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Home : Volume 24 : Fall 1997 :
Distinguished Service Award for Gerd H. Zoller

Gerd H. Zoller

Gerd H. Zoller
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As a 15-year-old growing up in Germany, Gerd Zoller overheard a family friend describing how one of his sons would study civil engineering and the other would major in business. It would enable the young men to team up and start their own construction company, the man explained. This gave Zoller a similar idea -- to study both disciplines himself and ultimately run his own construction firm.

After serving in the German Army, Zoller earned master's degrees in civil engineering and business from the Munich Institute of Technology. In 1965 he moved to Finland to marry his Finnish fiancÚ Telle, whom he had met in Munich, and to work as a structural engineer for a major consulting firm.

In 1968 the couple moved to the U.S. so Zoller could gain additional foreign work experience. Their plan was to stay for two or three years and then settle in Germany. On his way to the West Coast, Zoller stopped to visit his sponsor, UW-Madison engineering Professor John Klus. Klus arranged a few "practice" interviews so Zoller could prepare for his job search in California. However, after interviewing with J.H. Findorff & Son Inc., Zoller was offered a project manager position with the Madison contractor. He accepted, he jokes, "mostly because I did not speak enough English to say no."

Zoller rose quickly through the ranks at Findorff, being promoted to chief estimator, executive vice president, president and chairman of the board. The lengthy list of construction jobs he has overseen includes projects for Oscar Mayer Foods Corp., J.C. Penney, General Casualty, the Medical College of Wisconsin, Sentry Insurance, and many jobs for UW-Madison including the UW medical center.

In 1980 Zoller realized the dream that began at age 15, becoming part owner of the corporation. Nine years later, at age 50, he took a year's leave, discovering that he could indeed live well without working. He retired in 1992.


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