A. Ross Myers
Class of 1972, BS
In 1939, Ross Myers’ father and grandfather sold six dairy cows in order to purchase a dump truck, a symbolic beginning for their new local hauling company, Allan A. Myers and Son, located in the Philadelphia suburbs. More than 30 years later, in 1972, Ross would join the family business. During his first year with the company, it grossed $200,000. Today, as the president and chief executive officer, he acknowledges that if the company doesn’t perform $200,000 worth of business in the first hour of every day, it can’t break even.
Mr. Myers, an extremely successful giant of today’s construction business, recalls his rise to prominence started modestly. He claims he was an adolescent “geek.” As a young boy, he played with erector sets, launching his ambitions to become a structural design engineer. At nine, he started building his first car, gathering parts for a 1936 Ford. At 10, the young wizard set out to create a hot rod that he eventually drove to school when he came of age to have a driver’s license. He laid his hands on an engine at 13 and rebuilt the motor. Idleness was never part of his personality.
Much later in his life, he would take his engineering skills and compete professionally as a race car driver, reaching top speeds of 180 to 200 miles per hour on the nation’s major tracks such as Watkins Glen, Virginia International Raceway, and numerous California settings. “Racing is good for the heart, and clears out the mind,” says the 1972 graduate of Virginia Tech’s civil engineering department. And, it helps to “have a preservation gene,” he smiles.
Virginia Tech was fortunate to attract this entrepreneurial personality to its campus. Mr. Myers had first considered Georgia Tech, in steep geographical contrast to his parents’ preference that he attend the nearby Lehigh University. “Lehigh was too close to home for me, and my father said Georgia Tech was too far away. So, with typical engineering minds, we drew a circle and it landed on Blacksburg. Then my guidance counselor told me Virginia Tech was a good school,” he recalls.
He started losing some of his self-described “geekiness” as a college student, becoming one of the founders of Sigma Phi Epsilon, the first national fraternity at Virginia Tech. “It was fun building this from scratch. We raised the money, bought a house, lived in it, and even hired a cook,” he recalls. “I met a great bunch of friends who I have had for the rest of my life, including John Lawson (currently the Rector of Virginia Tech’s Board of Visitors).”
His new-found proclivity towards a social life was mixed with a steady co-operative education experience. He found positions during alternating academic quarters with a number of diverse design firms. “I learned that I really enjoyed the challenge of the construction site as opposed to construction design, so when I graduated and my father asked me to return to the company, I did,” Mr. Myers says.
Not too long after he returned to the Philadelphia-based business, Mr. Myers faced one of his most serious challenges. “I almost bankrupted the company,” he divulges. He had provided an estimate for a job on the Delaware River, but the day he visited the site, he had not taken into consideration the differences between the low and high tides of the massive body of water. The job cost his company much more than the agreed upon price, and “it took everything we had to get through the job. I learned a lot.”
Indeed, he did. Today, Mr. Myers’ renamed company, American Infrastructure, consistently ranks in the top half of Engineering News Record’s annual Top 400 U.S. Contractor’s List, the Top 50 Heavy and Highway Contractors, and the Top 200 Environmental Engineering and Construction Companies. “My father told me that in every year that we were profitable, we could take on a new challenge, and we only missed one in 38 years,” he reveals.
American Infrastructure operates as Allan A. Myers in Pennsylvania and Delaware, and as American Infrastructure in Maryland and Virginia. Its various quarries and asphalt plants operate as Independence Construction Materials (ICM). Together as American Infrastructure, it maintains a network of local operating units and construction materials to build infrastructure projects of all sizes throughout the Mid-Atlantic.
Among American Infrastructure’s numerous credits is the completion of the largest highway construction project ever awarded by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, the Route 202/I-76/422 interchange. The project, started in 2001, came in ahead of schedule, earning two milestone bonuses and a citation from the state’s governor.
The on-time, within budget construction job is what Mr. Myers is known for. “It is very important to me to have fair and ethical dealings with our workers and our customers. We treat everyone equally … My father and grandfather wanted a win-win in every relationship, or it was not a relationship. The guy shoveling can be the most important guy in the company,” Mr. Myers asserts.
So, to reward the most dedicated and committed people in the various operating units of the company, American Infrastructure, under Mr. Ross’ guidance, conceived and implemented a program to build a depth of leadership that insures the company’s growth and profitability well into the future. Called Leadership Intensive, the selected employees are provided an 18-month program of training, designed to grow and hone their leadership skills.
Coming after the heels of Leadership Intensive, it’s no surprise that Mr. Myers is one half of the key financial backers of Virginia Tech’s Myers-Lawson School of Construction where the primary focus is on values-based leadership in the construction industry. The school combined the strength of two of Virginia Tech academic programs, the Vecellio construction engineering and management program and the building construction department, to establish a new standard for construction education and research.
Mr. Myers and his fraternity brother, Mr. Lawson, II, shared equally in a $10 million gift to start the school. Mr. Lawson is the president and CEO of W.M. Jordan Company, Inc., headquartered in Newport News, and the largest construction company based in Virginia.
“My investment in Virginia Tech’s School of Construction is providing the industry, including companies like mine, with much needed, well-prepared, high content human capital. Beyond that, I believe the school is elevating the learning process to produce leaders prepared to elevate an industry,” Mr. Myers says.
“I always felt our construction industry, about 10 percent of the Gross Domestic Product of the country, is an unrecognized field. To return to Virginia Tech and to be able to start the school with John was a way to give back to both Virginia Tech and the industry. It is as exciting as it can get, especially to come down and meet the students. When people have passion, good things happen,” he smiles.
The Myers-Lawson School of Construction, approved by Virginia’s State Council of Higher Education in 2006, might never have happened if the two had not become life-long friends and fraternity brothers. “Virginia Tech defined me as a person,” Mr. Myers says. “They were five of the most formative years of my life. Virginia Tech really preached Ut Prosim, and as a young person, I believed in the Honor System, lived by it, and was proud of it.”
Mr. Myers’ emphasis on education at American Infrastructure allows him many personal rewards. “I marvel at how good the people in our research and development are. When people do it better than I could have ever done it, and I see that a lot, it gives me goose bumps, and is my greatest reward,” he says.
Mr. Myers has been married to his wife Beth for the past 20 years. They are the parents of six children, and they enjoy family skiing vacations. A member of Virginia Tech’s Ut Prosim Society, he is also a former member of the Advisory Board of the Via Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
Class of: 1972
Year Inducted into Academy: 2009