Dames & Moore, Inc.
Dames & Moore, Inc.
Sales: $690.1 million (1997)
Stock Exchanges: New York
Ticker Symbol: DM
SICs: 8711 Engineering Services
A pioneer in civil engineering, Dames & Moore, Inc. represents a global network of companies known as the Dames & Moore Group. Dames & Moore specializes in a variety of civil engineering and environmental and earth sciences disciplines, providing consulting services to corporate and government customers. With 197 offices in major U.S. cities and in countries throughout the world, the company is recognized as an international leader in its field. Roughly 14 percent of Dames & Moore’s revenues are derived from government projects.
The history of Dames & Moore parallels the development of a new discipline in engineering, the science of soils and foundation engineering. Before the birth of Dames & Moore, little was known of soil mechanics and foundation engineering, and what was known rested in the minds of the company’s pioneering founders, Trent R. Dames and William W. Moore. Dames was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1911 and at age seven moved with his family to southern California, where he attended San Diego High School and developed an abiding interest in civil engineering. Moore was a native Californian, born in Pasadena three months after his future, Brooklyn-born business partner. Dames and Moore met for the first time at the California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech), where each earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1933 and stayed on to pursue post-graduate work in civil engineering. Both Dames and Moore had developed an affinity for a particular aspect of civil engineering—the study of soil mechanics and foundation engineering—but their chosen academic paths led to uncharted territory. Much like the pair would be forced to do in the business world, Dames and Moore had to break new ground just to get started.
Their main obstacle—and it was a formidable one—was that Cal Tech did not offer any courses in soils and foundation engineering. Few engineering schools included such courses in their curriculum, but Dames and Moore were undaunted and, along with several of their classmates, they lobbied Cal Tech officials to include soil mechanics as part of the university’s post-graduate engineering studies. Dames and Moore prevailed, but without any textbooks on the subject in existence, the first students of the course had to search for available research on soil mechanics and pool their discoveries. Pursuing their academic studies in this manner, Dames and Moore were scientific pioneers early in their careers. When they left Cal Tech in 1934 with master’s degrees in civil engineering, each possessed expertise in a field few others had ever heard of. As they had done at Cal Tech, Dames and Moore would share their knowledge in the business world; the resultant joint effort materialized as Dames & Moore.
It took several years before Dames and Moore realized that their best chance to put their academic training to work in the business world was to form their own company. After leaving Cal Tech, Moore worked as a staff member of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey organization, while Dames joined the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation as a junior engineer. The two were friends, however, and remained in contact with each other, eventually working together for R. V. Labarre and Fred Converse, two of the West Coast’s first soil mechanics consultants. Because of the infancy of their shared specialty, Dames and Moore found little opportunity to use their skills in the existing marketplace; the obstacle that had confronted them at Cal Tech assumed a similar form outside the confines of academia. Consequently, in 1938 they decided to form a partnership. At the inception of the company, however, optimism concerning their business future was a luxury neither could afford. Moore kept a job with the Corps of Engineers, working on weekends and during the evenings, while Dames worked out of his home in Pasadena. Optimism and a more sharply focused daily work schedule did not arrive until the two entrepreneurs developed their first major innovation.
When the patented Dames & Moore Type U underwater sampler was created, the two Cal Tech graduates could begin to imagine a future filled with steady business. Prior to the development of the Type U, soil exploration was conducted either by drilling a large hole or a number of small holes. The large-diameter borings were big enough to permit an individual to descend into the opening and record findings gleaned from the exposed strata, while the much smaller drillings offered loose or disturbed samples. Neither method was satisfactory: the former was impractical; the latter was inaccurate, creating a great need for an efficient, reliable method of determining soil dynamics. Dames & Moore had developed such a method. The Type U drove the sampler ahead of the boring, enabling engineers to obtain undisturbed samples taken from below the water table, which only rarely had been achieved. As a result, the partnership could point to its first advantage over the paltry few competitors it faced, the realization of which instilled a consistent commitment to technical research in the decades ahead.
After the success of the Type U and the clientele it attracted, the founders invested a considerable portion of their income into developing soil samplers, soil containers, and field and laboratory testing equipment. The fruits of their labor were more clients, clients who offered brief but telling descriptions of the two pioneer engineers they dealt with. To the company’s clients, Dames was known as “Mr. Inside,” the half of the duo adept at the administrative and managerial side of running the company’s operations from its Los Angeles headquarters. Moore was regarded as “Mr. Outside,” the person clients met face-to-face. It was, then, the complementary mixture of two different personalities that described the union of Dames and Moore. As the two looked ahead after the development of the Type U, everything about their business was still in question. Much would be determined in the years ahead. Fortunately for “Mr. Inside” and “Mr. Outside,” the future held great promise.
