Friday, July 31, 2009

Fisher of many

Attorney, angler and Pittsburgh booster Ken Komoroski was one of the driving personalities behind the CITGO Bassmaster Classic, which was held in Pittsburgh in 2005. Now he is working to snag another fishing tournament that could further establish Pittsburgh’s reputation as a sport fishing region. Komoroski enjoys the spectacle of a good fishing tournament, but even more, he enjoys luring anglers to discover the city and experience the region’s rivers and other destinations.

By Jonathan Barnes

When Ken Komoroski talks about bringing another fishing tournament to Pittsburgh, he sometimes gets excited. He’ll stand up, extend his 6’3” frame to its height and gesture with his hands a bit so an observer from afar might think he was talking about the one that got away. But when he talks about the economic and publicity benefits of bringing another bass fishing tournament to town, he is really talking about the ones that didn’t get away. After experiencing Pittsburgh, tourist-fishermen will keep coming back, bringing their friends and family to enjoy the place, Komoroski says.
These days, Komoroski is angling to bring the 2009 Forest L. Wood Cup Championship to town. He is co-chairing the local host committee for the 2009 event. The four-day bass fishing tournament features a $1 million prize for the winner, and likely will bring as many tourist’s dollars—$20 million to $40 million—as the Bassmaster Classic did in 2005.
Komoroski has been talking with local and state government officials and potential corporate sponsors to get financial commitments to host the event. He’s aiming to raise $500,000 or more, which would include the $200,000 tournament fee. The Bassmaster Classic required a $750,000 tournament fee. The two fishing tournaments are the largest in the sport, and the marketing benefits of hosting these tournaments are almost immeasurable.
The positive impression that the region and its people made on the visitors during the Bassmaster Classic was taken with them to their hometowns, and they spread the word when they talk about how great it was to fish in Pittsburgh, Komoroski says. During the Bassmaster Classic, Komoroski was approached by a family from Salt Lake City. “Salt Lake City has a great reputation,” they said. “We’ve got nothing on Pittsburgh.”
Seeing visitors express such warm feelings for his hometown is one of Komoroski’s joys. A resident of Peters Township, Komoroski has seen family move from the region to pursue other opportunities. He would like Pittsburgh to be a place where his three children can get jobs if they want to. Part of accomplishing that goal is ensuring that more people know how much Pittsburgh has to offer visitors and would-be residents. Television footage showing people fishing the rivers around Pittsburgh, once known for its smoky steel industry, makes such a strong impact, the attorney explains. “The image-changing it does for the region is why we’re doing this,” Komoroski says. “Boosting Pittsburgh is really what I care most about.”
It makes sense that Komoroski should be involved in events that feature fishing in the region, since he’s been a fisherman most of his life. Originally taken fishing by a friend when he was 18, Komoroski would fish in Canonsburg Lake and Slippery Rock Creek. To the Brentwood native, those spots were pretty far out at the time.
The waterways that he likes to fish have changed; he now is more likely to be at Lake Arthur in Butler County or at Cross Creek in Washington County. But the enjoyment he gets from the activity hasn’t changed. “It’s very relaxing, mentally. It’s a great place to focus your energies,” Komoroski says. “Choosing the lure, or deciding how to attract the fish…”
A catch-and-release fisherman, the attorney has a couple of trophy fish he did keep. On the wall of Komoroski’s downtown office are two mounted fish: a Louisiana speckled trout, which was the largest speckled trout caught in inland waters in 1985; and a small mouth bass caught in the French River in Canada.
Bass fishing is so popular, Komoroski says, because of the bass. “It’s the most popular sport fishing in America. Bass can be found in all 48 contiguous states,” he says. “They’re very aggressive and will hit a lure even when they’re not hungry. They’re a good fighting fish.”
It’s fitting that Komoroski should be involved with these efforts because he has been involved, in one way or another, with environmental issues for much of his career. Komoroski originally was an environmental engineer. He worked for PPG in that capacity for several years. He is a member of the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, and was appointed to the commission by President George W. Bush. The organization sets the water quality standards for the Ohio River system, as well as doing water testing of the rivers and fish population studies.
“The fact that Pittsburgh is able to host these tournaments shows how far we’ve come in changing our rivers, but it also shows that we need to keep them clean. People need to realize that the rivers are a resource,” Komoroski says, adding that Pittsburgh’s rivers rival any rivers in the major cities in Europe. Among the species fisherman can catch locally in the rivers are walleye, pike, and white trout, he says.
One of the people who helped to bring the Bassmasters Classic to Pittsburgh was Davitt Woodwell, vice-president of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council and an avid fisherman. Woodwell has fished with Komoroski for about a decade, but their collaboration to bring a fishing tournament to Pittsburgh began seven years ago, when they started to consider the possibility of getting the Bassmasters Classic to come to town.
“It ended up as the largest event in Pittsburgh in 2005, in terms of tourism,” Woodwell says. “Ken’s out there pushing again and we’re hoping to get another tournament… Throughout this, he’s been really hard-nosed in getting these events here. He’s incredibly excited about it, and justifiably so.”
Local fishermen are keyed up about the effort to bring the tournament to Pittsburgh, says Mike Dunkerley, past-president of the Pennsylvania Bass Federation. The Pennsylvania Bass Federation provided more than 100 volunteers for the Bassmaster Classic, and local anglers will no doubt again come out to volunteer with the FLW Cup. Komoroski said such volunteers are crucial to the effort, and will be important to making the FLW Cup happen. “There are literally thousands of people who go to these events and work for free,” he says.
Dunkerley recalls how Mellon Arena was so packed for daily weigh-ins during the Bassmaster Classic, that organizers of the event put television monitors outside so tournament watchers could observe the weigh-ins outside the arena. More than 23,000 people were gathered at the Mellon Arena every day during the Bassmaster Classic, not for rock concerts, truck pulls or a circus—but to watch fish being weighed.
Pittsburgh fish, that is. Fish that were pretty low weights, ranging from 1½ pounds to 2½ pounds, Dunkerley says. “That’s your standard fish for the river,” he says, adding that the low weights make the tournament suspenseful, because you don’t know how it’s going to turn out. That is, no fisherman is likely to bring in a huge fish that beats everyone else’s.
Part of the fun at the Bassmaster Classic also was that the fish around here are tougher, Dunkerley adds. “That’s because they’re always fighting that [river] current. That’s why they’re short and stocky,” he says.
Professional boosters of Pittsburgh also are grateful for the work Komoroski has done and is doing to bring the sport fishing world to Pittsburgh. Craig Davis, vice-president, sales and marketing for VisitPittsburgh (the Pittsburgh Convention Bureau), has known Komoroski for a few years. He calls him a great asset to the community. “He’s an amazing booster for us,” Davis says, also giving Komoroski credit for helping to bring the Bassmaster Classic to Pittsburgh.
Davis is hopeful that Pittsburgh will be able to land to FLW tournament. “I think Pittsburgh stands a very good chance of getting the FLW here. I think it will further add to our reputation, and again show our ability to draw a crowd,” he says.

