The Repair Contractor: Peter Emmons, Structural Group

Leading with knowledge

Peter Emmons runs Structural Group with cool efficiency.
Peter Emmons runs Structural Group with cool efficiency.

Often, when a young engineer starts his own construction company, it prospers until his technical skills become secondary to the need to manage a rapidly expanding staff; then it falters from a lack of management skills. In the 30 years since founding Baltimore-based Structural Preservation Systems, though, Peter Emmons has maintained his technical skills (enough to be a top World of Concrete speaker on concrete repair) and has also developed his management skills to build a concrete construction company that employs over 1000 people and is the 8th largest in the United States.

For Emmons leadership didn't stop there. He is also leading the industry as a whole, as former president of the International Concrete Repair Institute and now as chairman of the Strategic Development Council. The SDC is the industry group that has developed a vision for the concrete business in the year 2020 and is plotting how to get us there.

That seems the perfect role for someone who leads his company as a visionary. Emmons understands that knowledge is power and communication is the key to leadership. Advances in computers have made both of these tasks easier. “The Web and e-mail have created a revolution in the way we work, in terms of speed, efficiency, and accuracy,” he said. “We can touch more people in a positive way. It's not actually dehumanizing. It allows me to operate a much bigger organization in an efficient way.”

Retaining knowledge is another focus of Emmons' zeal. As his company grew, he realized that hard-won lessons—in both repair skills and leadership—were being relearned on project after project. He began to film repair work and interview the project leaders. Then he posted these videos on a company intranet for everyone to learn from. “We have full-time reporters that visit jobsites and interview and film the foreman or superintendent or engineer to find out what they're doing. We feel that as we invest in capturing and storing these documentaries, we will build up our primary asset—knowledge.”

The tall-building designer: Bill Baker, SOM

Building concrete skyscrapers

Bill Baker refers to his wind-tunnel experiments as “confusing the wind.”
Bill Baker refers to his wind-tunnel experiments as “confusing the wind.”

We are entering an era where structural reinforced concrete will be used for super-tall building construction, and Bill Baker, a partner at Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill (SOM), Chicago, and his team, are leading the way. Thirty years ago SOM designed Chicago's Sears Tower—for many years the world's tallest building—out of structural steel and set the standard for skyscraper design and construction for many years. But today, all of the super-tall buildings being designed are either all concrete or composite structures, using a structural reinforced concrete core to provide stiffness, and floor girders of structural steel. SOM is designing and building more of these than any other firm.

In 1998 Baker and his team conducted research on a ground-breaking project. Seven South Dearborn in Chicago was to be the world's tallest building and was to be constructed of structural reinforced concrete on a tight one-acre site. The concept was to build a central core or “mast” using structurally reinforced concrete, and post-tension the floors to the mast—there would be no columns to support the floors. Although never built, due to financial problems, the knowledge gained paved the way for the Burj Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, currently being constructed. Exceeding 2000 vertical feet, it will become the world's tallest building. The Trump Tower, now being constructed in Chicago, is another beneficiary of the 7 South Dearborn research—it will become Chicago's second tallest building.

Baker joined SOM in 1981, as a structural steel designer material that he still uses, although he enjoys working with concrete and is intrigued with the benefits of self-consolidating concrete. Some factors that Baker feels are increasing the use of concrete in tall buildings are:

  • The concrete industry is very progressive.
  • Contractors are adaptable to change. Many general contractors self-perform their concrete work (they seldom do with structural steel) and push for innovation.
  • Formwork systems are increasingly sophisticated and easy to use.
  • The quality of concrete has increased; it is stronger and stiffer.
  • Concrete pumping has improved; at the Burj Dubai, a single-stage pump can lift concrete 2000 vertical feet.

The architect: Tadao Ando

What's possible with concrete

Tadao Ando is a Japanese concrete master architect.
Tadao Ando is a Japanese concrete master architect.

Tadao Ando, living in Osaka, Japan, chose a path different from most professionals—he is self-taught and has no degree in architecture. In spite of that humble beginning, his award-winning projects, mostly in concrete, are located all over the world, including in the United States. He is Japan's leading architect and one of the world's giants.

Jack Hanna, associate professor in the School of Art at the University of Houston, says that Ando favors simple, clean, geometric shapes that are devoid of decorative elements. The details are both sudden and hidden. When a wall meets glass, they come together without moldings or covers to mask the intersection. He often designs reflecting pools that come right to the edge of a building wall as at the Modern Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, his most recent U.S. project.

