A civic leader: One of Omaha’s most prominent business and civic leaders, Sokol’s most high-profile public role has been in connection with Qwest Center Omaha. His involvement began in 1997, when then-Mayor Hal Daub asked him to lead a committee to study the need for a convention center and arena. Sokol then joined the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority board that oversees the Qwest Center, serving as its chairman for almost 10 years.
An accomplished businessman: Former chairman of Berkshire’s MidAmerican Energy Holdings, known for expanding the utility and helping to turn around NetJets and Johns Manville, two other Berkshire companies. “I can’t overstate the breadth and importance of Dave Sokol’s achievement at this company,” Buffett said in his recent letter to shareholders. In his 2009 letter, he said Sokol’s leadership of MidAmerican “has been transforming.” Sokol gives executives copies of his self-published book, “Pleased but Not Satisfied,” to spell out his management philosophy.
A philanthropist: Sokol is a big booster of local college sports. He and wife Peggy helped Creighton University build the D.J. Sokol Arena and Ryan Athletics Center. The arena is named for the Sokols’ son, who died in 1999 after a lengthy battle with Hodgkin’s disease. The Sokols donated $1 million in September 2009 to the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Most of it was used for a video board at UNO’s Caniglia Field, where Sokol earlier had paid for new turf and a new press box. The family also funds D.J.’s Heroes, a program through the Salvation Army which awards scholarships in their son’s name to young Nebraskans who meet criteria that include commitment to others and the community.
An Omaha native: Sokol grew up in Omaha and as a 9-year-old even fed animals on the late Peter Kiewit’s horse farm. He graduated from Omaha North High School, worked at a grocery store, played football at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and became a civil engineer.
Well-connected: He worked under Walter Scott, retired chairman of Peter Kiewit Sons’ Inc. and the city’s top philanthropist. Ken Stinson, chairman of the Kiewit construction company, takes credit for hiring Sokol away from a company called Ogden Projects in 1990 to become head of Kiewit Energy, which grew into MidAmerican Energy Holdings and became a Berkshire subsidiary. Former Mayor Hal Daub called Sokol “an entrepreneur and highly principled individual” who has improved Omaha and Nebraska.
Famously combative: Sokol quit the committee that studied where to locate the downtown baseball stadium, objecting to the use of Qwest parking lots; battled with former Mayor Mike Fahey, who was pressured by donors to reappoint Sokol to the MECA board; helped raise funds for Tom Osborne’s unsuccessful challenge of Gov. Dave Heineman; contributed financially to unsuccessful effort to recall Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle; and blasted UNO officials for their decision to drop football as part of a move to Division I and the Summit League.