Post-World War II Expansion
The outbreak of World War II and the United States’ entrance into the global conflict in 1941 proved to be a boon to Dames & Moore’s development. A second office was opened in San Francisco in 1941, as the company worked on a series of projects for the U.S. Navy and Army, using its soils and foundation engineering skills to assist in the construction of military facilities, as well as devoting its expertise to the development of field soils kits for the U.S. Navy Sea Bees. World War II business also pushed Dames & Moore overseas for the first time, setting the stage for the firm’s expansion into European markets after the war. In 1943, when the German Army occupied most of North Africa and maintained an entrenched position in Europe, the Allied forces were in desperate need of fuel. To help supply the demand, decision-makers resolved to construct an oil refinery at Ras Tanura, Saudi Arabia, and called upon “Mr. Outside” to conduct soils investigations at the site. Moore flew to Saudi Arabia and supervised the construction of testing equipment and the ensuing soils investigation, gathering information that provided foundation design recommendations for the refinery.
In the decades following the war, the national economy expanded mightily, creating an unprecedented need for engineers of all types to assist in the nation’s strident growth. Construction activity throughout the country occurred at a dizzying pace, companies—Dames & Moore clients included—expanded ambitiously, while nearly every sector of the economy, after a decade-long depression and five years of war, awoke from dormancy to record robust growth. In the economic boom period following the war, Dames and Moore found themselves operating in a business environment primed for their services, and they moved resolutely forward to take advantage of the prosperous times. Their company expanded into Europe for the first time in 1948, undertaking a detailed foundation investigation for an oil refinery in Rotterdam. Domestically, Dames & Moore expanded its geographic presence, opening offices in Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington, in 1947, and an office in New York one year later. Further expansion followed, precipitated by the expansion of the company’s mainstay clients. As oil companies extended their geographic reach, so did Dames & Moore, giving the company a payroll of 100 consultants working in eight offices by the end of the 1940s.
Our mission is to be the best consulting, full-service engineering and construction management firm in the world. Our purpose is to create value for our clients by always anticipating and satisfying their environmental and engineering needs in a cost-effective and innovative manner.
Burgeoning growth in the late 1940s reached full stride during the 1950s, as Dames & Moore not only continued to physically expand but also began to broaden the scope of its engineering services. Engineering projects were undertaken in the Far East, South America, and Australia, extending the company’s reach around the globe, and its services were diversified. Until 1952, Dames & Moore had focused exclusively on soils and foundation engineering, but as consultants with backgrounds in geology and geophysics joined the company’s growing roster of experts, capabilities increased commensurately. Midway through the 1950s, Dames & Moore’s services included engineering geology, ground-water development, mineral exploration, and other areas in the applied earth sciences. By the 1960s, further maturation added new services that represented new scientific disciplines, including environmental engineering, earthquake engineering, and marine services. With the addition of these new services, Dames & Moore could perform its traditional soils mechanics and foundation work, such as the foundation investigation the company completed for Dodger Stadium in the 1950s, and it also could participate in a bevy of different projects that required expertise in the other engineering disciplines. Accordingly, the company was involved in a number of high-profile projects during the 1960s. It was involved in the construction of the BART rapid transit system in San Francisco. Dames & Moore consultants completed the geotechnical investigation for the 606-foot-high Seattle Space Needle, constructed for the 1962 World’s Fair. The company investigated the 8.5 magnitude Alaska earthquake in 1964, conducted the foundation investigation of the Ala Moana shopping center and office building project in Honolulu, Hawaii, and it provided foundation specifications for a massive parcel of wetlands in Orlando, Florida, where Walt Disney World was erected.
The 1960s also marked the emergence of two new important areas of business for Dames & Moore: scientific investigations related to environmental concerns and nuclear power concerns. Well before the promulgation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969, the company began providing environmental services to its clients, mainly major utilities, oil companies, and industrial companies. These services, distinct from foundation analysis, enabled customers to assess the affect a particular project would have on the environment, which became mandatory with the establishment of the NEPA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In the regulation-driven era that ensued, Dames & Moore stood poised as one of the diversified experts capable of assuring that utilities and companies were in compliance with federal mandates. On the nuclear power front, Dames & Moore made an early entry into what would prove to be a lucrative business area. In 1963, the company began one of its first major environmental projects related to nuclear power, an evaluation of the site for Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation’s Nine Mile One nuclear power plant near Oswego, New York. Aside from providing its typical foundation engineering and geological services, the company performed an examination of regional seismology, ground-water flow patterns, water-use patterns, and surface-water hydrology. During the 1970s, this aspect of Dames & Moore’s business grew strongly, as the company developed new talents that kept pace with the changing conditions in its marketplace.
