Even while gaining book smarts—a civil engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Stanford University—Thomas W. Traylor stayed close to the core of his family-owned contractor, Traylor Bros. Inc., working summers in its welding shop building tunnel shields and the firm’s first rotary tunnel excavator, says one biography.

Traylor, who went on to become the firm’s second-generation chairman, president and CEO and is credited with broadening it into a national player in underground, marine and bridge construction, died on May 9 in Evansville, Ind. of a complication after a long illness, says Traylor Bros. He was 73.

“Tom was one of those second-generation owners who took something small and made it something big,” says Hank Harris, CEO of consultant FMI Corp. and a Traylor Bros. board member.

“He was an engineer but had tremendous entrepreneurial instinct and business savvy—a rare combination.” He was also an instrument-rated pilot, says Harris.

Traylor Bros.—ranked at No. 150 on ENR’s list of the Top 400 Contractors, with $384.5 million in 2012 revenue—“excels in difficult ground conditions and has constructed
some of the most technically demanding pressurized-face tunnels in North America,” says an award citation Traylor received from the heavy construction group,The Moles, in 2010.

“He was a laid-back person but highly respected,” says Moles Executive Director Gerard Carty. Traylor also was cited for management by the West Coast-based Beavers construction professionals group in 2008.

He became president in 1979 and CEO in 1998. Sons Christopher and Michael were named co-presidents in 2002.

Under Traylor, the contractor also innovated in the office in areas such as employee workplace flexibility and benefits coverage. Traylor Bros. was recognized in 2011 and 2012 by the Dave Thomas Foundation as one of its 100 best adoption-friendly workplaces, says the firm.

“Tom Traylor was an extraordinarily gifted engineer, entrepreneur and businessman,” says project manager Wayne E. Jones, a 17-year employee and 2013 ENR Award of Excellence winner for his role in running the company's work on a massive storm-surge barrier in New Orleans.

“But his true legacy will be his lasting impact on the people who worked for him and with him. Tom’s management style exemplified the very best of what a family-owned and operated business brings to the industry.”