Ralph R. Peterson, who was to retire next month at age 65 as chairman of CH2M Hill Cos. after building the former regional engineering firm into a $6.5-billion diversified global construction competitor, died Sept. 1 from stomach cancer. He had battled it for several years.

Peterson with staff on Singapore job.
Peterson with staff on Singapore job.

“I will miss his intellect, his ability to deal with complex issues and his desire to help others succeed,” says Lee A. McIntire, a former Bechtel Corp. executive who succeeded Peterson this year as president and CEO. “He was an industry icon.”

Peterson had been CEO since 1991. CH2M Hill’s 148th employee when he joined in 1965, he transformed it into a 25,000-person force, attracting talented staff with challenging assignments and an innovative employee stock ownership plan.

Peterson was heralded by peers, competitors, clients and others for his leadership in sustainability, womens’ advancement and better industry practices, among other causes. “We will miss his warmth, energy and passion that is an inspiration,” says Khoo Theng Chye, CEO of Singapore’s Public Utilities Board, one client.

Peterson’s strong desire for growth fueled CH2M Hill’s foray into new niches such as engineer-procure-construct and management of riskier projects such as the 2012 London Olympic Games’ facilities and the Panama Canal expansion, both valued at over $6 billion. While some employees and observers noted that such megaprojects and CH2M Hill’s new leadership have altered the 63-year-old firm’s culture, Peterson relished working on “the most difficult challenges on the planet,” he told ENR in 2007. “We’ve had to adapt and change, but I think it’s made us stronger.”