A version of this story was published in 2008 in Pittsburgh Professional Magazine.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Barnestormin: BS, for short

I use this blog as a way to show some of the work I’ve done, but more importantly, as a way to vent every now and then. Still, even after years of posting on Barnestormin, I sometimes am surprised by the reactions I get. Part of my surprise is due to the fact that I sometimes write my posts not caring about how others might take them, or rather, caring how they take my comments so much that I am willing to offend them in an effort to make them think.
Sometimes the only thing I make folks think about is that they are offended by my ramblings. And often, I am guilty of failing my journalistic duty about as regularly as many full-time newspaper and magazine reporters.
But it is gratifying when people agree with me, especially if they do so in a way that legitimizes my comments. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette again commented on Barnestormin, and in the wonderfully prominent section of their Sunday editorial pages in which they riff on local blogs. My little blog post “Pittsburgh’s G-20, and Mau-Mauing the Press Corps” made the cut, and actually was the lead-in to the column, which the P-G titled “City of Insecurity.”
I thank you, P-G (for whom I do a bit of freelancing), for mentioning my blog and my post. However, there is no “g” at the end of Barnestormin, though I hope sometimes readers feel a little “gee” when they are reading what I’ve posted.
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by the P-G picking up my comments. I should’ve known the P-G would seize on my editorial perspective, because my perspective so closely fits the newspaper’s perspective. There are some folks over along the Boulevard of The Allies in downtown Pittsburgh that work in the Post-Gazette building, who have an inkling of how great a place Pittsburgh is. For years, many of them have been tired of the whippings given to the city by its own people, who sometimes seem unable to handle the compliments we receive for Our Fair Town. It’s like the smoke hasn’t cleared in our minds yet, and we unconsciously downgrade or downplay Pittsburgh’s strengths.
Which reminds me of the old Hillman Company saying: “The spouting whale gets harpooned.”
Perhaps it’s a fear of people finding us out that keeps us so modest about our town, but I don’t think that’s most of the problem. I wrote “Mau-Mauing the Press Corps” because I was annoyed by how Mayor Ravenstahl’s spokesperson, Kristen Baginski, talked to a group of engineers from out of town about how the G-20 summit is Pittsburgh’s opportunity to market itself to the world.
Granted, the Summit is a big deal, and it is a great opportunity to showcase our city’s progress, and its beauty, and its many strengths. But that’s not what you say to engineers from across the continent, or to professionals gathered in Pittsburgh from overseas. That’s the sort of thing that we Pittsburghers can say to each other, but it’s not how we should address visitors, because that sort of tone is downright pathetic, when used on visitors.
We try to hard to impress sometimes. Instead of saying breathlessly that we have a great marketing opportunity, we should be telling people how great our town is. As in: Did you know that Pittsburgh is still home to U.S. Steel, and that the company employs around 4,000 people locally? Or, do you know about the incredible turnaround of engineering firm American Bridge Company, which once was a subsidiary of U.S. Steel? Or, did you know that our rivers have been cleaned up so much that Pittsburgh again is hosting a large fishing tournament? And were you aware that Pittsburgh fish are as tough fighters as Pittsburgh people?
There’s so much more to say about Pittsburgh’s greatness, and its historic and current place in the world. I mean, I was at a bridge conference in the City of Bridges, surrounded by engineers from everywhere, and looking out over the Allegheny River and the “Three Sisters” bridges that span it. Setting is everything in writing sometimes, just ask Faulkner. Or just ask Barnes, because I say that our town has one of the most dramatic topographical looks of all the cities in the nation. Drive through the Fort Pitt Tunnel on your way into Pittsburgh for the first time, and your perspective on our city could be re-born.
Pittsburgh is a great place, with the amenities of a larger city and the small-town approachability of smaller places. It’s not just that we have great sports teams, or great companies such as UPMC, and wonderful school such as CMU and Pitt. We have so much that is good here that we are recognized across the globe as great, and not simply for American football.
Get over it, dyed-in-the-Iron City Beer-Pittsburghers: your town is great. And it’s OK to admit it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Losing a Lost World

By Jonathan Barnes

"We never had dogs on the farm. My father didn't like them very much because they would tear down the wheat while chasing rabbits. He did keep opossums as pets. In the winter, he would put them in the barn to keep warm. We also had raccoons and barn owls. The baby barn owls were very tame and would sit on sticks or your finger."-- Robert Schlag, writing in the 1980s

The old, overgrown lane off Sangree Road in Ross looks like a typical farm road, with fences and fields spreading out on each side -- an odd thing since the spot is less than a mile from bustling McKnight Road.
As the lane hooks to the right, it opens into a ravine, where a partially dismantled barn's hand-hewn beams are exposed. The sandstone wall of the barn, built into a slope of the land, has started to crumble but stands mostly intact. A roofless wooden-sided silo looms behind.
The berry bushes have grown thick in the fields around the old brick farmhouse, built around 1834 and empty since 1995. A spring gurgles out of the hill, spilling clear water into a stream that runs through the property.
On a ridge above an old log building near the spring's source, seven deer leap across the horizon in single file, white tails showing. Deer have worn paths across the land to places in the bushes where they bed down. They are safe in this rustic cocoon, surrounded by development and too close to homes to be hunted. Birds sing over the muffled din of nearby traffic.
As recently as last week, the overgrown fields on the last 24 acres of the old Schlag farm stood undisturbed. It's a place where, not long ago, time seemed to have stopped. But not anymore.

