Turner Construction Co. is the No. 1 contractor on ENR’s 2021 Top 400 Contractors list with a reported $14.4 billion in 2020 revenue, its first time leading the ranking that Bechtel led for more than 20 years.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic’s pause on productivity last year, Turner CEO Peter J. Davoren told ENR that following CDC guidelines to deem jobsites essential was “absolutely crucial” to the company’s survival in 2020. “It really saved us because we weren’t going to have a business without it,” says Davoren in ENR’s 2021 Top 400 Contractors story.  

Davoren says Turner's move into the top spot—which happened despite a small revenue decline—is the result of collaboration among trade partners, clients and subcontractors to keep operations safely moving. “When COVID-19 closed all but the most essential businesses, our people worked with our clients and trade partners to adopt new protocols to keep people safe and jobsites running,” he says. “In the face of emotional and social challenges, our people stepped up and actively cared for others.”

Half of the leading 50 contractors on ENR’s Top 400 Contractors list increased 2020 revenue relative to 2019. However, large firms still had their ups and downs. Turner's strong year could be the result of its diversity of projects, the largest share being in the general building sector, which is subject to less volatility.

On the opposite end of that spectrum is Bechtel, with massive petroleum, infrastructure and mining projects for oil-producing Middle East countries subject to price risks. 

Company CEO Brendan Bechtel deemed 2020 “the toughest in our company’s history,” in a statement earlier this year.

The company lost its long-held top spot on the Top 400 list after revenue declined in nearly all of its market sectors. Total U.S. revenue fell to $12.2 billion, down from $21.8 billion in 2018, and from $39.4 billion recorded in 2013. Firm backlog also dropped to $36.7 billion from $38.3 billion in 2019—just 35% of the $104.4 billion reported by the company in 2010.

Bechtel held first place in U.S. revenue on ENR's Top 400 Contractors list since 1999, as well as in 1993, ranking second in 1992 and in the years 1994 through 1998.

In the statement about its earnings, Bechtel said the company lowered its cost structure, “making us more competitive,” and changing the direction for the company and its customers, according to firm President and COO Craig Albert.

The company is “very careful about pursuing and winning work that we know we can execute, where the rewards outweigh the risks," he said. "The quality of our backlog is what allows that to happen.”

Albert added that “if the market is conducive to being the biggest, then we are really happy with that. But if the market is not conducive to being the biggest, we’re happy to not be the biggest.”