From Refugee to Entrepreneur
From the beginning, Concordia has been a place for immigrants, refugees and people from all walks of life to come together in common cause for the pursuit of knowledge and the betterment of self and community.
For Nedzad Halilovic ’01, that commitment to community means a great deal and it’s part of what drew him to Concordia after fleeing a war in his home country of Bosnia at age 17. The opportunity to create a new life in the Midwest didn’t come without risk, but the network of support that he found when he arrived set him on an entirely new path.
Despite finding himself in a new culture with little familiarity with the language, Halilovic brought with him a perspective that compelled him to work hard and succeed.
“Surviving a war, I learned a lot of things,” Halilovic says. “When I came to America, things were so easy. I was 17 years old, but I felt much older.”
That drive to create opportunities for himself is what led him to Concordia. With no money and no college prospects, Halilovic took the initiative to secure his own future.
“I walked into the administration office and I said, ‘I heard this is the best school. How can I become a student here?’” Halilovic says.
Through the help of peers and English tutors, Halilovic found the support that he needed to thrive. He made an impression on his professors and developed close relationships with faculty mentors like Dr. Joan Kopperud, professor of English.
“Ned was a fully engaged student in every way,” Kopperud says. “I appreciated his curiosity and desire to learn, as well as his deep sense of commitment to building a better future for himself and his family.”
When Halilovic describes his time at Concordia, he recalls meals at dining services and the familiar experience of greeting friends on campus. On several occasions, friends invited him to their homes for Thanksgiving or Christmas, knowing that he had nowhere else to go.
Through it all, it’s clear that community made all the difference.
Concordia gave me more than support. Concordia was home,” Halilovic says.
And when it came time for graduation, his new community rallied to bring his family to the ceremony. When Kopperud learned that it wasn’t financially possible for any of Halilovic’s family to travel for commencement, she shared his story with other professors, friends and local organizations. Within a couple of weeks, they had raised enough money to bring his father, Jerry, to the U.S. to see his son walk across the stage and receive his degree.
“It’s those kinds of things I will never forget. Ever,” Halilovic says.
The hard work and determination that propelled Halilovic through his college career proved to be just as great an asset after graduation. Combined with the entrepreneurial spirit he cultivated working as a boy in his father’s menswear store, he knew that his goal was to become a business owner.
Working on cleaning detail as a student, he began to realize what that business would be.
“Cleaning is one of those businesses that will never die,” Halilovic says. “It’s always going to be there no matter what.”
Shortly after leaving Concordia, he began his first commercial cleaning business, Ambassador Cleaning, with one employee: himself. Halilovic would spend nights cleaning his first client’s location, Timber Lodge Steakhouse, and return in the morning looking for feedback.
“They’d tell me, ‘oh, they did a fantastic job,’” Halilovic says. “But the whole time, it was just me.”
Halilovic continued to grow his business, taking on several more restaurants before expanding to include other industries. Eventually, he opened a second business, Rainbow Restoration, for clients with specific needs like mold removal or fire cleanup.
Halilovic has maintained a sense of responsibility to the community that welcomed him 20 years ago. His passion for giving back led him to Fargo’s Kiwanis chapter, where he was recently named president – the first Muslim to hold the position.
This is my home. My kids were born here. This is my community. It wouldn’t be right not to give back,”
– Halilovic says.
Through his own dedication, Halilovic overcame adversity and cultural differences, affirming our college’s earliest commitment to provide a welcoming place for those seeking opportunity and heeding a call to give back.
Originally published in the Fall 2016 Concordia Magazine