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Omaha Magazine

Climbing the Staircase of Success: Zach Klebba Designs His Career

May 26, 2020 08:54AM ● By Wendy Townley
Zach Klebba leaning against railing outside

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The next time you find yourself walking up (or down) a flight of stairs, think of Zach Klebba.

When creatively stuck and looking for a little design inspiration, the Omaha-based architect with Leo A Daly goes backs to basics and searches online for, quite literally, sets of stairs.

“By code they have to be 7 inches tall by 11 inches deep,” Klebba explained. “You start to feel as a designer that there’s only one way to design stairs. And then you go online or visit a building and you see the millions of different ways that people have designed stairs. And I use that as a springboard for another design project.”

It could be said that Klebba’s professional successes and community achievements have happened just like those stairs: one step at a time.

Klebba’s selection as a recipient of Midlands Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 last year highlighted the breadth and depth of his work, his creativity, and his passion for Omaha.

Born in Fairbanks, Alaska (although his birth certificate really does list the North Pole), Klebba, his twin brother, and their parents moved a handful of times around the country. Klebba’s father served in the Air Force and later worked in construction, which found the family of four living in Maryland, Virginia, and Colorado. They eventually settled in greater Omaha to be closer to family. 

Following graduation from high school in Gretna, Klebba, now 32, enrolled at UNO with an undeclared major. A year later, with little focus on a field of study, Klebba joined his brother at UNL.

The first few semesters as a Cornhusker found Klebba enrolled in English and journalism classes and considering a news editorial degree. But an architecture course changed the remainder of Klebba’s UNL career—and his life. He dove into this new professional passion, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the field with no break in between. 

Shortly before graduation, Klebba used his creativity to attract the attention of Leo A Daly, one of many architecture firms represented at UNL for a one-day career fair. Klebba created a postcard featuring his photograph, design history, and an overview of his graduate school project. Following a brief conversation at UNL, Klebba drove to Omaha soon after for an interview that lasted several hours. 

Within the week, Leo A Daly offered Klebba a full-time job, which he accepted shortly
before graduation.

In the seven years since, Klebba has collaborated on design projects such as the Cloisters on the Platte religious retreat center, the Blackstone Hotel in Omaha, and the Wynn Hotel Casino and Resort in China.

It was Klebba’s community involvement that made him a solid candidate to join Leo A Daly. That volunteer work, on initiatives big and small, remains a sizable part of Klebba’s life today. 

He founded the Omaha Midnight Run in 2011 to raise money for local charitable causes and has volunteered for the American Heart Association, the Greater Omaha Young Professionals Summit, and Glad Tidings (now Good News) Church. He has served on the AIA Nebraska Board of Directors, the Greater Omaha Young Professionals Council, and was a member of Leadership Omaha Class 39. He’s an avid runner and finds great enjoyment in competitive sports of all kinds–including volleyball. 

“Zach loves people and brings people together,” said Chris Johnson, vice president and managing principle with Leo A Daly. “He always offers a unique perspective that is inviting, engaging, authentic, and fun. Zach is dependable and can always be counted on to give his all.”

Klebba’s professional and community contributions have remained consistent since landing in Omaha, a city he wants to call home for the foreseeable future. At 32, he brushes off the millennial label, instead embracing an “old school” work ethic of loyalty, teamwork, and commitment, remarking: “The grass is not always greener elsewhere.”

“I never took for granted what makes Omaha special,” he said. “For me, it’s that blend of small enough to know people, big enough to offer some of the resources of a larger city. There are plenty of things to do here if you’re willing to look for them.”

This article was printed in the June/July 2020 issue of B2B Magazine. 

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