Back in January, when Pam Radtke Russell, ENR’s deputy editor for national news, started reporting the cover story (see p. 34) on this year’s Award of Excellence winner Cris Liban, she tried to keep up with his hectic cross-country schedule.

Eager to see LA Metro’s Liban in action, Russell booked a ticket to Los Angeles to meet Liban’s family and attend Metro’s Sustainability Council meeting, where Liban was promoted to chief sustainability officer. Then she booked a  round-trip ticket from L.A. to D.C. to shadow him at  a Transportation Research Board meeting and back for an LA Metro Board meeting. But her next ticket was home to New Orleans. “I simply couldn’t make the last leg,” Russell said. Liban was heading to D.C. again the next day for an American Society of Civil Engineers’ sustainability committee meeting.

On her journeys, Russell got to see Liban interact with his professional peers, and at home. She was wowed by the amount of energy and passion Liban has for everything, saying she “couldn’t quite grasp how he does it all.” Then, she met his wife, Benel, a force in her own right. Benel is an accomplished CPA who not only started her own business but has beat cancer. The two feed off each other’s passion and energy and encourage one another in all that they do, Russell observes. “They set an incredible example for their 19-year-old son, J.P.,” who is following in his father’s footsteps as an engineering student at Purdue, she says.

Two other characters involved in telling Liban’s story are photographer Jessica Savidge, on her third cover shoot for ENR, and videographer Scott Blair, also ENR’s managing editor. The video about Liban’s accomplishments will debut as usual at the Award of Excellence celebration in New York City—postponed this year to Aug. 4-5.

As we put the final touches on this Award of Excellence issue, Cris Liban, like all of us, is working much from home, attending virtual planning meetings and applying his big-picture thinking to possible changes in future work patterns after the COVID-19 crisis. But a key thought in an essay he wrote with his wife still applies: “Influence does not matter if one does not effect a difference in other people’s lives.”

By Janice L. Tuchman