The 2021 Construction Power 50

City & State celebrates the 50 most powerful people in construction.
City & State celebrates the 50 most powerful people in construction.
Nick Starichenko/Shutterstock
City & State celebrates the 50 most powerful people in construction.
Power List

The 2021 Construction Power 50

The people who are building – and rebuilding – New York.

For decades, the construction industry has been shaping Manhattan’s iconic skyline, developing New York’s ever-evolving infrastructure system and expanding and updating the elaborate network of highways, bridges, subways, commuter rail lines and airports that make New York a global city. But the industry has accomplished much more than that. While they have been hampered for close to a year by the coronavirus pandemic, New York’s master builders are an essential cog in the state’s economic engine, creating good-paying jobs and offering a pathway into the middle class. Now, with COVID-19 hammering the local economy, construction activity is poised to play a critical role in the recovery, especially if an influx of federal dollars arrives to fund a backlog of capital projects. City & State’s first Construction Power 50 List identifies the leading contractors, public officials, construction managers, consultants and advocates who are building – and rebuilding – New York. 

1. Rick Cotton

Executive Director, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

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While the Port Authority’s revenues have dwindled, its scaled-back 2021 capital construction budget proposal still totals $2.4 billion. Its able leader, Rick Cotton, has fully recovered after contracting COVID-19 – and is positioning his agency to rebound as well. In addition to spearheading improvements at LaGuardia Airport and JFK, Cotton has plans for a new Port Authority Bus Terminal and would play some role with a long-delayed project to build a new commuter rail tunnel under the Hudson River. 

2. Janno Lieber

President of MTA Construction and Development, Chief Development Officer, Metropolitan Transportation Authority

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Janno Lieber is helping navigate the Metropolitan Transportation Authority through its worst crisis in generations. While banking on additional federal aid and the eventual rollout of congestion pricing in Manhattan to reduce its gaping budget shortfall, the MTA’s construction chief has kept parts of its ambitious $51 billion, five-year capital plan moving along. In December, Lieber touted the new Moynihan Train Hall for improving service for Long Island Rail Road riders and said further upgrades to Penn Station are underway. 

3. Gary LaBarbera

President, Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York

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Gary LaBarbera is one of New York’s most powerful labor leaders, having spent over a decade leading an organization with 15 unions representing some 100,000 unionized construction workers. He also has run the Albany-based New York State Building and Construction Trades Council since its business agent, James Cahill, was hit with bribery charges. LaBarbera has championed the industry throughout the coronavirus pandemic. He has secured a long-sought prevailing wage law and kept public projects moving but warned of a dropoff in 2022.

4. Richard Kennedy

President and CEO, Skanska USA

Pick any major New York infrastructure project, and Skanska is probably involved. The leading construction and project development firm has helped build the Moynihan Train Hall, a revamped LaGuardia Airport, the Second Avenue Subway, the No. 7 line extension, the East Side Access project, the Kosciuszko Bridge and the World Trade Center Oculus – and that’s not even getting to its many projects elsewhere across the country. Skanska’s U.S. leader, Richard Kennedy, has been with the company since 2004. 

5. Jay Badame

President, Construction Management, AECOM

AECOM’s Jay Badame oversaw projects like the opulent Hudson Yards, Manhattan West and One Vanderbilt. The global company is the one of the country’s largest general contractors and the largest construction firm in New York City. The firm worked on the Second Avenue Subway, the East Side Access project and the World Trade Center redevelopment – and built two temporary hospitals in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Among Badame’s colleagues are Ali Chaudhry, the governor’s former deputy secretary for transportation; former MTA chief Tom Prendergast; and former Port Authority veteran Denise Berger.

6. Lorraine Grillo

President, New York City School Construction Authority; Commissioner, New York City Department of Design and Construction

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In 2018, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio decided Lorraine Grillo was so effective running the School Construction Authority that she should lead the Department of Design and Construction, too. After more than a quarter century at the SCA and over a decade as its leader, Grillo has managed billions of dollars in school construction while earning plaudits for boosting MWBE contracting. At the DDC, she manages capital construction projects for city government while pursuing upcoming projects through the design-build procurement process. 

