He crossed the Atlantic at 21 with a thick British accent and without a clue about American sports.
Four decades later, John Wood is a senior vice president with one of the nation’s premier stadium and arena builders and the point man behind the construction of some of the most impressive and stylish sports venues in the land.
But now, deep into a long career with Mortenson Construction, of Golden Valley, the 59-year-old native of Manchester, England, faces his most formidable building challenge yet: the nearly billion-dollar Vikings stadium in downtown Minneapolis.
With all of Minnesota watching, Wood knows success rests on whether the project gets built on time and within budget and whether Mortenson delivers the state-of-the-art gem that a region, its team and its purple-and-gold following not only want, but demand. “In many ways, it’s the project that Mortenson has spent 58 years getting ready for,” Wood said recently from the 58-year-old company’s headquarters in Golden Valley. “And in many ways, it’s the project I’ve spent my 37-year career prepping to do.”
Wood’s portfolio boasts dozens of sports venues coast to coast, from Coors Field in Denver and the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis to Target Field, Target Center, the Xcel Energy Center and the TCF Bank football stadium in the Twin Cities.
But of all the projects, this is the biggest, and by far the most expensive. With talk of a retractable roof or wall, it may well be the trickiest to build. More than that, it’s a chance to add to the company’s hometown legacy.
Wood, who grew up a fan of the Manchester United soccer club and adopted Minnesota as home after marrying a local girl, understands the stakes.
His wife, Betsy, and her brother, Tom, are season-ticket holders and tailgate at home games. Many of his co-workers are avid fans, too. The day Mortenson won the building contract last month, the company closed its offices at 3 o’clock so employees could gather to celebrate.
“It’s the biggest project in the history of the state,” Wood said. “And it’s one that every single member of our organization here in Minnesota is excited about. It’s just captivated the interest of the whole community.
“There’s a whole ’nother level of accountability when you are working in your hometown,” he added. “But, we pride ourselves in working the largest and most important projects in the community. It’s part of what motivates us.”
That the soft-spoken Englishman with the silver-gray mustache and easy smile is riding point on the project at all is a credit to years of training and experience and a twist of fate.
Crossing the Atlantic
He moved to Minnesota in the mid-1970s and landed a job with Mortenson, a relatively small Minneapolis company looking to grow.
Fate struck earlier, when Wood, working as a construction cost estimator, met Betsy Bothof of Hollandale, Minn., while vacationing on the Greek island of Corfu in the summer of 1973.
She spent the next summer in Manchester; he spent the following Christmas in the Twin Cities. Despite cold weather and later, a Super Bowl blizzard, Wood was hooked.
After returning to England, he phoned Bothof and proposed. He flew back to Minnesota several months later, and by June, the couple married.
He knew little about American football, baseball or hockey. But four children would teach him, along with a steady diet of stadium and arena projects that put him close to the action.
Wood’s early work at Mortenson involved developing bids on construction projects. If the bid was a winner, he’d double up as project manager. By 1983, he was a company officer. A decade later, he was promoted to senior vice president.