Firm founder passes the reins but isn’t retiring

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Print this page by M.J. McAteer

Sidney O. Dewberry’s assistant issues a friendly warning when she set up a recent phone interview with her boss:  “To put you on the right footing with Mr. Dewberry,” she emails, “he will not be retiring.”

True, on Friday, April 13 — 56 years to the day that he co-founded his engineering firm in Northern Virginia — Dewberry turned over the chairmanship of the board to his son, Barry K. Dewberry, himself a 37-year veteran of the firm. But that doesn’t mean that the 84-year-old   Sidney Dewberry will be adjourning to the golf course.  Instead, he will remain on the board of directors of

the company that he built and will continue to meet with clients and review business issues critical to the firm. “I still have a contribution to make,” Dewberry says.
Don Stone has been the CEO of the Dewberry company for the past two years and has frequent and regular meetings with his boss. “Sid,” he says, “is probably the most curious person I know, and that curiosity is insatiable.”

During the past five decades, that inquisitive mind has led the chairman emeritus to diversify his business into more than 20 distinct areas, ranging from construction and engineering, to emergency planning and disaster response, to surveying, mapping and architecture. It also has led to 40 offices in 18 states, with eight in Virginia accounting for about 700 of Dewberry’s 1,800 employees. In 2010, the family-owned business posted revenues of $300 million.

The company, headquartered in Fairfax County, has been a game-changer in Northern Virginia through its involvement in high-profile projects such as Tysons II, the Dulles Toll Road, the Dulles Greenway and, most recently the $806 million Fort Belvoir Community Hospital, which opened last year. Dewberry is particularly proud of his company’s work on the striking Filene Center at the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts.

Outside the office, Dewberry says his “No. 1 activity” has been George Mason University, where he has served on the board of visitors and was a founder of the Civil Engineering Institute, which now has 300 undergraduates and 100 graduate students.  “He’s not afraid to think big,” says Barry Dewberry, adding that his father always has had the perseverance to bring his ideas to fruition, too.

Dewberry modestly attributes his success “to being in the right place at the right time” and to his adherence to “the Dewberry Way,” a set of principles under which clients come first and traditional values such as honesty, loyalty, frugality and fairness are embraced. “We are passionate about our work and our employees,” he says.
That passion has been contagious.  “Sid will challenge you to levels of understanding that force you to be better,” says Stone. “It has been a great experience working with him.” 

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