7. Pat Di Filippo

Executive Vice President, Turner

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Pat Di Filippo oversees Turner Construction Company’s lucrative business in New York, including Madison Square Garden’s overhaul, Cornell Tech’s Tata Innovation Center, and the recently topped out The Spiral at 66 Hudson Blvd. Di Filippo, a Turner veteran since 1984, manages its partial stake in the heavy construction firm E.E. Cruz. Turner, which is headquartered in Manhattan, has offices in Albany, Buffalo and Syracuse, as well as dozens of offices around the country and overseas. 

8. James Whelan

President, REBNY

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As the chief of New York's leading real estate association, James Whelan has adopted a collaborative approach since taking the reins in 2019. Since COVID-19 hit New York, he has advised the governor and the mayor on reopening and partnered with the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York and the Building Trades Employers Association on a framework to keep projects moving while protecting workers. Whelan has also called for federal aid to states and localities.

9. Louis Coletti

President and CEO, Building Trades Employers Association

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Last year, Louis Coletti’s Building Trades Employers Association worked with the Cuomo administration and labor and developer organizations on protocols to ensure worker safety while continuing to build major projects in New York. As the leader of BTEA, Coletti represents over 1,200 construction firms, including construction managers, contractors and subcontractors. The industry veteran has led BTEA for more than two decades, with previous stints heading the New York Building Congress and as a top executive at Leher McGovern Bovis. 

10. Elizabeth Velez

President, Velez Organization

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For small women- or minority-owned construction firms trying to break through in New York, the Velez Organization offers proof that it can be done. The construction company, which was founded by Andrew Velez in the 1970s, is now a powerhouse run by his daughter, Elizabeth Velez, who chairs the New York Building Congress and was named last year to the governor’s COVID-19 reopening task force. Her firm has partnered on major higher education and hospital projects.

11. Carlo Scissura

President and CEO, New York Building Congress

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Carlo Scissura’s New York Building Congress is a prominent industry organization representing contractors, developers, engineers and architects. A member of the governor’s coronavirus recovery task force, Scissura recently called on the White House to invest in infrastructure to boost the economy. A past leader of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and key staffer in the Brooklyn borough president’s office, he frequently interviews power players on his “Espresso with Carlo” webinars and, until recently, was the ceremonial chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party.

12. Mike Elmendorf

President and CEO, Associated General Contractors of New York State

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Representing major building and civil contractors like Consigli as the head of one of the state’s foremost construction networks, Mike Elmendorf is a leading industry voice, especially upstate and in Albany. The former New York head of the National Federation of Independent Business and Pataki administration alum also spearheads Rebuild NY Now, a coalition of business, labor, local government and environmental organizations seeking funding for transportation and environmental projects.

13. Robert Wessels

Executive Director, The General Contractors Association of New York

Robert Wessels took the reins of the New York City-based General Contractors Association of New York in 2019, succeeding its longtime leader, Denise Richardson. The association, which represents such heavyweights as Skanska, Tutor Perini and Kiewit, joined calls last summer for more federal transit funding to weather the coronavirus pandemic. Wessels, who has worked with GCA in various capacities over the years, has more than three decades of experience in the industry. 

14. James “Jack” Frost

President and Chief Operating Officer, Tutor Perini

Since taking on a top executive role at Tutor Perini in 2015, Jack Frost has been nipping at his competitors’ heels. The Los Angeles-based company is one of the biggest construction firms in the broader New York market, serving as prime contractor on multiple elements of the East Side Access project and design-build contractor on Newark Liberty International Airport’s new terminal. Frost, who developed his leadership skills in the Air Force, also ran Tutor Perini's civil group. 

15. Michael Garner 

Chief Diversity Officer, Metropolitan Transportation Authority

Michael Garner has been the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s chief diversity officer for over a decade, delivering millions of dollars in contracts to businesses owned by women and minorities each year. Garner, who learned valuable strategies for maximizing MWBE contracting in his previous role at the New York City School Construction Authority, created the MTA’s Small Business Mentoring Program and often touts the benefits of guiding and training smaller businesses to be able compete for public dollars. 

