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Award of Excellence: Introduction

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Some people start out their careers with dreams of winning their industry’s top honor, such as an Academy Award for movies or a Noble prize in literature or the arts or science.

The construction industry’s most prestigious honor is ENR’s award of excellence. Here’s some background.

The award had humble beginnings. Former Editor-in-Chief Arthur J. Fox, borrowing an idea from another McGraw-Hill publication, published a list of “Some Men Who Made Marks in ‘63” in the Jan. 23, 1964 issue. Two years later ENR recognized its first “Man of the Year,” an idea borrowed from Time magazine. At a dinner at New York’s Pierre Hotel 350 executives saw the honor bestowed on Lyman Dwight Wilbur of Morrison Knudsen, for his work in military construction in Vietnam during the war. The next year ENR honored Vinton W. Bacon, who fought graft in Chicago’s Metropolitan Sanitary District contract awards. An tradition of honoring service to the industry and the public had been set in motion.

In its early years the selection of the honoree “was obvious, it was the biggest story we had published,” says Fox, who is now semi-retired in suburban Maryland. No discussion, debate and vote by editors, the practice today, was needed. Over the years the definition and eligibility of candidates has evolved and expanded. Sometimes a technical innovation is cited, such as in 1989 and World Trade Center designer Leslie E. Robertson, whose award called him a “champion of efficient structural systems.” Sometimes a single great public works project is enough to propel a nominee to the podium, such as in 1981, when Robert A. Boyd won for bringing engineering and managerial excellence to Hydro-

Quebec’s James Bay Project. Other times the reason for the award had to do with the health of the industry, such as Charles D. Brown, who won in 1983 for working with the Business Roundtable to improve cost effectiveness.

Four decades later, the award program has evolved  into an all-day affair that also involves a luncheon where the other nominees are honored. The nighttime, formal banquet where the award is made has outgrown both New York City’s Pierre Hotel and Plaza Hotel and is now, with attendance pushing 1,500, held in the Marriott Marquis Hotel on Times Square. There is nothing like it in the construction industry.

The cover images that follow show each of the winners and briefly explain what they accomplished. We hope the awards not only speak to the achievements of the winners, but bring honor to the industry by crystallizing a broad range of accomplishments in an of many dimensions.

And for those who are just beginning their careers in construction, we hope you go to see you on the cover of ENR as the winner of the award of excellence.


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