Ando builds with concrete, steel, and glass. He uses concrete as his primary structural material and focuses on its simplicity. His designs highlight the natural color of concrete—no coatings, paint, or color. Doors and windows have no trim, and there are no baseboards or moldings to cover the intersections of walls and floors. Ando believes that ornamentation would hide the skilled craftsmanship that brings intersections together seamlessly.

Even though his designs are simple, his projects are demanding and precise. He favors the “as-cast” method of concrete construction, perhaps the riskiest for contractors. With as-cast, when the formwork is removed from concrete walls, what you see is what you get. Seldom is patching or remedial work allowed because that leaves blemishes. For the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts in 2001 (Concrete Construction, November 2001) Ando wanted wall surfaces with few bug holes and a natural smooth “silky” finish, and the 360 separate concrete placements had to come together to look like a single casting.

Ando both respects and depends on the skill of those who form and place concrete. Their workmanship becomes part of the design—design that demonstrates what's possible with concrete.

The structural engineer: James R. Cagley, Cagley & Assoc.

Designing innovative structures

Jim Cagley with his wife Sharon at their West Virginia farm.
Jim Cagley with his wife Sharon at their West Virginia farm.

James Cagley, P.E., S.E., president of Cagley & Associates and current president of the American Concrete Institute (ACI), has been trying new things and pushing the envelope in concrete construction for his entire career. “I was fortunate to grow up with firms that would let me do things that weren't necessarily ordinary,” Cagley recalls.

Cagley studied architecture at Iowa State University in the mid-1950s. When, in his junior year, one of the professors told him he had the potential to become a first-rate engineer, he transferred to the school of engineering. During his senior year, Cagley took a class in Ultimate Strength Design of concrete, a new approach that had only been recognized for the first time in 1956 by the ACI Code. He embraced this new approach and today says, with some pride, that he has never designed concrete using Working Stress Design.

Cagley's first post-tensioned structure was for the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1959. Later in Houston, at the age of 29, he became the chief structural engineer for Caudill Rowlett Scott where he was able to do a lot of innovative concrete work. “Houston was a very aggressive town in terms of what people did there architecturally,” Cagley says. “While we would have still been discussing a project in Madison, in Houston it got designed and built.”

Cagley joined ACI in 1968 and ACI Committee 318 in 1973, the same year he opened his consulting engineering practice in Rockville, Md. Years later he served as chair of the committee for the 1999 and 2002 code revision cycles. As ACI president, he is aggressively working to get contractors more involved in the development of ACI documents.

Among the many honors he has gathered, recently he was named a “Legend of Post-Tensioning” and became one of the 25 inaugural members of the Post-Tensioning Institute Hall of Fame. Looking to the future, Cagley says that one thing the construction industry has to do is learn to live with design/build.

The innovator: Jack Cooney, Somero Enterprises

Establishing a process

The Somero innovation team, Cooney is third from left in the back row (fifth from left overall).
The Somero innovation team, Cooney is third from left in the back row (fifth from left overall).

When told he had been selected as one of CC's most influential people, Jack Cooney was concerned. “The innovation we do at Somero is a process and a team. It's not just the marketing guys, it's not just the engineers, and it's certainly not just me. It's a team, and all of this happens because we all work well together.” Still, it's Cooney who, since coming to Somero in 1997, has established the process that has made the company one of the concrete industry's most innovative. It seems like an annual game guessing what new product they will unveil. First it was the 3-D laser screeds, then the Copperhead walk-behind laser screed, which brought laser screed technology to smaller contractors and tighter spots. Then, just this summer, the ride-on Somero PowerRake.

Most people in the concrete business know the story of the laser screed. Invented by David Somero, a concrete contractor, in the 1980s, the laser screed has changed the way concrete slabs are placed. When the business of manufacturing and marketing this very successful and patented product outpaced his skills, Somero sold the company to Dover, and Cooney was hired to “put a management team in place and continue to grow the business. We knew we needed to put together a team of people that could look at all aspects of product development from marketing to customer service to technical design and that could look at a potential product and ask whether it adds value for the customer.”

One might think that Somero with its strong patent on the laser screed could dictate to the industry. Cooney begs to disagree. “When I started, I said that we have to operate as if there's a competitor coming tomorrow morning. And we actually do have competition. A contractor has some money, and he doesn't have to buy a laser screed.” That philosophy should continue to serve Somero well, and keep it innovating, patent or not.

The teacher: Kenneth C. Hover Cornell University

Concrete can be fun

Ken Hover uses unusual props to teach concrete technology.
Ken Hover uses unusual props to teach concrete technology.