"There were only farmhouses out our way. Most of them were a half-mile or more apart. ... Our farm was bordered on the north by the Sangree family farm. Peebles and Apples were to the east." -- Robert Schlag
A rumble echoes over the fields as a worker tears down the chimneys of the old home, the bricks cascading into the back yard. Vandals have smashed several windows.
The windows of the two-story springhouse, too, have been torn out, and a dead raccoon lies just inside the doorway. Another dead raccoon lies sprawled under the front porch of the house. Some of the outbuildings have been stripped of their walls, making them appear half-naked. The hand-hewn beams of the barn, too, are being cleared out.
The buildings are being torn down, their remains bound for salvagers, landfills or burn piles.
Only the scraggly apple trees dotting the fields seem to be making a defiant last stand against the imminent development.
The property soon will become the Sangree Farms plan of homes, named after the farm that adjoined the Schlag property. Each originally was about 200 acres and part of the Ephram Jones farm.
The 200 acres that became the Schlag farm was given to Revolutionary War veteran Paul Zantzinger as a Depreciation Lands grant in 1798, according to an account Robert Schlag wrote in the 1980s for Northland Public Library, which had asked for a history of the farm and surrounding area.
Henry Schlag bought the land in 1864, and for 131 years, it was home to a Schlag, until Robert Schlag died in 1995 at age 86.
In November, Minnock Realty Inc. bought the last 24.6 acres of the old homestead for $350,000. The company wants to put 21 single-family houses there on lots ranging from three-fourths of an acre to a little more than an acre. The houses would be priced from $300,000 to $500,000 and be built by Minnock Construction Co., which built the nearby Kinvara housing plan. The company is scheduled to present its plans to Ross commissioners March 11.
The cleft created by the main spring on the property -- more than likely the drawing point for the first settlers -- will remain.
"We've already gone through the [state Department of Environmental Protection] on the wetlands issue," said Patrick Minnock, president of Minnock Construction Co. "Our plan is to maintain the wetlands and protect them. The big lots gave us the ability to leave the wetlands alone."
Some of the large old trees and vegetation around the house also could be saved, he said, noting that leaving a large tree standing is easier than cutting it down. "Anything we can save, we will."
One thing the Sangree Farms housing development will save is the name of one of the families who farmed the area in its earliest days.
"Was married this evening to Florence J. Whitesell. Raining most of the day but broke off, got cooler & very pleasant tonight, fine moonlight. A very happy occasion to me. Quite a good number of friends were present -- about 3 dozen & all seemed to be full of glee & satisfied with the event." -- Dec. 29, 1881, diary entry of John Rosberg Sangree, 28.
The farm might have disappeared without much notice, if not for Ross resident Sandy Brown.
Brown, an amateur historian for Hiland Presbyterian Church in Ross, has been telling everyone who will listen about the historic homestead.
A native of North Carolina, Brown has a distinctive sense of place.
"A friend of mine said, 'I sat on the steps [of the Schlag house] and it was so quiet,' " Brown said. "It's a great place. There's not one like it in the county I come from."
People who live around the farm have been stopping by to have a last look and, perhaps, pay their last respects.
Jane and Tom Walworth, who bought their property along Maruth Drive from Robert's brother, Byron, 45 years ago, stopped by last week.
"When we moved here in '57, there were three farms," Jane Walworth said.
"We used to stop and buy stuff from [the Schlags]," her husband said. The Schlag family worked the farm until about 20 years ago, he said. "They were old and they were still working the farm, so they were special," he added. Robert Schlag lived at the farm with a sister, Sara, and brother, Carl.
"Sara Schlag would call all the time and say 'the berries are in,' or 'come and see the green beans,' " Jane Walworth said. "They were very refined, nice people."
She walked into the house and surveyed the damage done by salvagers and the demolition crew. Crevices in the interior brick walls revealed where the wooden mantels, chair rails and baseboard once were. The plaster on the 12-foot-high ceiling was falling in spots. The wallpaper was faded and yellow. She shook her head.
"I remember standing in the doorway, admiring this room," she said of the living room. "Sara was so proud of this house. She kept it so perfect. And it was a graceful, beautiful home."
Janet Sangree Brant, the granddaughter of Henry Schlag and John Sangree, recalled the beauty of the farm, and how Robert, Sara and Carl Schlag cared for the place.
"Robert had a beautiful dahlia garden behind the barn, and he sold flowers to Pittsburgh Cut Flower," said Brant, 81, of Bellevue. Sara Schlag was an excellent gardener, she added. "They had double rows of roses and flowers by the house -- it was beautiful. I always loved going out to the farm."
Henrietta Schlag Schultz, 78, Henry Schlag's great-granddaughter, grew up just down the road from the farm and still lives in Ross.
"As a little girl I spent a lot of time at the farm," she said. "Listening to the cow bells tinkling in the morning and being around when my grandfather was milking the cows. ... When we were children, my grandparents would pick us up in the sleigh and we'd go sleigh riding. At that time, McKnight Road was a cow pasture."
Robert Schlag's nephew, Walter Schlag, 77, of Shaler, recalled spending a couple of weeks in the summer at the farm as a child.
"Me and my buddies would camp up on the western ridge, and we'd cook some of our meals there. ... We used to jump off of the upper rafters of the barn into the hay. And it was a soft landing. We had good times over there."
In later years, he kept a garden plot there.
He said he was sad to see the place go. Some of the family members had talked to nonprofit groups about preserving the place, but they weren't interested, he said.
"I feel badly about the whole thing, but times change. ... It kind of brings tears to my eyes to think about it. I had good times there. My Uncle Carl had hummingbirds trained to sit on his finger where he'd feed them," he said. "I haven't gone over there in quite a while. I just feel so bad."
This story previously was published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Photo of Jonathan Barnes and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette photographer Bob Donaldson courtesy of Sandy Brown.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Ten Minutes with Louis and Dennis Astorino

Astorino Architects recently opened new offices in West Palm Beach and Naples, Fla., but the firm takes most of its identity from its base city, Pittsburgh. Astoriino is the second largest architectural practice in town with $26 million in annual revenue and 191 employees. This year promises to be especially busy. Astorino is teaming up with San Francisco-based Gensler on PNC Financial’s $170 million, 30-story skyscraper in downtown Pittsburgh. And officials of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and UPMC Hospital, who are building a $575 million medical complex, have tapped Astorino for the job. “They tend to focus on not only the function, but the design of the project,” says Roger Oxendale, president of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Astorino is also expanding its services. The company says it is exploring what it calls the Deep Design Process and describes itself as the first architectural team in the world to use, through a sister company, groundbreaking research techniques that elicit subconscious thoughts and feelings and translate them into design criteria.
Louis D. Astorino, who is chairman of the company, founded L.D. Astorino Cos. in 1972. Its second employee was Dennis Astorino, his brother and the company’s chief executive. ENR Correspondent Jonathan Barnes recently spoke with them.

