A Closer Look: Danny Heggen
Development project manager for Nelson Construction & Development
Friday, July 25, 2014 6:00 AM
Danny Heggen has a lot on his plate, in his mind and written out bit by bit in chronological order in a notebook. He can tell you, for example, that he worked for the Blue Zones Project for 89 weeks, and that as of July 10, he had worked as a construction development manager at Nelson Construction & Development for six weeks. By the way, he has authored, co-authored and edited two books. He is musically inclined; he plays guitar, drums, piano and trumpet, and he founded one band that leans toward folk music and another that could be called electronic indie rock in a collaboration via the cloud. Heggen is a founding member of the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network Des Moines and is involved with the TEDxDesMoines Planning Team. He went to college to become a doctor and left as an English major after deciding he needed to learn to communicate in order to express his grief over the death of a high school buddy.
You’re an author and musician; where do they fit in with construction?
The greatest thing I think I’ve learned about being creative is that to manage someone who is creative, you need to put them in a box, because they are going to think outside of that box. If you don’t give them parameters, they won’t know what to do. … With writing, music, I get my creative side out when I need to, but there’s also nothing I love more than looking at something and thinking of the order of things that need to happen. That is the most critical path to get to where we need to go.
The third book I worked on was about immigrant refugee children. I was the project manager. I found myself being the person who everybody was looking to for what needs to happen next. There were two paths I took to that. One was just knowing this is what needs to happen. If we step backwards, we’ll know how to get there. All through college, I didn’t take any leadership positions. I was the supporter. I wanted to be the person who is reliable and who shows up and makes things happen, but I didn’t want to lead the pack. As a project manager, you need to be a solid supporter for everything that needs to happen for everybody’s expectations, but when you show up for a meeting, you also need to know what is going to happen. You need to prepare agendas and resources and schedules and manage logistics.
Why did you decide to become a writer?
I was in a new community (at Simpson College) and I couldn’t express what I was going through. I decided that I had to learn how to communicate, to relate my experience to other people. There is a level of understanding that comes with loss, and going through that, I decided I wanted to become a writer. I shifted from the analytical, scientific processing of information to this very subjective way of processing things. I was recording what I was going through. By writing, you can become a vehicle for people. You can learn how to share their voice, because everybody doesn’t get hurt in the same way. … While I was in college, I spent a year studying abroad in Australia. I did a service project interviewing women in prison. That was the first experience where I was a middle-class white male sitting across from these imprisoned women. … It turned into an oral history, and I was the editor.
I came home (to Iowa) with the idea that I wanted to do this again and that I wanted to do this kind of piece in Iowa. Some of the best advice I got was, don’t do this by yourself. So I connected with some graphic designers, some photographers. I contacted some nonprofits. The idea was how can you create a piece that can be a voice for a whole system, so I came to Des Moines and did a book on youth homelessness.
Do you have any spare time?
Thanks to my wife. She is very good about making me stop and say no. … I love to work. I don’t like to be competitive, but I compete with myself. I was on a road trip to Lincoln (Neb.) with Mike (Nelson, founder of Nelson Construction & Development) and got on this conversation where I told him I love to wake up in the morning and have my cup of coffee. There is nothing more exciting than having my cup of coffee and checking that off my list and getting my day started. It very much comes down to balance.
Why are you working in construction?
I think great leaders ask great questions. Mike asks great questions. That was one thing I noticed right away, and it’s something I really admire about him.
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