Editor’s Note: The following was published in the CH2M HILL Water Business Group Quarterly Alumni Newsletter in 2007. Sid passed on February 24, 2019, at the age of 95.
Fred wanted me to stay in school for my Master's Degree. But I had been living on $90 a month in a one-room basement apartment after returning from serving 3 years in the South Pacific, and I wanted to make some "big bucks." I started at $265.00 per month and received a $10.00 per month raise when I got my engineer's license in 1951.
My first two jobs were as a resident engineer on a water job in Bingen, Washington, and then in 1950, on a primary treatment plant for Forest Grove Oregon. When the bids came in too high, the city broke out the mechanical work and authorized me to order all materials and do the mechanical, with the help of the city's ex-fire chief. We had to work after 4:00 p.m. when the union contractor was off the job. This was CH2M's first design-build job!
When we moved into our first 3,500 square-foot corporate headquarters in 1951, there were about 15 of us, as I remember, including the original partners, Earl Reynolds, Bob Adams, Fred Harem, Ken Bielman, Neils Nordquist, Charlie Bayles, Wayne Phillips, Vic Bredehoef, and myself. This "palace" had no air conditioning; but it had six partner offices, a conference room, reception area, mechanical/lunch room, a "family" room for the engineers and draftsmen, and a carport for our one company vehicle. The first winter the carport blew away in a wind storm, and our structural reputation was tainted.
In January of 1953, Bill Watters and I got the short straw to go down to Coquille, Oregon, on the coast for a week to replace an impeller on a raw water intake pump in the Coquille River. We had finally finished and were in the hotel bar arguing the virtues of artificial insemination with two guys there at a seminar. Bill and I were on the side of the bulls. About 2:00 a.m., my mother called and informed me that Archie Rice had taken my wife to the hospital for the birth of my oldest son, Scott. This was one of many sacrifices for CH2M in my 45 years.
I served as department and division water group manager during much of the 1950s and 1960s and was made partner in 1961, along with Bob Adams and Wayne Phillips. When we incorporated in 1966, there were 12 partners, including the six original equal partners, Reynolds, Adams, Phillips, Harem, Watters, and myself.
After the merger with Clair Hill in 1971 and the adoption of the discipline system, I became the discipline director for water and wastewater; and Holly Cornell became the director of technology.
In 1975, Jim Howland retired as president. Holly took over as president, and I got the job of director of technology and the title of senior vice president in lieu of a raise. Shortly thereafter, I was named the Corvallis regional manager and served concurrently as technology director through 1987 and regional manager through 1989, plus 12 years on the Board. I retired in 1990 at 65 and continued as principal-in-charge on the Milwaukee [Program Management Office] job until about 1995.
In 1978, the management of CH2M HILL was scheduled to make its first transition from the original six partners. All of the candidates were long-time employees from within the combined organization and included Harlan Moyer, Les Wierson, Jim Poirot, Earl Reynolds, and me. As you know, Harlan was selected and ran a great ship until Ralph Peterson took over in 1991. I remember Holly calling about the selection quite late in the evening after I'd gone to bed. I immediately called and congratulated Harlan in Redding, rolled over, and slept like a baby.
As I reflect over the past 48 years, I have come to the conclusion that five key events can be identified as the catalysts that caused CH2M HILL to double in size every 4.4 years, on the average; grow from 6 to 5,000 people; and become the largest consulting engineering firm in the world by 1990. You can judge for yourselves, but I believe:
In listing the above five events, you'll notice I did not list particular people, leadership, or the thousands of other successful projects that were an absolute necessity in our journey into the 1990s.
In closing, I look back at my 45 years with CH2M HILL as the greatest time of my life, a hell of a ride, and an opportunity I'll never forget. I'm proudest of the great people I had an opportunity to hire, help train, and work with over those years, and the great friendships maintained to this day. I'm proud of the great company CH2M HILL has become and my contribution to that success. I’m most proud of the contribution my son, Mark, is making to the success of OMI and the firm. And then there's that brass commemorative plaque in my honor over the low urinal in the Corvallis office executive washroom that I'll always cherish. I will also miss the Sid Lasswell Softball Tournament--a real firmwide event. It just can't get any better than that!
As a young Ralph Peterson might say about the 40+ years leading up to the 1990s: "Damn, Sid, we really kicked butt in those days!" Ralph would have been so right then, and it looks like you are continuing to do so into the 21st Century.