New at the top: Lessons from dad inspired a career in business

I was very fortunate to have a number of mentors in my career starting with my father.

He built a couple of telecommunications equipment companies in Dallas. Seeing how he approached situations and challenges was really helpful. He was always making sure that everyone in his company understood the value that they were creating, the importance of good client relationships and having good solutions. He’s a big inspiration in my life.

I started out in accounting at IBM, and after a brief stint I moved to MCI working various finance jobs until rising to vice president of corporate finance. That job put me in a position to lead a reorganization that got us out of bankruptcy.

I like to think my enthusiasm helped me achieve greater levels of responsibility. I was eager to talk to everyone to learn about the business and see the world from their perspective.

I remember I was often down on the manufacturing floors talking to people on the assembly line, figuring out what their role was.

I spent a lot of time listening to people’s problems and building bridges. I found that when I needed information quickly from people I was able to secure it because they knew me and knew I was an honest broker.

There was also a hard work component. My motto was, if it takes all night, then that’s what I need to do.

Eventually, having been in a large, public company, I was excited to go to a smaller, private firm. I had been at MCI for 15 years and was looking to do something different. I was looking for a place with an entrepreneurial culture, where people would challenge me.

I took on the role of chief operating officer at Quadel Consulting, a company that does work to support public programs. It was an exciting change.

I’m most proud of the work we did following Hurricane Katrina. I headed up the proposal for what was called the Road Home recovery program. It supported the hiring of 400 people down there and helped more than 100,000 people rebuild their houses. Though I wasn’t on the frontlines, I helped secure the contract and set up our work.

We made the homeowners feel as comfortable as possible to let them know they could get through it all.

When you see a neighborhood rebuilt, you know in some small way you contributed to that. I saw the value we brought to someone’s life.

Now the challenge is to deliver services to the public in an era of declining budgets. It’s a challenge we’ve been thinking about for a couple of years now, and we’ve been investing in technology and solutions to enable our clients to accomplish their goals.

I’m looking forward to moving us in a direction that supports the mission by making greater use of technology solutions to help all of our clients and customers in different ways than in the past.

— Interview with Vanessa Small

John K. Nolan

Position: President of Quadel Consulting, a District company that provides outsourced management, consulting and training solutions to the affordable housing industry.

Career highlights: Chief operating officer and chief finance officer, Quadel Consulting; vice president corporate finance, MCI Communications.

Age: 49

Education: BS, Management, Tulane University; MBA, University of Texas at Austin.

Personal: Lives in the District with wife Lisa and daughter Audrey.

Vanessa Small covers philanthropy and nonprofits for Capital Business. She also spotlights newly appointed executives in the New at the Top column, which chronicles their journeys to the top. Small was raised in Orange County, Ca. and graduated from Howard University.
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