16. Steven Sommer

Executive General Manager and President of New York Construction, Lendlease Construction LMB

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Perennially a top construction company operating in New York, Lendlease is known for such projects as Time Warner Center, the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, CitiField, Columbia University’s Manhattanville development, the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center expansion, and the supertall luxury condo towers 432 Park Avenue and Central Park Tower at 217 W. 57th St. In November, the Australian company elevated company veteran Steven Sommer to lead its operations in New York.

17. Melanie La Rocca & Dan Symon

Commissioner, New York City Department of Buildings, Director, New York City Mayor’s Office of Contract Services

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Undercutting the stereotype that New York City government is completely bogged down by red tape, Buildings Commissioner Melanie La Rocca and Mayor’s Office of Contract Services Director Dan Symon have prioritized streamlining the bureaucracy that historically had hampered the private sector. In recent years, Symon has been developing the city’s Procurement and Sourcing Solutions Portal, or PASSPort, to centralize contracting online. La Rocca’s Buildings Department has also spent years moving its processes online, which has proved invaluable during the coronavirus pandemic.
 

18. Michael Neary & Eric McGovern

President, Structure Tone; President and CEO, Pavarini McGovern, STO Building Group

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STO Building Group is made up of a number of construction firms, including two major industry players in New York, Structure Tone and Pavarini McGovern. Michael Neary, a top executive with Structure Tone for more than three and a half decades, oversees its work in interiors and renovations in New York and in Europe. For over two decades, Eric McGovern has led Pavarini McGovern, which is a partner on a variety of commercial, residential and academic buildings in New York City. 

19. Maurice Regan

CEO, J.T. Magen & Company

J.T. Magen & Company is known for its interior construction for white-shoe law firms, financial companies and luxury brands in New York – as well as the headquarters for the National Football League and HBO and a renovation of the Metropolitan Club. Maurice Regan founded the New York-based firm in 1992, building it into a powerhouse in New York and nationwide. A key colleague is Robert Scheinman, a principal at the firm who’s also a major player in New York. 

20. Rich Cavallaro

Executive Vice President, Gilbane Building Company

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Last year, Rich Cavallaro left one top construction firm for another. After spending more than a decade as president of Skanska USA Civil, Cavallaro took a plum role at Gilbane Building Company, which is behind Brooklyn’s 1 Willoughby Square, the state Capitol’s roof renovation (completed in 2012), and a variety of health care, academic and cultural edifices. Cavallaro oversees the Rhode Island-based Gilbane’s New York projects, with the assistance of Grant Gagnier, Gilbane’s vice president for New York City. 

21. Charlie Avolio

President and General Manager, New York, Suffolk Construction

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Suffolk Construction is one of the top industry players in Boston, where it’s headquartered, but it has also been steadily expanding its presence in New York, where Charlie Avolio has been leading the charge. Avolio, who previously worked at Turner, joined Suffolk Construction in 2016 as the company opened a new office in New York City and launched its bid to gain a share of the local market. He works closely with Will Whitesell, New York’s chief operating officer. 

22. James C. McKenna

President and CEO, Hunter Roberts Construction Group

A civil engineer by training, James C. McKenna founded Hunter Roberts Construction Group in 2005 and built it into what is now a top 10 construction firm in the New York area. The company, which also has offices in Philadelphia and New Jersey, is the construction manager on Barry Diller’s conversion of Pier 55 into “Little Island” park jutting out into the Hudson River. The company has also been a partner on an array of health care, higher education and residential projects.

23. Ashok Patel

CEO, OHL North America, President, Judlau Contracting

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Ashok Patel is a top executive at OHL, a global construction outfit based in Spain that launched its U.S. subsidiary with an office in Manhattan in 2010 while also acquiring a stake in Judlau Contracting later that year. A veteran of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Patel took a leadership role at OHL in 2015 while continuing to run Judlau Contracting. One of Judlau’s biggest projects in recent years has been its work on the Second Avenue Subway. 

