Mentors Make Novakoski

August 22, 2005
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HOLLAND — After several years of preparation for a leadership position at Elzinga & Volkers, Michael Novakoski is coming into his own.

But the new president and chief operating officer of the construction company is still not afraid to seek advice from others.

“I’ve made it a priority, and I’ve found it very beneficial to line myself up with other leaders in the community,” he said of finding mentors in both his professional and personal life. “There’s always so many different ways to look at a situation.”

Novakoski, now in a mentoring position himself, said he is excited both for the future of the company and for his own future.

“I feel like I am coming of age and being accepted by the business community and being respected for what I have to offer,” he said.

Novakoski was born and raised in Grand Rapids where he attended West Catholic High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Ferris State University and started at Elzinga & Volkers in 1988 as an estimator. He has been working his way up ever since.

“I had the drive and the desire and willingness to take it on,” he said. “I didn’t find myself fearful; I was wanting and desiring opportunities.”

When the former owners were looking for a succession plan, Novakoski was identified as a potential leader.

“He started to identify the talent within the company. Somehow, I hit his radar,” Novakoski said of Mike King, CEO of Elzinga & Volkers. “He brought me under his wing in kind of a mentoring program.”

In 1996 Novakoski become vice president of management, a step that helped him ease into a leadership position.

“The plan was not to upset the structure of the company,” he said. “I think we found that worked out very well.”

King said finding the right people to lead is a logical progression.

“You find the right people with the proper talents that want to learn, that have the basics and the right attitude,” he said. “You can train them.”

King said he is optimistic about the company with Novakoski as president and COO.

“The regional company will be doing a lot better 10 years from now than it is right now,” he said.

Novakoski has the drive and character to be a leader, King said.

“He’s a good family man,” he said. “You take care of your family, you take care of yourself, and you take care of the people that are put in your world.”

King said those characteristics weren’t evident when Novakoski started with the firm, but grew over time as he saw Novakoski deal with difficult situations.

“I was in a few meetings with him when he was able to sustain his composure while being somewhat attacked by overbearing clients,” King said. “He was able to take the shots and still be able to respond with appropriate actions. That was, to me, a telling sign of his personality and his ability to handle complex problems like that.

“He’ll be a better president than I was.”

Novakoski has taken part in both Leadership Holland and Leadership Connection. He also has been accepted into the fall class of Leadership West Michigan. With the core of Elzinga & Volkers’ work within 60 miles of the Holland offices, Novakoski said being in touch with and being a part of the West Michigan region is important.

Because of his experience with mentors, Novakoski uses the idea in his own managerial style. Each employee meets with the company leaders quarterly to discuss an action plan, he said.

“It’s leveraging the talent within each person and drawing that out,” he said. “People need to feel that true sense of purpose.”

Making better use of employees’ talents is one of Novakoski’s goals for the company.

“I’m digging into how the company can leverage its talents in a greater way,” he said.

In a way, Novakoski said he is expecting more from his employees.

“It’s not just about you going out and getting a building built, but do you support the company goals?” he said. “It asks more of them than the typical employee of a firm like ours.”

Novakoski said he takes a straight-on approach to leadership, with little beating around the bush. He said he wants to interact with employees and clients alike, making sure everything is out in the open and there is no “elephant in the room.”

“I’m going to identify the elephant and we’re going to talk about it and we’re going to get past it,” he said.

Novakoski said he has had a lot of support from his family, especially his wife, Elizabeth, who has a degree in construction management from Michigan State University. Though she no longer works in construction, Novakoski said having this in common has helped him in his professional and personal life.

“She understands what I go through day to day,” he said.

Novakoski said it is not uncommon for him to come home and discuss his day with her.

“I think there’s a balance there,” he said. “You’ve got to give credit to the family.”

Novakoski has had the opportunity to blend family, community and business with construction of a new activity center at St. Mary’s Parish in Spring Lake, where his family attends church. Novakoski said it has been rewarding to use his talents in his own community for a building that his family will use for years to come.

“I’ve been blessed with a great company to work for that’s given me tons of opportunities,” he said. “I’m very thankful for everything I have today.”

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