ENR: How was Astorino started?

L.A.: I was always blessed with the ability to sketch. I rented a space and did renderings of buildings for other architects. That really helped me.

ENR: How would you characterize the growth of the company?

D.A.: It’s been a very slow, methodical growth. My employee number is number two. The company’s growth was more about the kind of projects that interested us. Our size is a product of our doing the projects that we always wanted to do.

ENR: Astorino Architects has a long work relationship with the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese, having done its first job on a historic Pittsburgh church. Astorino’s most famous work is likely the chapel that the company designed recently for the Vatican. How’d you get that job?

L.A.: The company landed the highly prestigious Chapel of the Holy Spirit job in the Vatican through a connection with Pittsburgh businessman John E. Connelly. He introduced us to the top officials and that allowed us to present our credentials. We did some early work as a consultant to Vatican architects on Domus Santa Marta, which is a Residence hotel where the Cardinals are housed during a Conclave… As a result of that, we were asked to do the Chapel of the Holy Spirit as the sole architects.

ENR: Does Astorino have a signature design?

L.A.: We really don’t believe in a signature style. Each project is influenced by so many factors—site, program, client, context, etc. We believe in keeping an open mind and letting those factors influence our design.

ENR: How did your company become a health care facility design expert?

L.A.: Twelve years ago we bought a firm that did mostly health care related work. Health care work now comprises 60% of our work. We’re dedicating ourselves to creating buildings that create a healing environment.

ENR: Astorino is known for its use of the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System. How has LEED been important to Astorino’s approach to design?

D.A.: When we first got into LEED, we were 70% through with the design of PNC’s operations center, and it became the first LEED certified project in the country when it was built in 2001. When we looked at the [current] project, [LEED techniques] were things that we were doing anyway. That made using LEED a no-brainer.

This story origially ran in the 6/9/2006 issue of ENR. Reprinted courtesy of ENR magazine.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Ten Minutes with Clarke Thomas

Pittsburgh also lost a great individual this year, with the passing of Clarke Thomas, former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editor. I have been so busy this year that I missed the passing of Thomas, one of Pittsburgh’s finest journalists. Clarke was a thoughtful and even-handed writer and sharp journalist whose editorials, and editorial judgment, enhanced the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s pages for many years. He also was kind enough to answer some questions that I posed for him a few years back, for my how-to on print journalism (which is not yet published).
Chris Potter had a nice send-off for Clarke in the Pittsburgh City Paper a while back, which is worth reading.
I am posting Clarke's answers to my questions, though I plan to use the material for my book, because it’s great stuff and it’s my way of offering a small homage to this kind and decent individual who helped to make our city the great place that it is.
For folks interested in what it takes to be a journalist, and why the profession is worth pursuing, this Q/A will be especially meaningful.
Barnestormin: What things should an aspiring print journalist bear in mind while she begins to learn the craft?
Brush up on spelling and other grammar essentials. Read, read, read newspapers and magazines to learn about ledes and other “hooks” to get the reader’s attention. If you are still in high school, work on your student newspaper or magazine. And get guidance on a college with a good journalism school.
Barnestormin: What qualities are most important in a person who wants to be a good journalist?
Thomas: Curiosity. Willingness to learn about subjects that are not your specialty—or even especial interest. Elements of courtesy so people will be willing to open up to you. The ability to write grammatically correct and readable sentences.
Barnestormin: What does it take to create a good op-ed?
Thanks to the plethora of syndicated columns available, all of the necessary ingredients are there. One must seek variety on the page on any given day. Good newspapers are willing to run columns that express views opposed to those of the paper’s editorial policy. This builds trust among readers, not to mention serves to attract a broader range of readers. Finally, good papers seek local opinion, either by calling on local persons knowledgeable about a given subject, or—in some cases—asking the writer of a good letter to expand and expound.
Barnestormin: What qualities do good op-eds have?
Thomas: Variety. Articles appealing to different readers, especially those who may not agree with the newspaper’s editorial policy as manifested on the editorial page itself. Again, referring to a point in question 3 above, readers like to see articles on local subjects and by local people, particularly including from “ordinary” readers, that is, not always just the local experts. Often the best humorous (and engagingly sentimental) articles come from local writers.
Barnestormin: Do you have any thoughts on how things are changing in the media business, and what it might mean to future journalists?
Thomas: The impact of the Internet clearly is challenging and changing the business. Newspapers now are giving away their product via the Internet. Some way must be found to obtain revenue from the Internet. Note: Future journalists may need to point more in the direction of the Internet—whatever that means in terms of career preparation.
Barnestormin: Is objectivity in journalism overrated?
Thomas: No and yes. No, in the sense that people in general think they want stories to go straight down the middle. Yes, in the sense that people say they want “the truth,” meaning a story that presents their point of view and not that of others, i.e., not really objective. Journalism right now is in a bind on this issue and not just because politicians and other leaders in society like to blame the media for everything that goes wrong in their realm. “I did nothing wrong. The media distorted what I said…or did.” Print journalism is in a particular quandary because its usefulness for instant news has been pre-empted by broadcast journalism and now by the Internet. By the time I pick up a newspaper in the morning, I’ve already heard or seen on TV or the Internet most of its headlined stories. Therefore, the print media’s hope for the future increasingly will lie with analysis and explaining the “why,” rather than just the “what” of breaking news. Yet analysis calls for subjectivity, the very element that brings cries of “distortion” from critics. Journalism now is even being criticized for the “he said/she said” type of coverage that constituted objectivity in the past. Critics say, “If you know something from one side is wrong, why do you repeat it in the name of ‘balance’?” One answer certainly is to be more diligent about affixing the label of “analysis” to such articles to inform the reader that that is the purpose of the article.
Barnestormin: Why is journalism a craft worth pursuing?
Thomas: These will sound like clichés but aren’t. Service to humankind. Knowledge is power and journalism spreads that power beyond just the powerful. Second, speaking of power, quite frankly, being a journalist is the only way most of us have a chance at power in affecting and effecting events. Other than being elected to office or being a high ranking corporate official, most of us would never attain that power opportunity. People, especially journalists, don’t like to talk about power because it sounds aggrandizing. But the phrase, “power of the press,” is not to be dismissed. If this makes one uncomfortable, go back to the “service to humankind” reasons.
Barnestormin: What do you like about journalism?
Thomas: For the reasons described in Question 7 above. But also because you are working with a wonderfully motivated, highly intelligent group of people in the exciting cauldron of a news room or an editorial writers’ section. There is a constant synergy of excitement, particularly when you get a hot tip for a story or obtain a “scoop” over rivals. You are in both a business atmosphere (a newspaper must make money to survive) and a non-business atmosphere (like governmental and nonprofit agencies, there is more to it than making money) (sympathetic to the role of government in society but also a constant watchdog). Journalism is a profession where most days you can go home feeling “I did something today that mattered.”
Barnestormin:Will newspapers survive, in your opinion?
This takes us back to Question 5. I think the best hope is that as people find themselves flooded with information from so many sources, they will realize they need something that makes sense out of that plethora of facts, figures, and opinions. And something in a form that they can read at leisure and can clip out (without having to use print-outs). Having said that, I go back again to Question 5 and the point that newspapers have to get past of just giving away for free their valuable output and find a way of making the money needed to stay in business.
Barnestormin: Who is a good model for aspiring journalists to pattern themselves after, and why?
I would watch for the bylines of writers whose work you find both enlightening and interesting and read them not just for the content but for the ways they find to express themselves. One tip that may surprise you: James Reston, the great New York Times reporter and columnist, started off as a sports writer. He called that a great experience for writing because you are essentially writing the same story over and over (who is going to win, who won and the score, and why did that person or team win). To avoid boredom, a sports writer therefore has to be clever in creating analogies, metaphors, etc., to make the same old story fresh for the reader.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Luffy leads American Bridge’s resurgence

