From his days as a civil engineering intern in the 1980s to his current role at the helm of David Evans and Associates, Al Barkouli has always focused on serving others. 

Throughout his career, Barkouli has shown an interest in uplifting clients and employees and helping them find success. It’s a strategy that has helped produce an impressive portfolio of transportation, land development, water resources and energy projects nationwide. That, in turn, has helped bolster the firm’s bottom line and expanded its reach across the region and the country. 

Along the way, that philosophy has driven a commitment to improving his own community of Portland, Ore., and others the firm serves. Given its success under his leadership and his commitment to improving the lives of others, ENR Northwest named Al Barkouli its 2023 Legacy Award recipient.

“I am here to serve, not to be served,” says Barkouli, CEO and chairman of David Evans and Associates. “It’s through serving others that we can make great things happen.”

From an early age, Barkouli wanted to serve. Growing up in his native Libya, he saw a career in civil engineering as a way to improve people’s quality of life. A scholarship led him to Portland State University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. After working with a local county for a year and a half on a David Evans and Associates project, Barkouli was recruited by David Evans himself to join the 100-person firm in 1988.

Al Barkouli

Since taking the helm at David Evans Associates, the firm has expanded from 17 offices in seven states to 31 offices in 13 states.
Photo courtesy of David Evans and Associates

Leader in Light Rail

Early on, Barkouli made his mark through his work on transportation projects, particularly light rail transit. Barkouli admits that he got into light rail work “almost by accident,” after serving as a subconsultant on a project for TriMet, formally known as the Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon. Following work on early conceptual designs for an extension of the eastside light rail system, his firm was left off the team that ultimately bid the project. Barkouli reached out to TriMet and, through discussions, learned that the agency was interested in growing light rail capabilities among firms locally. The firm dug in, did its homework, bid the project and won.

“I had never done a light rail project before in my life,” he says. “That was my first foray, but also one of the biggest jobs won by David Evans at that time. It wasn’t just a big break for me, it was a big break for the firm.”

Since then, his experience in the light rail transit sector includes the $21-million, system-related improvement and design services on Banfield Light Rail Transit for TriMet in Portland. The project won the Consulting Engineers Council of Oregon Grand Award for Transportation in 1997. Other work with TriMet in Portland includes the I-205 MAX LRT extension design-build project in 2009 and the Airport MAX LRT extension, as a sub to Bechtel. Beyond light rail, he has also been the principal-in-charge on numerous highway projects, including the I-5 to 99W connector for Washington County and the Oregon Dept. of Transportation in 2005.

Light rail transit

Light rail transit projects in Portland helped forge Barkouli’s reputation for success at David Evans and Associates.
Photo courtesy of David Evans and Associates

Service to Leadership

As his project portfolio grew, so did his leadership skills. Cindi Polychronis, chief administrative officer and vice president at DEA, says she saw Barkouli’s qualities as a leader emerge while the two of them attended the American Council of Engineering Cos. Senior Executives Institute in 2005.

“He is one of those people who is naturally graced with leadership skills,” she says. “And I’ve seen him hone those skills over the years to become much more sophisticated in his leadership approach.”

Polychronis says that, while Barkouli aims to challenge his staff, he can also be empathetic and understanding in a way that supports employees while also pushing them to succeed.

“I am here to serve, not to be served.”
—Al Barkouli, David Evans and Associates

“Over the years, he’s become clearer about who he is and what his values are,” she says. “He knows himself a lot better now and, at the same time, that has allowed him to become more vulnerable and humble. It’s allowed him to bring a very strong but quiet fortitude to his leadership.”

Barkouli’s path through the leadership ranks included engineering discipline director, Portland office manager, executive vice president, chief operating officer and president. In 2011, DEA named Al Barkouli chief executive officer. The promotion came at a difficult time for the firm. The pains of the 2008 economic downturn, when the firm shrank by nearly 50%, were still being felt. Barkouli says the moment required “adaptation at its highest level,” as the firm worked to find a steady path forward.

