Turner Construction Company

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Turner Construction Company

375 Hudson Street, 6th Floor
New York, New York 10014
Telephone: (212) 229-6000
Fax: (212) 229-6390
Web site: http://www.turnerconstruction.com

Wholly Owned Subsidiary of The Turner Corporation
Incorporated: 1902
Employees: 5,000
Sales: $3.59 billion (2003)
NAIC: 236210 Industrial Building Construction; 236220 Commercial and Institutional Building Construction; 236116 New Multi-Family Housing Construction

Turner Construction Company is one of the most prodigious builders in the world, credited with building in part or in entirety many of the 20th century's most notable landmarks. Turner Construction contributed to the construction of the United Nations Secretariat building, Madison Square Garden, passenger terminals at JFK International Airport, LaGuardia Airport, and O'Hare International Airport, and numerous other commercial, industrial, and sports facilities. The company operates more than 40 offices throughout the United States and maintains a substantial international presence. Turner Construction has built or managed the construction of 19 of the 100 tallest buildings in the world. The company is the main operating subsidiary of The Turner Corporation, which is owned by a German construction firm named Hochtief AG.


Turner Construction's influential founder, Henry Chandlee Turner, was born in Maryland in 1871. Turner, as did a number of his descendants, attended Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, where he studied civil engineering. Shortly after earning his degree at Swarthmore, Turner started working for Ernest Ransome, an engineer whose pioneering work in the nascent field of reinforced concrete provided the inspiration for Turner's career. Turner spent nearly a decade working with Ransome developing an enduring appreciation of the merits of reinforced concrete. Turner was convinced the material warranted greater use in construction, and in 1902 he set out to put his belief into practice, forming Turner Construction Company with $25,000 in start-up capital.

From the first day he opened his office in New York City on 11 Broadway, Turner aspired to make his company a major player in the construction industry. He did not begin his entrepreneurial career with modest ambitions; Turner wanted to construct large buildings for powerful clients. Turner Construction's first job, a $687 project to build a concrete vault for Thrift Bank in Brooklyn, fell well short of the stature Turner envisioned, but much larger projects soon came the company's way. In 1903, just a year after setting up shop, Turner secured two contracts that ensured his place among New York's construction elite. A Scottish industrialist named Robert Gair who made his fortune manufacturing paper products hired Turner Construction to build a new plant in Brooklyn. The facility, finished in 1904, measured 180,000 square feet, making it the largest reinforced concrete building in the United States. At the same time the company was developing plans for the Gair building, it began building staircases for the new subway system in New York. The stairs had been designed to be constructed with steel, but Turner thought concrete offered a less expensive alternative. After looking at public bidding records, Turner undercut competing offers and was awarded the chance to build several staircases in concrete. His alternative worked, leading to contracts for more than 50 staircases and platforms for the Interborough Rapid Transit. Aside from the gains to the company's bottom line and its stature within New York's construction community, the contracts to build subway staircases delivered one other important benefit to Turner Construction. The staircases were spread throughout the metropolitan area and needed to be built simultaneously, requiring Turner to hire a large number of foremen and engineers to complete the project. Because of the nature of the project, Turner Construction adopted the structure it would need in the coming years to successfully complete large-scale construction projects.

Once Turner Construction had established itself, the company's greatest challenge was expanding fast enough to keep pace with the volume of work it secured. Branch offices were established to help the company maintain its expanding geographic scope of operations, beginning with the opening of an office in Philadelphia in 1907. Additional offices followed, forming what would become a chain of offices that stretched nationwide by the end of the century. In 1908, a Turner Construction branch in Buffalo opened, followed by the addition of an office in Boston in 1916. When the United States entered World War I the following year, Turner Construction stood as one of the country's most successful builders. The first 15 years of the company's history saw it construct buildings for some the country's largest commercial concerns, including Western Electric, Standard Oil, Kodak, Colgate, and Squibb. In all, the company completed $35 million worth of work during its first 15 years, earning the esteem of clients who would turn to Turner's company in the years to come and provide the company with a sizable percentage of repeat business.