Sitting behind a desk covered with stacks of papers, Robert Luffy looked like he’d just taken a break from work in his office at American Bridge Co.’s headquarters in Coraopolis. The wall of windows behind him, framed by exposed steel beams, made a visitor recall the company’s glory days as a large construction contractor in the 1970s. The window also gave a panoramic view of the Ohio River and the hills above the opposite riverbank—the ideal perspective for a commander, or a strategist.
Luffy, 59, president and CEO of American Bridge, has the corner room with the view. He also has a compelling vision for the company, those who know him say. Even people who don’t know him well have been impressed with the way he brought American Bridge back from the edge of bankruptcy in the past dozen years. Luffy’s achievements recently lead to him winning the prestigious Metcalf Award, which is a lifetime achievement award given by the Engineers Society of Western Pennsylvania.
Michael Bock, a construction attorney who also is an engineer and president of ESWP, said when he nominated Luffy for the award, everyone on the board thought it was a great idea because of Luffy’s reputation. Bock worked with Luffy as a young design engineer at American Bridge in the early 1970s. Luffy was a field engineer, and the two worked together on the New River Gorge Bridge in Fayetteville, West Virginia. Until recently, the bridge was the longest steel-arch bridge in the world.
“He’s a no-nonsense kind of guy,” Bock said of Luffy. “He’s a guy that people look up to. He expects people to do their best, as he does.”
Luffy said he appreciates the recognition from his peers. “It was unexpected, but it felt great. Awards are given to individuals, but that recognition of me is due to the work of a lot of people,” Luffy said.
He leaned back in his chair as he considered the first days of his second stint with American Bridge, which began in 1993. He was recruited from Mellon Stuart to run the struggling company, which was close to folding. Sales at American Bridge were just $32 million in 1994.
“We were without much bonding support, hadn’t been profitable for many years, and we didn’t have any work. We were down to one project,” Luffy said.
American Bridge had about 25 employees at the time and was just a skeleton of its former self. The company had no production facility and was at a disadvantage to competitors who assembled the steel for bridges and buildings before erecting the structures on-site. The firm did have a well-regarded name and an archive of drawings from projects that dated back to its founding in 1900.
American Bridge was once the world's largest builder of bridges and skyscrapers around the globe, but by the early 1990s it was a minor player in a market it had dominated. Even before the company was sold by USX Corp. in 1987, tough competition and poor construction markets had resulted in declining sales.
When he took over leadership of American Bridge, Luffy found that the company’s name still opened doors. No matter where he went, he could walk in anywhere and talk to anybody as president of American Bridge, he said.
“It was obviously a challenge, but we had a nucleus of good people who needed direction and a strategic plan. And we still had a great name,” Luffy said. “Everywhere you went you ran into an alumnus [of American Bridge], and it made the job easier.”
Luffy’s modest streak doesn’t allow him to take too much credit for the impressive turnaround he’s helped to orchestrate. You can’t separate the man from American Bridge’s transformation, though. Standing nearly 6 feet, 4 inches tall and broad-shouldered, Luffy is impressive-looking. Even in just a crisp dress shirt, slacks and loafers, he looks like the type of guy who might get through to the CEO, regardless of where he worked.
Still, he downplays his part in the nearly miraculous rebound of the company.
“There’ve been tougher turnarounds done. We just had to set the right course,” Luffy said. “I wanted to do my part to make it the company of choice for building challenging structures.”
Back in the early 1970s, when Luffy was starting his career as a recent engineering graduate of University of Pittsburgh, he worked for American Bridge. After a few years he moved on to Mellon Stuart, where he stayed for 17 years until he was recruited back to American Bridge in 1993. Much has changed since then.
The company was located in Pittsburgh, but these days, its headquarters are in an attractive modern building in Coraopolis. Soon a new engineer-training center will be added onto the building, which shares a piece of riverfront with two larger production facilities.
During the past 10 years, American Bridge has focused on winning and completing the most complex projects, as it was known for doing in the past. In 1999, the company bought 32 acres next to its Coraopolis offices and opened a manufacturing plant. The plant now is in two sprawling buildings on the property.
