Stuart E. Graham Jr., who is credited with shaping Stockholm-based Skanska AB into a global buildings and transportation contracting giant as the first non-Swede to become its CEO and chairman, died on June 23 at age 76. The cause and location of his death were not disclosed.
“Stu provided a steady hand during a period of growth for Skanska, and the company of today owes much to his time as CEO and then later heading the board," says firm Chairman Hans Biörck in a statement to ENR. "His vision was vital for developing the company both in the U.S. and globally. He was also a great communicator and set the basis for our culture and values.”
Skanska AB reported global revenue of $17.2 billion for 2021, according to its website, with about $6.4 billion from US operations. The firm ranks at No. 24 on the latest ENR Top Global Contractors list, with more than $11.3 billion of its 2020 revenue from work outside Sweden.
With a B.S. degree in economics, Graham began his industry career as an assistant field superintendent for New Jersey-based Sordoni Construction Co., rising to CEO of the firm that Skanska acquired in 1990, as it expanded its northeast U.S. presence. Graham later rose to president of Skanska’s U.S. operation.
Graham was named CEO of Skanska AB in 2002, replacing longtime executive Claes Bjork, and still the only non-Swede to be global chief, the company says. One contractor executive said Graham highlighted risk management during his tenure as CEO and instituted stricter procurement controls.
"Stuart Graham was absolutely the most important CEO of Skanska in modern times," a former colleague said in a Swedish newspaper report of the executive's death. "He transformed a Swedish company with local islands into an integrated international giant."
Robert Prieto, who was both chairman of Parsons Brinckerhoff and senior vice president of Fluor Corp., says that in meeting Graham when he headed Skanska Civil, “it was clear at that time that he was an individual who cared deeply for his people and the industry he was part of.”
In its 2007 win of the roughly $1-billion contract to design and build the Meadowlands football stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.—now known as MetLife Stadium and, at the time, the firm’s largest US award—Skanska was described by Giants franchise owner John Mara as “among the leading sports stadium builders in the world” with “a great affinity and understanding of the U.S. market." In a 2016 interview on Skanska’s website, Graham credited the award to client perception of company values. "Values are fundamental for building a sustainable business," he said.
Connecting the Dots
Employees recall his efforts to mentor emerging leaders and develop needed skills. “I will always remember Stuart's leadership and his simple, basic credo to connect the dots,” said Walter Miros Jr., Skanska Building USA operations vice president in South Florida in an online tribute.
Pedro J. Campos, former COO of Skanska's Latin America business, added that Graham "supported all teams and our work with hard-to-match leadership skills, business ethics and operational clarity. We didn't only learn from him how to do good for Skanska, but also how to evolve as professionals and become better individuals.“
But Graham was not reluctant to make changes where necessary, in 2005, replacing the chief of its then $3-billion U.S. buildings unit—who he had hired at Sordoni—after a $56-million loss the previous year, said an ENR report. It said a single large U.S. government project that Skanska AB declined at the time to identify was responsible for most of the loss, although the firm still posted roughly $540 million in earnings for the previous year.
"It shows you how tough this business is," said Graham. "We had a couple of unfortunate project results." But he also credited the fired executive for "tremendous contributions to the growth and profitability of Skanska in the U.S."
Graham also faced economic headwinds in the 2008 global recession. “We’re in an economic time that none of us who’ve been in the business awhile have ever seen before,” he said at the time. Like many firms, Skanska was expecting a solid year in 2008, with strength in many markets worldwide, but predicted up to a 20% business drop the following year.
The CEO was named board chairman in 2012, serving in the role until 2016 when Biörck succeeded him. Graham, who returned to the US, also was a director of Nordic asset investor Industrivarden AB , which had been a major Skanska shareholder for several years, a board member of Securitas AB, PPL Corp., Harsco Corp., Brand Energy and Industrial Services, and chairman of Talen Energy Corp.
He also had been chairman of the Engineering and Construction Governors Council of the World Economic Forum,Engineering and Construction Risk Institute founder and New York Building Congress chairman.
Skanska AB CEO Johan Karlström presented Graham in 2016 with its Stuart Graham Lifetime Achievement Award, created in his name in 2008 to recognize senior project leaders.
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