Over nearly four decades, John R. Lawson II has made a lasting impression on mid-Atlantic construction—through his accomplishments at the helm of contractor W.M. Jordan Co. and his long-standing philanthropic efforts and advocacy for education.
Since purchasing the Newport News, Va.-based general contractor with his father in 1985, Lawson, now W.M. Jordan's president and chief executive officer, has seen its annual revenue rise to $400 million, from $25 million. The company, which focuses mostly on the buildings sector, ranked 19th on ENR MidAtlantic's 2014 Top Contractors list and No. 174 among ENR's 2014 Top 400 Contractors.
In addition to his corporate duties, he has served on more than 15 other organizations' boards; is a past recipient of the nonprofit group Volunteer Hampton Roads Lenora Mathews Lifetime Achievement Award; and is a past United Way Volunteer of the Year.
Lawson, 63, also has made his mark in higher education, as co-founder of the Myers-Lawson School of Construction at his alma mater, Virginia Tech.
In recognition of his achievements and contributions to the construction industry, ENR's team of regional editors has selected Lawson as the recipient of ENR MidAtlantic's first Legacy Award.
The son of Robert T. Lawson, who helped establish W.M. Jordan Co. in 1958, John Lawson's career path may have seemed obvious, but it almost went in a different direction. In 1975, as he was nearing the end of his senior year at Virginia Tech, Lawson was prepared to take a job with oil company Atlantic Richfield in Dallas. But days before graduation, he surprised his father by asking if he could work at W.M. Jordan instead.
Cautioned by his father that he'd be starting at the bottom and earn only one-third of what he'd make in the petroleum business, Lawson asked if he could just live at home. "Dad said yes, and that was that," he says.
He advanced from working on crews in the field to overseeing jobsites as a superintendent. Later he moved to an office, where he began preparing submittals and bids. Lawson says he found he had a knack for estimating, which led to assignments managing increasingly larger projects.
"I got an appreciation of what people in both the field and the office do to be productive in the face of challenges, whether it's coping with weather or having to address a long list of design changes from a client," he says. "You can't be a complete leader without having experienced it yourself."