“In some ways, leadership is about mobilizing an organization and its people to meet the challenges that they face,” he says. “One doesn’t have to have all the answers, but one can mobilize the resources within the firm to find the answers, adapt and overcome.”

Barkouli says he also learned during that time how to create a “change-ready” organization. “The only constant is change, and once you realize that, it’s about adapting and dealing with that change,” he says. “I try to think about multiple futures, not just the one I want. As engineers, we tend to like prediction and certainty, but the future isn’t certain. It’s about how we prepare for multiple futures.”

That strategy served the firm well coming out of the recession, but Barkouli says it also came into play recently, guiding the firm through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the current inflation and recession risks. Still, the firm has remained on a generally steady path since Barkouli took the helm. When he was named CEO, the firm had 17 offices in seven states. Today, it employs nearly 1,000 people in 31 offices in 13 states.


Beyond his duties at David Evans and Associates, Barkouli is committed to improving the industry and his community.
Photo courtesy of David Evans and Associates

Empowering People

Barkouli recognizes that the firm’s success is founded on its people. Mark Dorn, executive director of engineering, construction and planning at TriMet, says he has always respected Barkouli’s ability to attract and retain a roster of talented engineers and technical professionals.

“He always took a long view on recognizing talent, acquiring talent and then investing in those people,” he says.

Dorn was one of those people, working at DEA for three and a half years of his career before taking a position at TriMet last year. Dorn says one of the skills he hopes to glean from his time with Barkouli is an ability to connect with staff. “I always appreciated his care for his employees,” he says. “It blew me away that he seemed to know everyone’s name and things about their lives. He connected with everyone at all levels. That really resonated with me.”

Polychronis notes that Barkouli always shows through his actions that he is there to support staff.

“When I started here, the corporate offices in Portland were on the top floor, which has beautiful views of the city, the river and the mountains,” she recalls. “Under Al’s leadership, the corporate team moved to the first floor. He was trying to say that we’re here to hold you up, not the other way around.”

Barkouli also recognizes the importance of connecting with clients. Whether it’s a public or private client, he says he aims to see them as people and understand them on a personal level.

“Frankly, my philosophy is to be their friend, not just a client,” he says. “We are all humans. Ultimately, the best clients relationships I’ve had in my career are those where we can talk about life, not just work. It builds a level of deep trust when someone is willing to open up to you because you value them as a human being and as an individual. Through deep trust, we can work through challenges together more successfully.”


Barkouli’s project portfolio is on display all around Portland, including the Airport MAX light rail transit extension.
Photo courtesy of David Evans and Associates

Industry Influence

Beyond David Evans and Associates, Barkouli is also committed to improving the industry and his community. He is an active member of ACEC and serves on the board of directors of the Construction Industry Round Table. Currently, he is the vice chair of the Portland State University Foundation board of trustees and has served on the Advisory Council for the Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering at PSU’s Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science.

Barkouli says one of his missions is to bolster the recruitment of talent from high school into engineering.

“He always took a long view on recognizing talent, acquiring talent and then investing in those people.” 
— Mark Dorn, TriMet

“The industry is good at recruiting from each other, but the best kind of recruiting is adding more into the available pool of talent within the industry,” he says. “We need to offer successful role models that young kids can look up to and influence them to go into the industry.”

Outside of the professional ranks, Barkouli has served on the board of the Oregon Community Foundation, which distributes more than $100 million in grants and scholarships annually. He has been a member of that organization’s Black/African American Communities Task Force, Development and Marketing Committee and Education Committee.

When he is ready to step away from David Evans and Associates, Barkouli says he plans to focus on teaching, mentoring and coaching.

Although born and raised in Libya, Barkouli says Portland is his adopted home and he is committed to improving the lives of his fellow Oregonians.

“I want to leave a beneficial influence on people to make their lives better,” he says. “Whether it’s individuals or a city or a community or the industry, I would like to be remembered for having served people well.”