24. Peter Serpico

Principal and CEO, Omnibuild

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Since its founding in 2007, Omnibuild has quickly become a top contractor in New York’s competitive construction industry. A turning point came in 2015 with the acquisition of Cava Construction, which brought that company’s leader, Peter Serpico, into the fold as CEO. In 2017, Inc. magazine identified Omnibuild as one of the country’s fastest-growing private companies. It has a specialty in building hotels, while also constructing other high-rise commercial and residential buildings. 

25. Robert Bonanza

Business Manager, Mason Tenders’ District Council of Greater New York

As the leader of the influential Mason Tenders’ District Council of Greater New York, Laborers' International Union of North America, Robert Bonanza represents thousands of unionized laborers in New York’s construction industry. Bonanza’s labor group also partners with the New York State Laborers' PAC on LiUNA-NY, which played an active role in the 2020 elections and has already endorsed several candidates for the New York City Council this year. 

26. Stephanie Burns

President, Women Builders Council

Stephanie Burns is the president of the Women Builders Council, an association devoted to promoting women in the construction industry and positioning them for leadership roles. An expert on contracting for minority- and women-owned businesses, Burns also oversees workforce development and engagement at Turner Construction and helps carry out its longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion – which was exemplified when it became one of the first construction firms to speak out against systemic racism following the police killing of George Floyd. 

27. Joseph Chiarelli

President of New York City Metro Operations, Consigli

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The roots of Consigli Construction Co. Inc. go back to the early 1900s on the outskirts of Boston, but today it’s a top construction firm in the New York market. While the current generation of the Consigli family still runs the firm where it got started in Milford, Massachusetts, they rely on Joseph Chiarelli to handle their work in New York City. Chiarelli came on board in 2019 when Consigli acquired the construction management company T.G. Nickel & Associates, where he had been a top executive.

28. Chris Larsen & Paul Atkins

CEO; Principal, Halmar International

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Halmar International has long been a go-to contractor on bridge and highway projects across New York, although it also specializes in transit, subways, airports and other civil construction projects. Longtime leader Chris Larsen has embraced public-private partnerships, joining design-build bids in New York in recent years. The Rockland-based firm is also led by principal Paul Atkins, a veteran of the construction industry with experience in highway operations and construction project management.

29. José Luis Méndez Sánchez

President, Dragados USA

José Luis Méndez Sánchez heads up the U.S. operations of Dragados, an international construction consortium that is part of the Spanish conglomerate ACS. Dragados USA, which is headquartered in New York City, has expanded its footprint in part through acquisitions, purchasing the heavy infrastructure firms Schiavone Construction in 2007 and John P. Picone in 2009. Dragados is part of the design-build team on the Long Island Rail Road’s third track project. 

30. Brad Meltzer & Christopher Mills

Chair and CEO; President, Plaza Construction

Earlier this month, Brad Meltzer succeeded longtime leader Richard Wood as the new chair and CEO of Plaza Construction, a top-10 construction company in the New York area. A company veteran, Meltzer years ago spearheaded the Chinese-owned company’s first major foray outside of New York by opening a new office in Miami – and his ascension marks a turning point, as he’ll stay in Florida while newly elevated President Christopher Mills will continue to work out of the New York headquarters. 

31. Marc Herbst

Executive Director, Long Island Contractors’ Association

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As a former state Assembly member, Marc Herbst knows how things get done in Albany – and for the past decade and a half, he has been advocating for more than 165 heavy construction contractors in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Herbst, who is also a Lutheran pastor in Manhasset and was recently named president of the New York Roadway and Infrastructure Coalition, notched a victory last year when the governor vetoed anti-sand mining legislation.

32. Joseph K. Posillico

President and CEO, Posillico

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Since joining his family’s 75-year-old engineering contracting firm as project manager in 1987, Joseph K. Posillico worked his way up until he became CEO of Posillico in 2006. The Farmingdale-based firm recently completed an emergency ventilation project for the MTA. Posillico, who previously led construction projects for Exxon in New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, serves on the boards of the Long Island Contractors Association and the Associated General Contractors of New York State.

