the site of Project ECO, a massive facility for an internationally known winemaker and distributor, where standard methods of soil testing reported that widespread over-excavation was necessary.
As is common practice, the testing company obtained its results using a piece of equipment, called a Kessler Dynamic Cone, and techniques that dated to the 1950s. Measurement tolerances are greater on typical projects, but inexact soil readings on Project ECO, because of its scale, would have created the need for 1 million square feet of soil removal and replacement at a cost of more than $2 million.
Instead, based on their understanding of soils and their recognition of the imprecise measurement equipment and techniques used for the testing, Neudeck and McLeer drilled deeper – or better.
“We elected to modify the testing protocol and use some innovative methods to calibrate the equipment that I don't think anybody's ever done before,” Neudeck said. “Matt and I used an instrument called a dilatometer. Using that sophisticated technique, we were able to recalibrate the equipment the testing agency used, and we were able to prove that the soils had adequate strength to support foundations without only a very minor amount of over-excavation.”
Another day on the job site, and another day when class was in session, McLeer said.
“The intriguing part is I've never seen anyone do that correlation between the two devices to prove that the soil that's existing can stay in place and save millions of dollars for the client,” he said. “For future 1 million-square-foot facilities if we have a lot of cut-and-fill operations, it's definitely something to bring to project managers for consideration.”
Neudeck is unique in that his knowledge of horizontal construction is equaled by his contribution to the vertical building process. Haskell’s Structural Engineering team has relied on him for concrete mix designs and specifications, always offered with the added value of practical application.
“We know it's going to take at least three people to replace Russell between the geotech side, the civil pavement side and structural concrete,” said Bobbie Wood, Haskell’s Chief Structural Engineer. “It may take more than three. He’s been such a great asset to this company and to this department.”
Wood has been mindful of and involved in Neudeck’s succession plan. He’s conducted numerous instructional sessions for structural engineers and is now offering concrete mentoring sessions in an attempt “to upload his knowledge to as many structural engineers as we can get.”
And in the weeks and months before he officially retires, Wood said she would continue wearing a path to his office.
“As long as he's here,” she said, “I’m going to keep going downstairs to his office and saying, ‘Russell, teach me something,’ because every time I talk to him, I learn something new.”
What drew you to your career?
While working at Law Engineering starting in 1973, I realized I had a great passion for soil- and concrete-related technical issues. John Unterspan hired me at Law Engineering in 1973. He eventually moved to Haskell and started up the Quality Assurance department. When I started with Haskell in 1988, John had moved on to another company. But Bill McCarthy, QA Manager at the time, convinced me to work for Haskell.
Where is your favorite travel destination, and why?
We love Hawaii and have been there a dozen times. We will be going back soon. Just a great place with great weather and lots to do.
Complete this sentence: I couldn’t make it through the week without …
Doing some sort of work on a house. I get a lot of satisfaction from what I can do with my hands and enjoy the homes I fix up.
Who is your role model and how have they influenced you?
I don’t have an answer. My dad died when I was 12 and my brother was never a brother of significance. I don’t really have a role model I can point to. I have always been self-motivated and didn’t need a role model.
What does being a Haskell team member mean to you?
Working at Haskell has been personally rewarding. My biggest pleasures are related to my ability to positively influence a job with technical solutions that frequently save large dollars. I used to maintain a spreadsheet but lost that document 10 years ago from a computer issue. At that time the total had exceeded $20 million. It’s well north of $30 million in my career here.
Haskell delivers more than $2± billion annually in Architecture, Engineering, Construction (AEC) and Consulting solutions to assure certainty of outcome for complex capital projects worldwide. Haskell is a global, fully integrated, single-source design-build and EPC firm with over 2,300 highly specialized, in-house design, construction and administrative professionals across industrial and commercial markets. With 20+ office locations around the globe, Haskell is a trusted partner for global and emerging clients.
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