Edward W. Merrow

Edward W. Merrow is the thirteenth recipient of the Carroll H. Dunn Award of Excellence. The award is presented by the Construction Industry Institute to honor an individual for accomplishments in improving the cost effectiveness of the construction industry. The Executive Committee of the CII Board of Advisors selected Ed Merrow because he exceeds all criteria for the award and brings honor to CII’s highest recognition.

Edward Wolverton Merrow was born on June 26, 1947, in Alexandria, Virginia. His father, Edward Leith Merrow, had come to Alexandria to enter the Episcopal seminary school, the Virginia Theological Seminary. Both his father and his mother, Helen Spence, had been singers in the Metropolitan Opera in New York prior to World War II. Along with his older sister, Leith, and his younger brother, Andrew, Ed grew up in Alexandria. As a student at St. Stephen’s Episcopal High School, he played football, baseball, and soccer.

One of the most influential people in his early years was Ed’s maternal grandfather, who was a mechanical engineer and an inventor living in Walden, New York. His grandfather invented the automatic pressure regulator valve, and it was through his influence that Ed came to love mechanical engineering. His grandfather held over 200 patents. By the time Ed graduated from St. Stephen’s in 1965 and set off for college, he was convinced that he would be a mechanical engineer as well.

While growing up, Ed spent each summer with his paternal grandfather at the Merrow family home in the little town of Lancaster, New Hampshire. It was a place with an allure that was irresistible: the weather, the scenery, and the sweet days of summer. It was only natural that when he began to think of college and where he should enroll, Ed would have New Hampshire at the top of his list. Having been around the Dartmouth College campus, which was only 90 miles south of Lancaster, from an early age and knowing the area well, Ed selected Dartmouth in a heartbeat. He began as a mechanical engineering major. By chance he took an economics course during his sophomore year, and his professor in that course completely changed everything for the aspiring young engineering student. Ed was so inspired that he switched his area of concentration and graduated with an economics degree from Dartmouth in 1969. He then went on to graduate school at Princeton University, where he continued his economics studies and earned master’s and doctoral degrees. During his time at Princeton, Ed married and his first two children, Justin and Victoria, were born.

Shortly after finishing at Princeton, Ed became divorced and had two distinctly different job offerings. One was an assignment with the Rockefeller Foundation in Nigeria, the other an offer to teach at the University of California, Los Angeles. Primarily because he was thinking of the educational needs of his young children, Ed took the teaching opportunity. He began as an assistant professor at UCLA, where he taught mathematical modeling, welfare economics, game theory, and industrial organization. A friend of Ed’s at the Rand Corporation, the famous “think tank,” called one day and explained that Rand was interested in finding out why federally funded technology projects always performed so poorly. Ed was asked to consider being a consultant to head up a Rand investigation for the U.S. Department of Commerce. He accepted, and that decision marked a turning point in his career. Not only were federally funded technology projects performing poorly, he would learn, but practically all technology projects in the process industry were showing escalating costs spiraling out of control. He wondered if the runaway costs could always be blamed on inflation.

Ed suspected that inflation was not the answer, particularly when the cost overruns were four to five times the inflation rate. He was inspired to begin research into projects involving new technologies in the process industry. Playing a wild hunch and not expecting much, he asked 10 premier companies in that sector to supply data for the research. To his surprise (as well as that of the Rand Corporation), the companies agreed. The data would be used in an innovative effort by Ed called the Pioneer Plants Study. Through that research, Ed would work with such luminaries in the chemical process industry as DuPont’s Charlie Brown and Robert H. Miller, both who would later be recipients of the Dunn Award.

That research project also led to Ed developing the Project Evaluation System, an analytical benchmarking tool that would become key to his career as an independent analyst. He would later direct Rand’s Process Industries Program and its Energy Policy Program as well. With the three years he worked as a consultant while teaching at UCLA and then adding in the 11 years he was on staff, Ed spent a total of 14 years at Rand, “a marvelous place to do research,” as he characterizes it. Fate would play its hand, however, in the late 1980s. Rand decided to turn from energy studies and instead wanted to focus on the defense side of research. Ed realized his passion was firmly with the process industry and its projects. He chose to go forward as an independent researcher, and founded Independent Project Analysis (IPA) in 1987.

Beginning with “a staff of one,” as he puts it, Ed moved across the country from Santa Monica, California, to Reston, Virginia, to start IPA. Moving with him was his wife, Loretta, whom he had met while at Rand, and their first daughter, Leith. A second daughter, Meredyth, would be born in Virginia. Loretta, the daughter of a career officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, loved the choice of the location for IPA since it would mean she would be close by eight of her nine siblings.

Ed settled in and began his independent career at IPA with DuPont as the original customer. Today, Ed and his staff of almost 100 share a passion for projects as they explore reasons for the successes and failures of a variety of capital projects. His Project Evaluation System methodology has now been applied to over 3,000 projects and over 80 project systems. The total investment represented in the IPA databases now comes to nearly one-half trillion dollars.

What Ed has brought to the industry with IPA is an element of continuous improvement. The IPA database is used to track over 2,000 variables on construction projects, from project definition through the first year of actual operation. Firms that employ IPA can then benchmark and compare themselves with the best in the business and thus have a quantitative analysis provided to them that can pinpoint areas for improvement. IPA also reminds both owners and contractors that project definition and pre-project planning are strategically important. This is also creating more alliances between contractors and those with proprietary process technologies.

Sometimes the IPA feedback can be brutally honest. One firm thought that it was performing project execution competitively: its internal feedback was positive and all the numbers said that they were right on target. They wanted to confirm some suspicions with IPA, however, of how they rated against the best in the industry. And that’s when the brutal truth came out: the IPA analysis said that the firm wasn’t doing very well. In fact, Ed told the CEO, you’re not competitive at all. According to the CEO, it was the darkest day of his professional career. He took the news to heart, however, and pushed the company to new heights of excellence so that it is now a bonafide leader in the industry.

IPA has grown rapidly under Ed’s direction. From that staff of one in 1987, IPA offices can now be found in The Hague, The Netherlands, and in Melbourne, Australia. This September, Ed will be in Beijing when IPA becomes part of the first government and western joint venture ever created in China.

Ed has served as a panelist for the National Academy of Science, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the National Science Foundation. He also has testified before the U.S. Congress on matters pertaining to new technology development. He is an author as well, having been published in Science, Chemical Engineering Progress, Chemical Engineering, Civil Engineering, and the Encyclopedia of Chemical Engineering.

CII is proud to include Edward W. Merrow in the circle of its highest honor with the Carroll H. Dunn Award of Excellence. His dedication to continuous improvement and his passion for the process and engineering and construction industries is evident in his life’s work. CII salutes Ed Merrow.

Ed and Loretta make their home in Great Falls, Virginia, with daughters Leith and Meredyth. Justin is now a QA manager for a software company in California and Vicky is a First Lt., U.S. Army, Military Intelligence Branch, Ft. Gordon, Georgia. And Ed, Loretta, and their girls still spend summers in New Hampshire.