33. Joseph Geiger

Executive Secretary-Treasurer, New York City and Vicinity District Council of Carpenters

The New York City and Vicinity District Council of Carpenters' leader, Joseph Geiger, represents more than 20,000 skilled workers, including carpenters, millwrights and floor coverers. A Brooklyn native who now lives in New Jersey, Geiger is a longtime official with the influential labor organization, working his way up and getting hired as the business representative in 2005 and elected executive secretary-treasurer in 2013. 

34. Cheryl McKissack Daniel

President and CEO, McKissack

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Cheryl McKissack Daniel runs her family’s venerable construction firm – the country’s oldest minority- and women-owned business of its kind – but she has also made a name for herself alongside that family legacy. The seasoned civil engineer has had a hand in major projects including overhauls at JFK and LaGuardia, Atlantic Yards and the Studio Museum in Harlem. Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently named her to his New York Forward Advisory Board to help reopen the state’s economy post-pandemic.

35. Greg Hill

Senior Vice President, Kiewit Corporation

The Kiewit Corporation, which is headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska, has long been a top contractor in the New York area. Greg Hill oversees the Fortune 500 company’s New Jersey-based construction team, which offers an array of infrastructure contracting services, including bridges, rail and roads. In New York, Kiewit has handled the rehabilitation of the Queensboro Bridge, the replacement of the Willis Avenue Bridge and structural retrofits for the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. 

36. Peter K. Tully

President, Tully Construction

Peter K. Tully runs his family’s well-known construction company, which dates back to the 1920s and is now one of the largest private construction firms in the country. The Flushing-based Tully Group has expanded with a number of affiliates, including Willets Point Asphalt Corp. in Queens and Evergreen Recycling of Corona for recycling materials from large-scale construction projects. Tully has served on the boards of the New York Building Congress and Building Trades Employers Association.

37. William H. Goodrich

CEO and Managing Partner, LeChase

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In recent years, the Rochester-based construction firm was tapped to build a big chunk of the Legoland theme park in Goshen, as well as a few other large construction projects in the Albany area. But after 81 of its projects were put on hold due to COVID-19, William Goodrich told Rochester Business Journal that LeChase has applied lessons learned during past recessions in an effort to come out stronger on the other side of the crisis.

38. Nelson Ferreira

President and CEO, Ferreira Construction

A quarter century ago Nelson Ferreira launched Ferreira Construction, and he has transformed his civil, utility and marine construction company into a major contractor. The company is based in New Jersey, where it’s particularly active, but it has also done utility construction for Con Edison in New York and significant transportation work for the Port Authority, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Thruway Authority and the New York City Department of Transportation.

39. Jeff DiStefano

Chair and CEO, Harrison & Burrowes Bridge Constructors

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When Jeff DiStefano and his brother, Wally, started Harrison & Burrowes Bridge Constructors in 1980 – buying a crane and a flat rack with their own money – they ran the business from Wally’s basement. The company, which now designs, builds and repairs bridges throughout New York and the Northeast region, has grown to 150 employees and an annual revenue of about $50 million. Jeff DiStefano is also treasurer of the Associated General Contractors of America, a national industry association. 

40. Joseph D’Amato

Business Manager, Laborers’ Local 731

Local 731Building, Concrete, Excavating & Common Laborers Union – more commonly referred to as Laborers’ Local 731 – has long been a force for construction workers in New York. The veteran labor leader Joseph D'Amato’s Queens-based union represents some 5,000 members, negotiating terms on worksites and advocating for worker safety. An immigrant from Italy, D’Amato started out as a construction worker helping to build JFK Airport in the 1950s.

41. Matthew Walsh

Co-Chair, The Walsh Group

The Chicago-based Walsh Group has several subsidiaries, including Walsh Construction, which is a partner on the high-profile Terminal B project at LaGuardia Airport and earlier this year announced the completion of a new patient pavilion at Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie in partnership with Consigli. Matthew Walsh has driven the family-owned company’s expansion into heavy civil construction, helping position it as one of the country’s top builders of water treatment plants, bridges, highways, transit and airports.

