The sign on the office door of the 37-year construction veteran credited with keeping Chicago’s 2.3-million-sq-ft convention center expansion ahead of schedule reads, “COMMON SENSE IS NOT QUITE COMMON.” It might as well say: “Enter at Your Own Risk.”

The atmosphere around Joe Salerno,  the 60-year-old vice president of field operations for Mc4West LLC, is tense, yet open. “I never kept secrets from him,” says Bill Hanson, vice president of steel erector Danny’s Construction Co. Inc. of Gary, Ind.


Salerno seems to know how to get 60 angry foremen on the same page; he’s had lots of practice. The current expansion is his third major convention center assignment, including the South Building at McCormick Place.

Salerno holds the usual weekly meetings and uses old-fashioned “paper” lists to keep ahead of the game. “All around them is the schedule,” he says, of the “wallpaper” in the room. “I constantly bring them up to speed on where they are slipping and stumbling.”

Another McCormick Place expansion project executive calls Salerno a “force of nature.” Others might say he is a force over nature.

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  • Salerno claimed victory over the elements last winter after ironworkers lost time due to cold weather in 2004. In preparation, he ordered 20 heaters, each with 4.5-million-btu capacity. He then “forced” building skin and roofing crews to work overtime to get the facility 75% enclosed. As a result, the trades kept moving. “We actually had 800 to 900 men working over the winter,” says Salerno. “That’s why we are where we are today.”