ENR California's Legacy Award: Tim Psomas Pounds the Pavement for Greener Infrastructure
Tim Psomas, chairman emeritus of the firm that bears his surname, is throwing his considerable weight behind greening the nation's infrastructure. As the first chairman of the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure, Psomas helped pioneer the Envision rating system, which aims to do for civil works what the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED rating system has done for buildings.
"Tim Psomas has led the fledgling institute from a start-up organization to a mature and growing presence in municipal, county, state and federal infrastructure circles, both in North America and internationally," says William Bertera, president and CEO of the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI).
It isn't the first time Psomas has been credited with having a long-range vision for growth. In 1976, when he succeeded his father as president of Los Angeles-based Psomas, the firm focused mainly on surveying. The son soon widened the company's portfolio to include civil engineering in markets such as transportation, water/wastewater, energy and land development. Psomas also opened offices in Utah and Arizona.
"It's so important to get a sense of what's over the horizon," says Psomas, chairman of the firm from 2002 until he retired in 2010.
"Diversification is really important because it's really the only way that you can maintain staff that you build over many years," he says. "That's really the value of our business: our people. And that means finding opportunities in a variety of fields and areas."
Psomas currently ranks among the top 20 design firms in California based on annual revenue and is among the top 200 in the U.S., according to ENR's Top 500 Design Firms.
"In good economic times and bad, his was the steadying hand that guided the ship," says Blake Murillo, the current chairman of Psomas.
A longtime supporter of the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC), Psomas began attending meetings many years ago with his father. "I learned a lot about the industry and about how business was done," he says. "A lot of my dad's competitors were my mentors, as well as my dad, so I got tremendous benefit out of it."
In 2009, Psomas served as ACEC's national chairman. During that time, ACEC, the American Society of Civil Engineers and the American Public Works Association launched ISI and Envision.
The rating system combines environmental, social and economic factors to rate all types of infrastructure. It also aims to act as a framework for hundreds of narrowly focused civil works sustainability rating systems.
"We don't see ourselves as competing with other systems, but really being an opportunity for convergence," Psomas says.
Current users include Los Angeles County and San Diego International Airport. Psomas frequently travels throughout the U.S. to promote the rating system to other public and private entities.
He also advises other design firms, such as Degenkolb Engineers, and technology start-ups, such as Digital Map Products.
Psomas serves on the board of trustees of his alma mater, Loyola Marymount University, where he earned his engineering degree. He is also chairman of Project Restore, a public-private partnership with Los Angeles, created to restore and preserve municipal buildings.
Psomas tries to improve the business climate for engineers by addressing legislative issues such as tort liability, prompt payment and project delivery. In 2000, he was president of the Coalition for Project Delivery. The group helped pass Proposition 35, which eliminated restrictions that prevented state and local governments from contracting with private entities for engineering and architectural services.
Tim Psomas' efforts "have created jobs for many, and his leadership and energy continue to benefit others," says Mary Erchul, president of ACEC California and a project manager for Ghirardelli Associates.