Sandia welcomes new infrastructure operations associate labs director
See below: Q&A with Harold Yeldell
Harold Yeldell has made a career in nuclear power that started when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy right out of high school. Born in South Carolina, he has lived and worked in many places, and has accrued an impressive list of achievements. Now, to cap off his career, he’s making his home in Albuquerque as Sandia’s new associate labs director for infrastructure operations.
Harold didn’t have the resources for college after high school, so he joined the Navy, but at the end of his first year, he was offered a chance to apply to the U.S. Naval Academy. Few people go from the enlisted ranks to the academy, but he was determined to go into submarines and knew getting into the academy was his best shot. He was accepted and chose marine engineering as his major because it was the closest thing to nuclear power they offered.
Harold worked hard at the academy, attending summer school every year to lighten the load during the school year. “I believe in laying out a plan — sticking to the plan and executing it in order to get the things that you want,” he said. “There wasn’t 10% of my class that got selected to go into submarines, and I wanted to be part of it so I worked and set my plan so I could do that.”
His planning paid off. After graduating and completing the Navy’s nuclear power school, Harold was assigned to a submarine. “You can’t just sign up to volunteer and go into submarines,” he said. “You have to go through a series of interviews and be selected by the Admiral himself. The brightest and best went into submarines, and I wanted to be part of that.”
Service is a core value for Harold. “I believed in the mission,” he said. “I believe all good sailors belong on a ship and all good ships belong at sea, so I went to sea. When I came back from my first deployment — I had been at sea for 120 days — a sailor getting ready to deploy had broken his leg, so they asked for volunteers and I went. I was home for six days and turned right back around and went out again.”
Career in nuclear power
That focus on the mission has served Harold well throughout his career. After six years in the Navy, he went to work as an engineer in commercial nuclear power, where his determination and planning helped him rise through the ranks, landing positions with increasing leadership responsibilities.
Harold’s first job after the Navy was the result of a chance encounter when his resume was left on a conference table and the vice president of the company happened by and picked it up. He had been the head of the Naval Academy when Harold was a freshman, and he remembered him. Harold was brought in for an interview two days later and was offered the job that day. He went to work at a struggling power plant, setting a plan in motion to turn it around and make it better.
Another opportunity arose when Harold went to work for Entergy, headquartered in New Orleans. The company’s chief nuclear officer offered him the chance to get an MBA. Harold said he wasn’t eager to go back to school, so it took some convincing, but he finally agreed. With no time to study, he took the MCAT the following week, applied to Tulane University and started classes two months later. His planning and hard work paid off once again when he earned his MBA.
One of Harold’s career opportunities led him to Georgia, where he worked for Savannah River Nuclear Solutions, on the same site as Savannah River National Laboratory. “I worked on the operations and maintenance side for the Savannah River site. They’re not set up the same as here,” he said. “I didn’t work for the lab, but I have experience working on all of the lab’s projects in facilities, all of their renovations and set-up.”
Other career highlights for Harold include consulting with Duke Energy in North Carolina, where he managed projects associated with power generation activities and supply infrastructure, and holding a leadership position at Exelon Nuclear in Pennsylvania.
Passion for service includes family, community
One of Harold’s proudest career achievements came while he was working at the Savannah River site. The company made the decision to close down the Mox facility, laying off more than 1,000 people. The decision was announced in October, just before the holidays, so Harold made a plan and started expanding the scope of work for his team.
“With my little section — I only had 335 people in my organization at the time — I was able to hire 265 of the people who were laid off. I took on a lot more work and was able to increase the portfolio of my organization and procure more government contracts and DOE funding to bring on a lot of those people and minimize the economic impact for them and for the local economy,” he said.
Harold is the proud father of two sons, Zachary and Matthew. Zachary just finished school and is a barber, and Matthew is studying accounting at Westchester University. Matthew was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and when the family moved to Pennsylvania, he was not comfortable with change, so Harold maintains a home there so Matthew can stay in a stable environment while he finishes school.
Harold’s passion for helping people extends to his community as well. He volunteers with organizations supporting Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome, the American Heart Association and others. One of his most significant volunteer experiences is with the Domestic Violence Center of Chester County in Pennsylvania.
“I started volunteering at the center, and I worked my way up to the Board of Directors,” he said. “We took people from emergency care and worked with them over the course of years to help them to be independent, get jobs and even go on to homeownership. I’m very proud of my work at the center.”
Another of his volunteer efforts is teaching a Sunday School class for seniors. “I had a group of 17 people in Sunday School. I taught a class in Christian Life Development for mature adults (over 65), and that’s one of the things I miss most in having moved away.”
Harold said the thing that surprised him most about Sandia is the openness of the people and their willingness to accept him. “Most of the places that I’ve gone to work, people have viewed me as an outsider,” he said. “But the people at Sandia have been especially friendly and helpful. They have attempted to integrate me into the organization and make me feel comfortable.”
Harold said he plans to continue the good work already in progress at Sandia, and to integrate himself and be part of the team. “There’s good work here, there’s good people here, and I hope I can come in and provide the direction and leadership to help the organization move forward,” he said. “This isn’t some tagline. I believe in the mission. I believe that people come to work every day to do a good job, and I want to be able to help the organization continue to do a good job and meet its mission and goals.”
What’s your favorite thing about New Mexico so far?
“The people and the climate. Fortunately, I’ve only run into people who have been willing to help. You can imagine coming to a new city, even with GPS, I can get lost and get turned around, so people have been very helpful in steering me in the right direction.”
Red, green, both or neither?
“I am not a chile person, but I was given some green and red chile my first day on the job. That came from Security. My Security group let me know that if you’re going to be here, you better learn to like green and red chile. It’s an acquired taste, but I’m working on it.”
What might people be surprised to learn about you?
“I’m actually shy, and it’s hard for me to get to know people. I’m trying to get involved because I don’t know anybody here. The openness of the land, the mountains that look like you could reach out and touch them — everything about this place is new to me, and I’m determined to make this work. This is the last job of my career, and I want to do well here.”
What sports do you follow, and do you have a favorite team?
“My sons and I, we love to attend football and basketball games. Basketball is their favorite. We follow the Eagles and the 76ers because my sons still live in Pennsylvania. We love the local teams — we read about them, we keep up with them and we support them. So whenever the University of New Mexico gets back to it, I’ll be cheering for them and going to games.”
Who is your favorite author?
“Tom Clancy. Everything is personal for me — I like to have a personal connection, so I got a chance to meet him, and he signed some books for me. I like all the Tom Clancy books.”
What’s your favorite food?
“I’m a picky eater. I generally don’t like things mixed together, so my favorite food, if I had to pick one, would be a pizza. I like pepperoni pizza.”
Since pizza is your favorite, where do you stand on the pineapple question?
“No fruit on pizza!”
“I hope that people will give me an opportunity and get a chance to work with me and get to know me before casting any type of judgment one way or the other because I’m not from Sandia. I believe in treating people with respect, being fair, and giving them an opportunity, so I would hope that people would do the same for me.”