A few miles downriver from the company’s headquarters is the old American Bridge steel mill in Ambridge, the town named for the company that built the Empire State Building, Yankee Stadium and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. The days of the Ambridge mill finishing steel for the company are long past, but the legacy remains, thanks in large part to Luffy.
He had envisioned taking the company back to its status as one of the top bridge builders in the world, and that goal certainly has been achieved. Sales for American Bridge in 2006 were $330 million—a tenfold increase from 12 years prior. American Bridge now has offices in Coraopolis, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Tampa, Orlando and Richmond. The company employees about 300 engineers and 50 staff people, as well as field workers ranging from 500 to 2,000 workers, depending upon the ongoing projects.
Its most prestigious work currently is the $1.43 billion job of building a new earthquake-proof eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. American Bridge recently won the contract along with partner Fluor Enterprises, of Sugar Land, Texas. The contract amounts to about $100 million each year over seven years for American Bridge. The company wouldn’t have won the contract without the tenacity of Luffy, said Mike Flowers, executive vice president for American Bridge and project director of the Bay Bridge Project.
Flowers remembers the old American Bridge from his work there early in his career in the 1970s. He started with the company in 1975 and recalls it as an exciting place to work. After being hired away from the company by Luffy to Mellon Stuart in 1986, he ended up following his chief back to American Bridge in 1994.
“The reason I came back was a shared vision for what the company once was, and what it could be. The company came very close to not existing,” Flowers said. “I run into people across the country who are still surprised that we are a force to be reckoned with.”
Flowers gives much of the credit to Luffy, saying the CEO has tremendous vision and the energy to make that vision reality.
“He doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. The Bay Bridge [project] is the classic example,” Flowers said, noting that the project had to be bid twice before the company won the contract with Fluor.
Patrick Flaherty, senior vice president for Fluor Corp., was his company’s point man for winning the Bay Bridge project. Part of the reason why Fluor chose to partner with American Bridge was because few companies in the United States have a track record of working on large suspension bridges, and American Bridge has such a record. The personalities and skills of the employees of American Bridge and Fluor also seemed to work well together, Flaherty said.
“We enjoyed working with Bob, first of all because he had a great team. You could tell people enjoyed working [for American Bridge], and I think Bob helped put that culture in place,” Flaherty said. “We felt that the skills they had were very complimentary to the strengths that we brought to the table.”
Winning the most complicated projects, such as the Bay Bridge project, is part of Luffy’s strategy, Flowers said.
“We’ve grown back into our reputation. We were a shell of the company we had been. It’s been a huge team effort to get us where we are,” Flowers said.
Cooperation is a strong suit for Luffy, who is a former chairman of the Pittsburgh Zoo and former chairman of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania. He also volunteers with his alma mater, the University of Pittsburgh. He is a member of the Board of Visitors of Pitt’s engineering school, where he earned a degree in civil engineering in 1972. Gerald Holder, the U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering at Pitt, said Luffy is generous with his time.
“Bob is very pro-engineer—engineering is very important to him,” Holder said. “He really is an advocate for engineering education.”
That advocacy has paid off, even in Luffy’s own family. Two of his five children are involved in engineering—he has a son in the engineering program at Pitt, and a daughter who works in bioengineering.
With the toughest part of rebuilding American Bridge completed, Luffy is enjoying the ride that comes with leading a world-class company.
“The bridge-building business is something I always wanted to do for a living. I love going to work. I would love to be involved with our company for a long time,” Luffy said.
Those who work with Luffy can’t imagine American Bridge without him. Michael Cegelis, executive vice president for American Bridge, works with Luffy at the Coraopolis headquarters. He hasn’t been far from his boss since they met in the 1980s. Cegelis credits Luffy with being instrumental to American Bridge’s turnaround.
“It starts with him,” Cegelis said. “He’s the leader, the visionary, the guy that cuts to the chase.”
Unlike some bosses, Luffy is the type of leader who will take input from his employees, Cegelis added. “He has a very clear vision of where we’re going. It can be adjusted with input. But he’s the guy that’s ready to make it happen,” he said.