Turner Construction experienced its first setback at a time of supreme national crisis. From the beginning of World War I to the beginning of the Great Depression, the company's billings swelled from under $12 million to nearly $44 million. Like virtually every industry throughout the country, the construction business suffered severely during the economic collapse that began in 1929. The construction of new buildings came to a halt, causing Turner Construction's volume to plunge to $2.5 million by 1933. The company slowly began to recover as construction activity demonstrated a shade of its former vitality. Revenues increased to $12 million by 1937, but the company did not fully escape the ravages of the Great Depression until the rest of the country recovered, a moment marked by the United States' entry into World War II. The company's commercial construction largely was suspended during the war years, as it directed its efforts toward the construction of military camps, factories, and government buildings. The greatest change during the war years was not the shift toward military related construction, however. The same year the country entered the war, Henry Turner decided to end his nearly 40-year reign as president.

Henry Turner was 70 years old when he decided to cut back on his duties at Turner Construction. He relegated himself to serving as the company's chairman, making room for the ascension of his youngest brother, J.A. (Archie) Turner, to the post of president. Archie Turner, who also held a civil engineering degree from Swarthmore, guided the company through the war, but his failing health limited the length of his presidency. In October 1946, Henry Turner retired as chairman, handing the post to his ailing brother. For his replacement, Archie Turner selected the individual responsible for forming the Seabees, the construction battalions used during World War II. Admiral Ben Moreell was appointed president, but his stint in charge was fleeting. One month after his appointment as chairman, Archie Turner died of a heart attack. Four months later, Moreell resigned to take another executive position, leaving Turner Construction without a president or a chairman. To fill the leadership void, the company turned to Henry Turner's eldest son, Henry Chandlee (Chan) Turner, Jr., who had worked for the company since being graduated from Swarthmore in 1923. In Chan Turner, Jr., Turner Construction found a leader to give it the leadership stability it needed. Chan Turner presided over the company for the next quarter-century, overseeing a more than 1,000 percent increase in sales during his tenure.

Postwar Construction Projects

The substantial financial growth achieved during Chan Turner's leadership represented the rewards gleaned from numerous high-profile construction projects. After eclipsing the financial milestone of $100 million in revenues in 1951, Turner Construction built the United Nations Secretariat building in New York in 1952 and the New York headquarters of Chase Manhattan Bank in 1956. During the 1960s, Turner Construction's most notable projects included buildings for the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in the early 1960s and Madison Square Garden in 1967, the project most often referenced in the company's portfolio of accomplishments. The company also expanded physically in the decades following World War II. A branch office was opened in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1954, followed by the establishment of offices in Los Angeles in 1964, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio, in 1966, and San Francisco in 1968.

With operations spreading from coast to coast and an impressive list of projects to it name, Turner Construction held sway as one of the premier construction firms in the country. The investing public, well aware of the company's accomplishments during its nearly 70 years of existence, was given a chance to take part in Turner Construction's high-profile projects in 1969 when the firm issued over-the-counter stock. In 1972, Turner Construction' presence on Wall Street gained wider exposure when the company's stock began trading on the American Stock Exchange. The 1970s saw the company flesh out its network of branch offices, adding offices in Detroit, Michigan, and Denver, Colorado, in 1973; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Atlanta, Georgia, in 1976; Seattle, Washington, in 1977; and Miami, Florida, and Portland, Oregon, in 1979. Notable projects during the decade included the construction of Vanderbilt University Medical Center Hospital in 1974 and the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library in 1977, the year Turner Construction eclipsed $1 billion in sales.

