Honoring courage

November 2012 » Columns » FROM THE PUBLISHER
Mark C. Zweig

I am writing this from a room at the St. Regis Hotel in Aspen, Col., where we're holding our 13th annual The Zweig Letter Hot Firm Conference and Awards Celebration.

Last night, we announced the winner of the 2012 Jerry Allen Award for Courage in Leadership. Jerry Allen was an amazing engineer who was the CEO of Ft. Worth-based Carter & Burgess for about 14 years until his untimely deal from cancer in 2003. He led the firm through a period of unprecedented growth and did so with guts, style and humility. He was my mentor for many years – hence the reason we created this award in his honor.

This year's winner is an amazing, courageous, and dedicated engineer and human being – Sam Schwartz, P.E., founder and CEO of New York-based Sam Schwartz Engineering.

Schwartz, like Jerry Allen, is a fearless leader who has made countless difficult decisions over his career, as well as dedicated himself to a wide variety of other causes, such as improving public schools and creating support groups.

He and his family also survived the 9/11 terrorist attacks – living across the street from the WTC with his office close by – an event that killed six of his colleagues.

Schwartz's history of leadership and public responsibility began in the mid-1980s working as the first Deputy Commissioner for the NYCDOT. Before Schwartz came on the scene cables had snapped on the Brooklyn Bridge, killing a tourist and stranding tens of thousands of people. Sam worked aggressively to understand the magnitude of the problems and develop a long-term solution, which he published in the seminal book for bridge managers, "Spanning the Twenty First Century." With his appointment in 1986, he discovered the Manhattan Bridge cables were in danger and shut half the bridge down, including two subway tracks. One of his bravest decisions came in 1988. After his inspection team found cracked beams supporting traffic and subways that mathematically should have collapsed, he ordered the shutdown of the entire Williamsburg Bridge. The Bridge carried 250,000 people daily in cars, trucks, buses and subways. His actions probably saved thousands of lives, though they risked his career with the DOT, which ended two years later as a result of fallout from the closure.

After starting his company in 1995 with one intern and a determination to create positive change with the transportation infrastructure in NYC, Schwartz slowly but consistently secured and successfully completed one project after another. Schwartz's firm (No. 44 on The Zweig Letter 2012 Hot Firm List) today has revenues of over $16 million. Throughout the lean years, he put up his NYC apartment and his home on Long Island as collateral to keep his business going and his staff employed. As the hard times continued, Schwartz refused to lay off any of his employees. His courage and determination paid off and today Schwartz is the CEO of a successful firm and works with a loyal staff of over 100 people he considers family.

Wow – what a story. It's because of people like Sam Schwartz that we publish this magazine. Congrats to Sam and congrats to all of our readers of Structural Engineer magazine – you truly do have a noble calling.

Mark C. Zweig,
mzweig@zweigwhite.com

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