A version of this story first appeared in Pittsburgh Professional Magazine. Photo of Bob Luffy reprinted courtesy of ENR magazine.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Real Pittsburghers: DiGioias

Barnestormer note: Because the eyes of the world are focusing on Pittsburgh and its people in anticipation of the G-20 summit, I've decided to run some stories in Barnestormin that I've penned on some of the great people who live in our fair city.
Beginning today, I will be running profiles on some of the folks who make our city the garden spot of the world. To start with, I have a piece on Tony DiGioia Jr. and his son, Dr. Tony DiGioia III. Both CMU graduates, these men have impacted the engineering and medical professions in many positive ways. Enjoy.

Engineer Anthony M. DiGioia, Jr., and his son, Dr. Anthony M. DiGioia III, have made unique contributions to their fields. The elder DiGioia co-founded GAI Consultants, a prominent engineering company, and is a part-time professor. Following after his father, Dr. DiGioia started his career as an engineer, but quickly went into medicine and now has an orthopedic medical practice and is an expert in computer-assisted orthopedic surgery.
Each man’s success is the result, at least in part, of the ability to effectively communicate scientific ideas into basic concepts. Technically speaking, this father and son speak the same language.

By Jonathan Barnes

Those who are familiar with engineering know it’s not just a profession; it’s a mindset. Engineers are taught to think analytically, and they tend to bring that type of thinking to nearly everything they do. Or at least this seems to be true in the case of the DiGioias.
The story of these two men began at Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon) more than fifty years ago. Engineering professor Elio D’Appolonia knew he had a sharp civil engineering student in Anthony DiGioia II. His student was so smart that in 1956 D’Appolonia hired him and a few of his bright classmates to work for his nascent engineering company, D’Appolonia Associates. The young engineers worked for their professor while they were completing their graduate degrees. D’Appolonia quickly noticed DiGioia also had people skills.
“He was an excellent communicator,” says D’Appolonia, who at 90, has been retired for a decade from his company, D’Appolonia Consulting Engineers. “Tony was one of the few people I selected to communicate for our firm. He was very good at making contacts. He had a very pleasant personality and he knew what he was talking about. He made the client feel comfortable.”
DiGioia was equally impressed with his professor, and knew he wanted to be associated with him. “I could see in the way he dealt with people, he’d be very successful,” DiGioia says. “He’s very enthusiastic about engineering. He’s very client-oriented.”
One of those students who were hired by D’Appolonia was Dick Gray, who co-founded General Analytics Incorporated (now GAI Consultants) with DiGioia, and who now owns DiGioia Gray Associates with his longtime partner. Gray attributes part of their success to D’Appolonia’s influence. “Having Dap as a mentor was a wonderful thing. He got us started and kept us going,” Gray says.
Gray reflects back to his time as a student at Carnegie Tech with DiGioia, and recalls that his business partner was always gifted, and was first in their civil engineering class. “He’s a detail person. And he’s very good, technically,” Gray says. “Over the years, even though he was president of GAI, he’s maintained his technical skills and added to them. He’s very well known for his work on transmission line foundations, and also for the utilization of coal combustion waste products, such as fly ash.”
DiGioia was at the forefront of the then-emerging area of geotechnical engineering; a field that was introduced to the nation at a conference in 1936, D’Appolonia explains. “Prior to 1936, foundations were handled in the U.S. by people who worked in a local region. Geotechnical [engineering] existed with contractors, who knew it by the school of hard knocks,” he says. “The whole concept of [DiGioia’s] consultation work was just getting underway.”
Contacted for this story, DiGioia met a reporter in the DiGioia Gray office, which is the old GAI office in Wilkins. In a sparsely furnished boardroom, DiGioia answered questions about his career, while trying to steer the conversation away from himself. “I thought this story was supposed to be about Tony,” he says, genuinely surprised that so many questions are directed to him. His humility may have something to do with his humble background—just another kid from Lincoln-Lemington.
“His dad was a tailor,” explains Bob DiGioia, the engineer’s fourth child. “And I think that [humility] came through in the way he was raised—you work hard. He and Tony are very quiet when it comes to talking about themselves.”
DiGioa, 73, is terse when speaking about his accomplishments, preferring to focus on the achievements of others, such as his eldest son Tony, or on the help he received from his co-workers in building his businesses. “I’ve been fortunate to be associated with some really good people through my firm,” he says, adding that he enjoys his work. “I like the challenge of developing a cost-effective solution that is environmentally acceptable. That’s the fun of our profession.”
Along with D’Appolonia and Gray, DiGioia was one of a group of individuals from 10 companies that founded the Association of Soil and Foundation Engineers in 1969 to get relief from professional liability claims that were so frequent that their firms were uninsurable. The group decided to insure themselves, and for decades its members have had no trouble being covered by regular insurers, due in part to the practices of ASFE, such as Peer Review.
Despite more than a half century of ceaseless work, DiGioia’s dedication to his profession has not waned. Even after he and Gray sold GAI to its managers in 2005, his passion for the work led him to again partner with Gray and form DiGioia Gray Associates. In addition to teaching and volunteering, DiGioia works nearly full-time for his new company. It’s obvious that his heart is in his work.
DiGioia’s ability to simplify technical concepts for his clients works well with his didactic personality. In addition to mentoring young engineers throughout his career, DiGioia also taught at Carnegie Tech, including several years of night school, after graduating. He recently returned to teaching as an adjunct professor at his alma mater. Additionally, he teaches a continuing education course on foundation engineering offered to practicing engineers by the University of Wisconsin.
“It’s an interesting opportunity, working with youngsters,” DiGioia says. His classroom instruction is just part of his educational labors—he is a large part of efforts of the Engineering Society of Western Pennsylvania to spread the word about the benefits of careers in engineering, says attorney/engineer Michael Bock.
DiGioia is a longtime member and current first vice-president of ESWP, Bock notes. “He’s very much involved in our strategic initiatives to get more kids interested in engineering. Only 6 percent of college students pursue careers in engineering. If we don’t reverse this trend, we’ll be globally technically noncompetitive,” Bock says.
Part of the reason for the trend could be simple ignorance of engineering, DiGioia suggests. “You ask the general public, what do engineers do? That’s a very good question. We’re trying to spread the word about that,” he says.
Being passionate about engineering, DiGioia sometimes takes an unconventional approach to generating interest in the field, Bock explains. DiGioia set up a program where he brought in professionals over pizzas at lunchtime, to talk to students about what you can do with an engineering degree, Bock explains. “He’s a real peach of a guy,” he says.
* * *
While DiGioia was working on his civil engineering degrees and starting a family with his wife, Carole, he was showing his children the benefits of Carnegie Tech, teaching, and engineering. Before he had finished graduate school with his doctorate, the couple had three children, including young Tony. Dr. DiGioia grew up observing his father teach, and he also saw him start an engineering firm. That early introduction to engineering impressed Tony III with the desire to be an engineer. He attributes that interest to his father introducing him to the profession.