By the late 1960s and early 1970s, Dames & Moore’s entry into environmental and nuclear power related business was beginning to pay big dividends. A surge of business arrived with the increased demand by utilities for studies required to license proposed nuclear power plants, both at home and abroad. Concurrently, there was another prodigious increase in business related to the construction of offshore platforms, processing facilities, and pipeline systems undertaken by the petroleum industry, long a source of business for Dames & Moore. As the company entered the 1980s, its environmental services took the form of waste management consultations for companies endeavoring to deal with hazardous substances and toxic waste. By 1984, roughly a third of Dames & Moore’s new business in the United States was derived from projects related to waste management. Again, the company had demonstrated its ability to change with the times; a talent that would be put to an extreme test in the years ahead.
Revamped in the 1990s
Dames & Moore celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1988, when the company employed more than 1,400 professional consultants and staff in more than 50 cities across the globe, collecting more than $115 million in revenues. The half-century celebrations occurred at a propitious juncture in Dames & Moore’s history, for the festivities offered an opportunity for all those associated with the company to reflect on the past before sweeping changes entirely reshaped the company for its second half-century of business. The late 1980s marked a signal turning point in Dames & Moore’s development, ushering in a new breed of company designed to compete in a different business environment. The growth of Dames & Moore’s mainstay markets had flattened out as the 1980s drew to a close, prompting management to seriously reconsider the company’s future. The actions company officials took after this period of self-reflection produced a new, greatly diversified company, the Dames & Moore of the 1990s.
The first significant move toward the company’s wholesale transformation occurred in 1992, when Dames & Moore, a limited partnership since its inception, incorporated and converted to public ownership. The organizational change created Dames & Moore, Inc., a corporate entity comprising a global network of companies that would become known as the Dames & Moore Group. Within the Dames & Moore Group, a name that was adopted in 1997, were a handful of operating companies Dames & Moore, Inc. had obtained through acquisitions. The bulk of these companies were acquired in 1995, when Dames & Moore purchased Walk Haydel & Associates, Inc., O’Brien Kreitzberg, Inc., and DecisionQuest, Inc. Founded in 1959 and headquartered in New Orleans, Louisiana, Walk Haydel offered program management services for major construction projects such as the U.S. Department of Energy’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve storage facility at Big Hill, Texas. DecisionQuest, a company formed in 1991, employed experts in behavioral research and the science of persuasion, lending its expertise to law firms and corporate attorneys preparing for trial or special presentations. The third company acquired in 1995, O’Brien Kreitzberg, was similar to Walk Haydel. O’Brien Kreitzberg provided project and construction management services for large-scale projects such as the GSA Federal Building in Oakland, California, for which the company identified $11 million in engineering savings.
Two more additions to Dames & Moore Group occurred in 1996, as the company neared the completion of its reconstruction for the 21st century. The BRW Group, founded in 1970 and based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, gave Dames & Moore a seasoned veteran to provide preliminary site planning and final site design to large corporate clients. Next, the company formed Dames & Moore Ventures, a company created to identify and fund investment opportunities connected to its parent company’s technical practice. As part of this effort, Dames & Moore Ventures was involved in a joint venture company that repaired and redeveloped environmentally impaired property.
Organized as such, the Dames & Moore of the late 1990s stood as a vastly different company than the enterprise that had existed a decade earlier. Whether the changes effected would translate into continued success during the company’s second half-century of business remained to be determined in the years ahead. The company’s solid background in civil engineering and the pioneering achievement of its founders, however, was a fact the future could not erase. As Dames & Moore headed into the 21st century, this immutable strength represented the company’s foundation for future success.
Walk Haydel & Associates, Inc.; O’Brien Kreitzberg, Inc.; BRW Group; DecisionQuest, Inc., Dames & Moore Ventures.
Lillard, Judith, “Dames & Moore Celebrates 50 Years of Practice,” Los Angeles: Dames & Moore, Inc., 1988, 10 p.
——, “Trent R. Dames and the Consulting Firm He Founded 50 Years Ago Are Still Models for the Profession,” Los Angeles: Dames & Moore, Inc., 1988, 4 p.
——, “William W. Moore Still a Vital Influence After 50 Years in the Consulting Engineering Profession,” Los Angeles: Dames & Moore, Inc., 1988, 4 p.
—Jeffrey L. Covell