Ralph R. Peterson

The CII Executive Committee has selected Ralph R. Peterson as the twenty-second recipient of the Carroll H. Dunn Award of Excellence. The award recognizes an individual for outstanding accomplishments in improving the construction industry. He exceeds all criteria for the award and is an excellent choice to receive CII’s highest honor.

Ralph Peterson was born in Hayti, Missouri, on October 12, 1944. His father, Tony, was a railroad conductor and his mother, Helen, a housewife. The couple had 10 children, five boys and five girls, with Ralph right in the middle. Tony and Helen’s strong work ethic and values established a solid framework for the family and both were strong advocates of “getting an education.” The town that provided the backdrop for Ralph’s early life, Hayti, is a small farming and railroad community about 100 miles north of Memphis, and the Peterson home was close to the banks of the Mississippi River, providing all the fishing that 10 kids could handle, especially Ralph.

When he was 10, Ralph got his first chemistry set and this had a profound influence on his young mind and eventually his career. Not long after getting the chemistry set, Ralph and his brothers and sisters learned from their parents that the family could no longer eat fish from the “mighty” Mississippi because of the chemical contamination from the creosol plants upriver. This had a huge impact on Ralph. He was fascinated that something going on upriver could affect the Mississippi in that way. His interest in environmental engineering was born of that experience.

In school, Ralph expanded his interest in chemistry, thanks to his science teacher, Mr. Bell, and his oldest brother, who was a civil engineer. And at his summer job at the hardware store in Hayti, Ralph was influenced by his boss, Hobart Poteet, a World War II veteran and true Southerner, who imparted the values of the Greatest Generation to the young clerk.

After high school, Ralph enrolled at Boise State University with plans to get the basics and then transfer to the University of Idaho for his civil engineering degree. But while working on a summer job in Bend, Oregon, he met Betty, the young lady who would become his wife. That in turn resulted in Oregon State University becoming his school of choice, and he completed his civil engineering degree there and soon after got his master’s in environmental engineering at Stanford.

In 1965, Ralph joined CH2M HILL, and he continues there today, being appointed CEO of the firm in 1991. But it was as a part-time CH2M employee while a student at Oregon State that helped to shape both his academic and professional careers. He was fortunate to work directly for the company’s founders: Holly Cornell, Burke Hayes, Jim Howland, and Fred Merryfield. Ralph worked directly for Hayes for nearly three years and found him to be one of the “the most remarkable professionals I have ever met.” He sees Howland as a “wonderful mentor” and Cornell as “an amazing business person.” Merryfield, while Ralph was still in college, took a personal interest in the young man’s studies and his future and was, as Ralph has said, “an inspiration.

Five years after those part-time stints, Ralph found himself working full-time at CH2M HILL on the first Earth Day in April 1970. To him, it represented a turning point because it was the beginning of a huge public focus on the environment, something which had been of keen interest to him since his childhood. By the end of that decade, he had the opportunity to lead the firm’s entry into hazardous waste management and remediation. Later, he would manage the Industrial Processes Division, broadening his horizons enormously. As Technology Director from 1988-1990, Ralph gained the broad experience he would need when he became the CEO in 1991.

Ralph has served in a variety of project engineering, construction, and project management roles during his career, including the development and application of environmental, water, and industrial process technologies. He continues to be actively involved in CH2M HILL project delivery activities, serves on the boards of numerous joint venture companies, and personally works with many of the firm’s clients.

Ralph also has been actively involved in the sustainable development field for a considerably long time. He served as a private sector delegate at international forums such as the World Water Forum, China’s National Sustainable Development Conference, and the Rio + 5 Summit. Ralph is past co-chair of the National Congress for the Advancement of Minorities in the Environmental Professions. In 1994-95 he served as industry co-chair for the White House initiative, Technology for a Sustainable Future. From 1996-2004 he worked as chair of the CEO Coalition to Advance Sustainable Technology. Currently he is chair of the Engineering and Construction Governors of the World Economic Forum and a member of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the Business Environment Leadership Council of the Pew Center for Global Climate Change. He also serves on the U.S. Secretary of Energy’s National Petroleum Council and on the Executive Committee of the Council on Competitiveness.

Ralph currently serves on the boards for StanCorp Financial Group and the Colorado Association of Black Professional Engineers and Scientists. Within academia, he serves on advisory boards at Colorado School of Mines, Yale University, Regis University, and the University of Denver. Additionally, Ralph was a founding board member of the World Trade Center–Denver and the Stapleton Development Corporation. He also has served in the past on the Construction Industry Round Table, the Oregon State University Alumni Association, Xcel Energy, and the Meridian Institute.

Throughout his impressive career, Ralph has been honored with numerous awards for his contributions. Among these are the American Society of Civil Engineers President’s Medal, OPAL Award, and the John I. Parcel–Leif J. Sverdrup Civil Engineering Management Award. He also has been recognized with the Keystone Center Leadership in Industry Award, the Institute of International Education Corporate Leadership Award, the University of Denver International Bridge Builder Award, the Thorne Ecological Institute Champion of the Environment Award, and the American Jewish Committee’s National Human Relations Award. He was appointed as a Fellow of the Association of Women in Science (AWIS) and was named Colorado Business Person of the Year by the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Business Journal. Ralph is a member of the National Academy of Construction and has been inducted into the Colorado Business Hall of Fame. Besides his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, he has honorary doctorates in engineering from the Colorado School of Mines and from Boise State University.

Ralph and Betty have two grown children and five grandchildren. They live a short distance from Ralph and Betty’s home in Denver.

CII takes great pride in honoring Ralph Peterson with the Carroll H. Dunn Award of Excellence. His devotion and his contributions to the industry and his influence on engineers around the world symbolize the quality and the spirit of CII’s highest honor.