Few people have explained as much about concrete to so many people with as much clarity as Dr. Kenneth Hover, who recently completed his second decade at Cornell University where he is professor of structural engineering. If you've never participated in one of Ken's presentations, you're really missing something. From a guy with a PhD in engineering, it's surprising how much fun it can be to learn why concrete behaves the way it does.

A series of fortunate occurrences led to Hover's becoming the effective and influential educator he is today, beginning with a construction project at his high school the summer before his senior year, in the late 1960s. Up until that point he had been “absolutely certain” that he was going to become a high-school Spanish teacher.

After completing his freshman year at the University of Cincinnati, Hover entered the university's co-op program, alternating quarters of being a full-time student with quarters spent working for Dugan and Meyers, a local construction company. He joined them full time the year before graduation. As chief estimator for heavy and highway construction, he brought in the low bid for the concrete work on the I-471 bridges over the Ohio River, and he then ran the field office for construction of the bridge while he finished his degree.

Curious by nature, Hover began studying why so many concrete structures were deteriorating. As a result of several coincidences, he received an ACI scholarship and the Exxon fellowship to pursue a doctorate a Cornell. Hover joined the Cornell faculty when he completed his PhD in 1984.

Today he is in great demand and is widely acknowledged as one of the top speakers on the technical aspects of concrete. He also spends a great deal of time on concrete-related construction problems in the field, and his research and teaching are directed toward understanding and solving those kinds of problems. Hover credits his early work in the construction industry with helping him keep engineering education alive and relevant, and it is where his roots remain. “A university position is a great opportunity when you take teaching seriously,” he says. “You get immediate feedback by looking at the students. You know whether you're coming across. To see their eyes light up when they get it—that charges my battery!”

The association executive: Ed Sauter, TCA and CFA

Quitet, patient leadership

Ed Sauter is a leader in both the tilt-up and concrete foundation sectors.
Ed Sauter is a leader in both the tilt-up and concrete foundation sectors.

When Ed Sauter became chairman of ACI Committee 332, “Residential Concrete Work,” in 1998, the committee was working on the third revision of its proposed residential concrete building code. When he retired as chairman in 2004 with ACI's first approved new standard in many years, and the first true building code dedicated to residential concrete, it was in its 14th revision. Patience is a virtue Sauter possesses in large amounts.

Residential construction has been the hottest segment of the U.S. construction industry for several years and is likely to remain so for at least the next decade. If the International Residential Code (IRC) references this new document, as most expect it will, Sauter's leadership will help to improve the construction of millions of homes.

Trained as an architect, Sauter started his own business after graduating from college, focusing on energy-efficient buildings that he hoped would be easy to construct. “During my college years 1 worked as a laborer for contractors, so when I became an architect I wondered how easy it would be for contractors to build my designs,” he said.

He became acquainted with Composite Technologies, Boone, Iowa, that made an insulated sandwich concrete wall system used in residential, precast, and tilt-up walls. He later became CEO of that company and an active member of the Tilt-Up Concrete Association (TCA). When, in 1992, TCA needed an executive director, he accepted the job as a temporary position. He's still in that temporary position—now permanent—and later also took on the executive director's role for the Concrete Foundations Association (CFA). In 2001 the Concrete Homes Council (CHC) was formed, and that became a council of the CFA, so he is leading the industry in residential concrete as well.

Both TCA and the CFA are thriving organizations. Their memberships are growing, they are financially healthy, they are sponsoring research projects that are benefiting the industry, their boards of directors are enthusiastic and forward-thinking, and there is harmony and teamwork among the members. None of this happens by chance, but Sauter's quiet leadership makes it look easy.

The contractor: Mike Schneider, Baker Concrete*

Finding time for the industry

Mike Schneider is also the chief people officer at Baker.
Mike Schneider is also the chief people officer at Baker.

Most contractors are builders first, business people second. Mike Schneider doesn't fit that stereotype nor that of the aggressive, pushy contractor. Instead, he quietly and forcefully makes his point, and when he speaks, people listen (see Contractors to Watch on page 74). In late 2004 he became president of the American Society of Concrete Contractors when the previous president suddenly resigned. “It was a difficult time to take over,” says ASCC executive director Bev Garnant, “but Mike never missed a beat.”

Although Schneider has a demanding job running the Cincinnati operations for one of the nation's largest concrete contractors, he has found time for lots of volunteer work. “When I first went to work for Dan (Baker), he told me how much he believed in working with associations. I've been involved on the national level for the past 10 years with ASCC. I first got involved with the coalition for concrete flatwork to address the shortage of finishers in 1996.” There was no turning back from there. Soon he was on the board of NCCER (National Center for Construction Education and Research), the steering committee for the Concrete Industry Management program at Middle Tennessee State University, an advisory committee for the NRMCA Foundation, and was actively participating in the P2P committee. “I do think there's a direct return,” he said. “First it's the network you develop—we've done several joint ventures with people we met at ASCC. We believe that if you're there and spend the time you'll get something out of it.”