42. Fred Hiffa

Managing Director, Park Strategies

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As a former top official in the state Legislature and at the state Department of Transportation, where he oversaw capital budgets exceeding a billion dollars, Fred Hiffa is an invaluable resource to construction companies seeking to navigate the state’s contracting process and compete for major projects. An expert on highways, aviation, rail, transit, and energy and environmental infrastructure, Hiffa is also a consultant for Rebuild NY Now, a coalition pushing for greater infrastructure investment. 

43. Bill McCarthy

Partner, Bolton-St. Johns

Bill McCarthy has helped position Bolton-St. Johns as a perennial top lobbying firm in state government. The former state legislative staffer has been with Bolton for nearly two decades, providing strategic advice, counsel and various services to a wide range of clients. In recent years, McCarthy has worked for such clients as the American Council of Engineering Companies of New York, the New York State Pipe Trades Association, the Durst Organization and the Williams Companies. 

44. Ehab Shehata

President and CEO, Bravo Group

Ehab Shehata’s Bravo Group is a partnership of three firms – Velocity Architecture & Engineering Group, Chu & Gassman Consulting Engineers, and Bradford Construction – that is capitalizing on ambitious city and state government goals to boost contracting to firms owned by women or people of color. Founded in 2016 by former AECOM executive Shehata, the group brought on former Port Authority and fellow AECOM expat Chris Ward in 2019 to bolster its business development efforts. 

45. Jacques DeGraff

Chair, MBE Leadership Summit

Over the course of his career, the Rev. Jacques DeGraff has been a champion for economic and social justice for people of color. Currently the chair of the MBE Leadership Summit, he has been outspoken in support of legislation and other efforts to award more government contracts to businesses owned by women or minorities. DeGraff previously chaired the diversity council at the School Construction Authority, which has been a pioneer in MWBE contracting. 

46. Kyle Larkin

President, Granite

Kyle Larkin was named president of Granite Construction in September after serving in a number of roles with the company since 1996. Headquartered in California, the company specializes in all kinds of transportation infrastructure, water treatment and transmission, mining and electrical and utility projects. In New York in recent years, it did significant work on the new Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge and the recently rebuilt Kosciuszko Bridge.

47. Michael S. Zetlin

Senior Partner, Zetlin & De Chiara

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Michael Zetlin wears many hats: attorney, civil engineer, lecturer – he is an adjunct professor at Columbia University – and co-editor of the authoritative manual New York Construction Law. The prolific litigator, who co-founded Zetlin & De Chiara in 1992, handles construction claims across a number of sectors and is general counsel to the New York Building Congress and the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. 

48. Kenneth Thomas & Jason Cintron

Co-Managing Directors, Minority & Women Contractors & Developers Association

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Ken Thomas
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Ken Thomas
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Ken Thomas
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Ken Thomas
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Ken Thomas
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Michael Yurick

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Jason Cintron
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Jason Cintron
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Jason Cintron
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Jason Cintron

Kenneth Thomas and Jason Cintron, both Bronx natives, co-founded the Minority & Women Contractors & Developers Association in 2019 to advocate for and empower construction businesses owned by women and people of color by offering networking and professional development opportunities. Cintron brings his extensive experience as a staffer in the New York City Council to the role. Thomas has a dedicated following on LinkedIn and shares his skillset with students as a faculty member in construction administration at Columbia’s School of Professional Studies.

49. Sanjeev Dhawan

President and CEO, Unicorn Construction

Since founding Unicorn Construction in 1997, Sanjeev Dhawan has overseen more than 100 public works projects in New York City – including construction work on bridges, railways, tunnels and other infrastructure for clients such as the city’s School Construction Authority, the Department of Transportation, Con Edison and the Port Authority. Dhawan has overseen three major bridge reconstructions in the city, totaling more than $600 million.

50. Richard S. Weeks 

President and CEO, Weeks Marine

Marine construction may be less flashy than building high-rise luxury condo towers, but it’s essential work – and Weeks Marine is one of the leaders in the industry. The New Jersey-based company, which specializes in construction, dredging and other marine services, has done major work in New York, including harbor maintenance, reinforcing waterfront piers and buildings, and dredging for the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge. Richard S. Weeks leads the family-run company, which celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2019. 

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to a former official in the New York City and Vicinity District Council of Carpenters as its leader.

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