Company Perspectives:

We are proactive in finding solutions for our clients that best achieve their goals. Lasting relationships are the lifeblood of our business. We want the client to feel that our staff is even more committed to the effort than their own staff that's what distinguishes us. Personal attention to our clients as individuals caring about them as individuals. Our founder, Henry C. Turner, referred to our clients, appropriately, as our "respected friends."

During the years leading up to the company's 75th anniversary, leadership changes at Turner Construction bridged the end Chan Turner's lengthy tenure of service and the beginning of the company's first era of non-Turner leadership. In 1965, eyeing his eventual retirement, Chan Turner appointed as president Howard Sinclair Turner, one of Archie Turner's three sons. A Swarthmore graduate, Howard Turner was appointed chairman in 1970 upon Chan Turner's retirement. Howard Turner, the last Turner to hold a senior management position at the company, served as chairman until 1978, when his successor, Walter B. Shaw, Turner Construction's president for the previous eight years, assumed the duties of chairman. Shaw, the first non-Turner to lead the company aside from Admiral Moreell's five-month stint following World War II, joined the company shortly before the war, served as one of Admiral Moreell's Seabee officers in the Pacific and returned to Turner Construction after the war. Shaw managed the company's Chicago office before rising through the executive ranks at Turner Construction's New York headquarters. In 1984, Shaw appointed Herbert Conant, a 34-year Turner Construction veteran, as president, one year before his retirement and Conant's appointment as chairman.

As Conant took the helm, Turner Construction was undergoing a structural change. In 1984, The Turner Corporation was formed as a holding company. Within the new structure, Turner Construction, as well as other facets of the company's business such as Turner International Industries and Turner Development Corporation, became subsidiaries of the holding company. Turner Construction served as the main operating subsidiary of Turner Corporation, representing the essence of the holding company. In this new guise, the company proceeded to add its to its physical presence. After opening an office in Connecticut in 1980 and three more California offices in 1983, Turner Construction opened an office in Orlando, Florida, in 1984 and offices in Phoenix, Arizona, and Nashville, Tennessee, in 1986. Another California office, located in San Jose, California, was opened in 1987, followed by the addition of a Dallas, Texas, office in 1988, and offices in Arlington Heights, Illinois, and Kansas City, Missouri, in 1989. Among the projects completed during the decade were the Texas Commerce Tower, a 75-story office building Houston, United Airlines Terminal One at O'Hare International Airport, and Los Angeles' First Interstate World Center, a 75-story office building.

Despite Turner Construction's aggressive physical expansion during the 1980s, the decade was remembered as a difficult period for the company. Conant and his successor, Al McNeill, who was named president in 1985 and chairman in 1988, were forced to contend with serious financial problems. Several foreign projects were partly to blame for the difficulties, but the weight of the blame fell on failed efforts undertaken by Turner Development Corporation, not by Turner Construction. The financial problems persisted, even as Turner Construction performed a record amount of profitable work. Although McNeill was credited with staving off more profound trouble, the holding company did not begin to recover until his successor, Ellis T. Gravette, took over after McNeill's resignation in 1996.

Turner Construction in the 1990s and 2000s

Against the backdrop of financial problems affecting the holding company, Turner Construction added to its already impressive portfolio of projects. The company's achievements in commercial and industrial construction were lengthy and legendary, but the 1990s saw the Turner Construction name behind the erection of several much-publicized sports stadiums. The field was not new to the company: Turner Construction's first major sports contract was completed in 1910, when the company constructed the promenade for the football stadium at Harvard Stadium. In 1925, the company played a much larger role by constructing a 62,000-seat football stadium for the University of Pittsburgh. The construction of Madison Square Garden in the late 1960s secured the company's lasting place in the realm of sports-facility construction, a standing that was enhanced by Turner Construction's efforts in the 1990s and early 21st century. In 1995, the company completed construction of the Rose Garden Arena, Portland, Oregon's 20,000-seat sports arena. The following year, Turner Construction built a 72,000-seat stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, home of the National Football League's Carolina Panthers. In 2001, the company completed construction of INVESCO Field at Mile High, a 76,125-seat stadium designed for the National Football League's Denver Bronco's.