“Mike does a good job representing the contractors,” said Garnant, “but he also has a more global point of view- and a lot of common sense. He sees the big picture of the whole industry, and that generates a lot of respect. Sure it helps to have the Baker name behind him, but it's his calmness and his ability to see how all the pieces fit together that people respond to.”

* To read an interview with Mike Schneider, see Contractors to Watch.

The materials expert: Jim Shilstone, The Shilstone Companies

A concrete legacy

Three generations of Shilstones have dedicated their life's work to concrete: James M. Jr. (Jay), Herbert M. (portrait), and James M. Sr. (Jim).
Three generations of Shilstones have dedicated their life's work to concrete: James M. Jr. (Jay), Herbert M. (portrait), and James M. Sr. (Jim).

Jim Shilstone has been working in the concrete industry far longer than most of us have been alive. As a teenager, he began working in his father's testing lab during the summers. Following a West Point education and five years in the Army, he has spent much of his life studying and working with concrete— and he hasn't stopped yet. During a recent visit to his Dallas office, he told us that he is applying for his professional engineer's license in the state of Texas based on his experience—at 82 he has plenty of it.

A crusader for quality concrete, Jim is most known for his work with aggregate gradation and concrete durability. The seeMIX software that he and son Jay developed in the 1980s has become the industry's most popular mix design program. A flippant comment Shilstone made at a 1990 meeting of ACI Committee 301, Specifications, resulted in what has come to be known as Shilstone's 18-8 rule. This states that the amount of aggregate retained on any standard sieve, except the coarsest and finest, must be between 18% and 8%, a distribution that often provides a more workable and durable concrete. “I want to make it clear,” he wrote recently, “I have always been against use of this as a specification. I must say that it can lead to excellent concrete but the same can be said for thousands of other aggregate particle distributions.” So Jim disagrees with what, despite his protests, may become his legacy.

The awards he has accumulated are too numerous to list, but within one year (2004), both the American Concrete Institute and the American Concrete Pavement Association recognized his contributions with honorary membership, their highest honors. Today, Shilstone continues his struggle to remind us of the many extraordinarily durable concretes produced in the early to middle 20th century, many of which are still in service today. He insists that much of what we need to know about durable concrete mixes was discovered by Duff Abrams in the 1920s, C.A.G. Weymouth in the ‘30s, and Paul Klieger in the ‘50s. The basics seldom change— and neither does Jim Shilstone.

The floors expert: Eldon Tipping, Structural Services Inc.

Building great teams

Tipping: Eldon Tipping even has polished concrete floors throughout his offices.
Tipping: Eldon Tipping even has polished concrete floors throughout his offices.

When you talk with the best concrete floor builders, eventually the conversation comes around to what they do to get high-quality floors. The response is inevitably, “We bring Tipp in to help us.” There is no person in the United States, probably in the world, who has a more loyal following among concrete floor enthusiasts than Eldon Tipping. For years he operated with a small team, but within the past few years, Structural Services has added most of the nation's best floors people to its staff, including Rick Smith, Jerry Holland, Wayne Walker, Pat Harrison, and Bob Simonelli. “I've been very fortunate in the caliber of the people attracted to work with us.”

But despite this expansion, SSI is not diluting its efforts. “We made a conscious decision to stay focused,” said Tipping. “We don't try to be everything to everybody. We want to be the best in our field, and I think we are, and the people working with me are acknowledged experts in the field. The really neat thing about this company is that everyone is passionate about their work. I really think education is at the core of our practice.”

Tipping's educational efforts extend past his private business to his work with the American Concrete Institute where he chaired ACI Committee 302 through the development of the newest version of their “Guide for Concrete Floor and Slab Construction.”

“I became chairman of ACI 302 when the 1996 document was published and then left when the 2004 document was finalized. We made two major changes. The chapter on mix design was completely rewritten by Pat Harrison, and we expanded the section on moisture migration. The benefit of the new chapter on mix design is that it describes the relationship between the components in the mix and its performance in the field, both from a shrinkage standpoint and a durability standpoint.”

And Tipping hasn't stopped educating and bringing together a team, having recently taken the chairmanship of ACI Committee 117 on tolerances. “Today there are lots of cases where this document is unclear and others where the tolerance is not realistic— we'll try to fix that by bringing in all of the interests,” he said.