“He kept very close ties to CMU. The early exposure of seeing what engineers really do was important,” Dr. DiGioia says, adding that his father’s influence on him went beyond the professional. “Through the whole process of building a large company, he never changed as a person. In some ways, he was the same way with his family as he was with his employees.”
Both father and son are groundbreaking professionals who have had the good fortune, or good sense, to work in emerging fields of study. The elder DiGioia began to work as an engineer when geotechnical engineering was a rising field in the United States. He became an expert in the field, helped build a sizable company and has written and lectured on geotechnical engineering. Dr. DiGioia got into robotics and orthopedic medicine when the two were converging. That field of interest turned out to be a good fit for Dr. DiGioia, who has combined his engineering education and analytical background with his medical knowledge to address the problem of replacing joints in peoples’ hips and knees.
Dr. DiGioia’s first inklings of an interest in medicine were the result of accidents, when he broke his ankle in high school and when he broke his knee while playing football at Carnegie Mellon. Those painful incidents led him to begin to think about the mechanics of the body. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science and Master’s degree in civil and biomedical engineering from Carnegie Mellon, he worked for three years in the orthopedic biomechanics lab at University of Pittsburgh. “The reason I went to medical school was because of Albert Ferguson, who was head of Pitt Medical School,” Dr. DiGioia explains. “My interest turned toward building the bridge between clinicians and engineers.”
After graduating with honors from Harvard Medical School, DiGioia interned in general surgery and did his residency in orthopaedic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. He then completed a fellowship in adult reconstructive surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the American College of Surgeons. He has authored many scientific papers and book chapters.
Dr. DiGioia is a leader in the development of computer assisted surgical technologies and processes to promote patient-focused care. He is a senior research scientist, founder and co-director of the Center for Medical Robotics and Computer Assisted Surgery at Carnegie Mellon University. He has received many awards, including the Metcalf Award from the Engineering Society of Western Pennsylvania—a distinction his father also shares. His father is justifiably proud of him.
“Tony’s thesis supervisor was Red Whitaker, who got him involved with robotics. That’s how Tony became interested in medicine,” DiGioia says, noting that his son took an analytical approach to deciding whether to pursue medicine. “He studied whether he wanted to be a doctor.”
At 50, Dr. DiGioia is a practicing surgeon for Renaissance Orthopaedics at Magee-Womens Hospital, and a clinical associate professor of orthopaedic surgery with the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He also is the founder of a nonprofit organization, the AMD3 Foundation.
Maybe it’s the result of the nurturing of a man who is an entrepreneur, engineer and father of eight that enabled Dr. DiGioia to excel professionally. Or perhaps it’s the genes. Whatever the reason, the father and son share a common understanding of engineering and an ability to apply that knowledge to benefit others.
“The mechanics of the body are not too different from the mechanics we learn in engineering,” Dr. DiGioia says, adding that the thought process of an engineer can be beneficial in medicine. “The skills that I needed to be a skillful doctor in the long run were the skills I learned as an engineer. Engineering teaches you how to solve problems. Engineers always look at the whole picture, the whole process… We focus on the entire patient experience. Surgery is one part, but rapid rehab, specialized gyms and other things are part of the whole approach.”
You can see the influence of Tony’s engineering background in his work, his father says. “The way he approaches problems—I think CMU teaches you to define and solve the problem,” he says. “It’s a very good way of approaching things in general.”
While the understanding of a potential closeness in engineering and medicine is now generally accepted, it wasn’t when Dr. DiGioia was applying to medical schools. “I always had to explain why I was going into medicine,” he says. “Now, engineering is a very accepted pathway into medicine.”
* * *
Dr. DiGioia’s gift for effectively communicating his knowledge to patients and colleagues continues to benefit many others. He has organized and chaired several conferences on Patient and Family Centered Care; Bone and Joint Health; and Less and Minimally Invasive and Computer Assisted Orthopaedic Surgery. He is conducting Arthritis Fairs meant to educate patients on conservative and operative treatments of arthritis.
He also is a blogger. One might wonder where a busy surgeon finds the time to maintain a web log, but Dr. DiGioia says he considers it an important part of his job. He regularly posts articles on his Renaissance Orthopaedics blog, in which he discusses various subjects of interest to his patients.
“It’s a part of our educational process,” DiGioia explains. “We have four conferences a year just for patients. The blog came about because a lot of people were asking the same questions, and we use the blog to respond to that.”
That ability to interrelate with his patients is part of what makes the doctor exceptional, some say. Robert Mehrabian, former president of Carnegie Mellon and now CEO of Teledyne Technologies Incorporated, says Dr. DiGioia is a gifted surgeon who truly cares about his patients. “Because of his engineering background, he has a great understanding of not only how the human body functions, but he also really understands the tools that aid him in surgery,” Mehrabian says, adding that he tore his ACL while playing soccer with students at CMU, and Dr. DiGioia operated on him. Mehrabian was so pleased with the success of the operation that he referred a few of the university’s trustees to DiGioia.
The orthopedic surgeon takes the “Do no harm” credo of the medical profession seriously, performing surgery as a last resort. DiGioia’s ability to relate with patients, Meharabian says, is wonderful. “Our provost had a secretary who was about 70 and could barely walk. She was scared to have any surgery,” Mehrabian explains. “Tony was visiting me one day and I introduced them to each other, and he spent about a half-hour talking to her about her problem. Very soon thereafter, he did her hip. He just communicates so well with patients.”
* * *
Dr. DiGioia started his family with his wife Cathleen when he was still in school. She was working at Children’s Hospital in Brookline, Mass., when her husband was attending Harvard. Their daughter Angela was born in his second year of medical school, and daughters Noel and Maria were born within the next few years.
Some wives who rarely see their husbands due to school and work commitments might not be able to handle such an arrangement, especially while pregnant. Even now, with Dr. DiGioia well established as a surgeon, he typically works 10-14 hour workdays. But Cathleen DiGioia says the long days were always expected. “That’s just the way it is. Growing up, we knew that’s the way it was,” she says.
The couple literally grew up together, meeting each other and beginning to date in high school. They have been married for 26 years, and these days, they are able to spend a fair amount of time together in and out of work. She is the office manager of Renaissance Orthopaedics.
Her mother-in-law, Carole DiGioia, echoes Cathleen’s blasé attitude regarding sacrifices made for the family. Asked how they managed with three young children and her husband in grad school, Carole laughs. “We didn’t do much. We were always at home,” she says. “In those days, everyone had big families. That’s what you did then.” The couple met in grade school at Corpus Christi Elementary and have been married for 51 years.
Carole gives her daughter-in-law credit for being a support to her son. “Without Cathy being how she is, young Tony would not be where he is,” she says. Dr. DiGioia agrees, and credits his wife with keeping the family together “She’s the rock, the stability for everything,” he says. “When I was in medical school, she was working, and had our oldest daughter, Angela. She kept the house together when I was working 120-hour weeks…She helped me start my practice at Magee.”
Photos of the DiGioias by Jim Judkiss, courtesy of ENR magazine.