Key Dates:

Henry C. Turner forms Turner Construction Company.
Turner Construction begins building staircases and platforms for New York City's subway system.
Turner Construction builds the U.S. Navy and War Department Office Building.
As part of a four-contractor team, Turner Construction builds the United Nations Secretariat building.
Turner Construction completes construction of Madison Square Garden.
Annual sales exceed $1 billion.
Turner Construction completes construction of Ericsson Stadium, a 72,000-seat football stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Turner Construction's parent company, The Turner Corporation, is acquired by Hochtief AG.
Turner Construction nears completion of the Taipei 101 Tower, slated to be the tallest building in the world.

As Turner Construction cemented its reputation in sports-facility construction, a new corporate hierarchy within the Tuner organization took shape. In 1999, an Essen, Germany-based construction firm named Hochtief AG became Turner Construction's ultimate parent company. The German construction firm agreed in August to purchase Turner Corporation for $370 million in a bid to expand its worldwide presence in the construction business. "It's not a hostile takeover in any way," Turner Construction's general manger for Detroit explained in an August 23, 1999 interview with Crain's Detroit Business. "Hochtief is number five in the world, a 125-year-old construction company doing lots of jobs in Australia and the United Kingdom, where Turner isn't working. Hochtief does heavy construction that Turner isn't into, such as dams, tunnels, and bridges." The corporate marriage wedded two companies not too far apart in either size or length of service. A 125-year-old, $6.7-billion company acquired a 97-year-old, $4.1 billion company. For Hochtief, the gain was a company with 41 offices in the United States and a presence in the Middle East and Asia, offering the opportunity for geographic expansion. Turner Corporation, and by extension Turner Construction, gained access to Australia and the United Kingdom and, perhaps more significantly, entry into the field of heavy construction.

Turner Construction celebrated it centennial in 2002. The company's historic achievements during its first century of business testified to its ability to manage and to build construction projects of the largest scale. As the company progressed in its second century of business, it continued to play a leading role in the global construction industry. The company planned complete construction in late 2004 of the Taipei 101 Tower in Taiwan, a 1,667-foot building that was expected to be the tallest building in the world. In the years ahead, Turner Construction's name figured to be behind some of the most high-profile projects of the future, as Henry Chandlee Turner's company fulfilled its founder's vision of a builder able to meet construction's greatest challenges.

Principal Subsidiaries

Turner Internationl Industries; Turner Universal; Service Products Buildings, Inc.

Principal Competitors

Bovis Lend Lease; Centex Corporation; Skanska USA Building Inc.

Further Reading

Ankeny, Robert, "Turner Construction Expects Parent's Buyer Will Build Biz," Crain's Detroit Business, August 23, 1999, p. 31.

Edwards, Lynda, "Recession-Proof, but Tricky," Miami Daily Business Review, February 14, 2002, p. AA2.

Elliott, Suzanne, "Building Business at Turner," Pittsburgh Business Times, July 5, 2002, p. 7.

, "Turner Nails Down Cultural Trust Job," Pittsburgh Business Times, September 19, 1994, p. 1.

, "Turner, P.J., Dick Partnership Places Center Contract Before Competition," Pittsburgh Business Times, October 8, 1999, p. 36.

"First Century Leaders," Turner News, March 2002, p. 3.

Fredrickson, Tom, "New Executive: Sidewalk Success Story," Crain's New York Business, March 10, 2003, p. 4.

Grone, Jack, "Turner Lands Airport Plum," St. Louis Business Journal, March 9, 1992, p. 1.

"Growing Up Fast," Turner News, March 2002, p. 1.

"Known for Coors Field, Pepsi Center, Builder Has Varied Client List," Rocky Mountain News, September 1, 2001, p. 4C.

Jeffrey L. Covell