Bechtel’s Larry L. Melton, Jr leads large-scale projects
This civil engineer keeps his finger on the pulse of stakeholders and field workers as he leads a massive extension of rail service across the DC area
Melton, you have to make a decision right now,” barked his platoon sergeant. “Are you going to the NFL or are you going to be an engineer?”
At the time, Larry L. Melton, Jr aspired to be a walk-on football quarterback at the Citadel (Charleston, SC). He made his choice, and today he’s a project executive director for the Dulles Corridor Metrorail project, designed and built for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority by Bechtel (San Francisco, CA).
The extension, one of the largest construction projects in the United States, will bring rail service to fast-growing areas of northern Virginia and provide a one-seat ride from Dulles International Airport to downtown Washington, DC.
Wrapping up phase one
With ten direct reports, Melton works out of Bechtel’s office in Vienna, VA. Bechtel operates through five global business units that specialize in civil infrastructure; power generation, communications and transmission; mining and metals; oil, gas, and chemicals; and government services.
“We’re responsible for all the engineering, construction and commissioning of this project,” Melton explains. “The first phase will be complete in the fall of 2013. We are on the list of bidders for phase two, which should be awarded mid-year in 2013 and is scheduled for completion in 2018.”
He has been on the Dulles Metrorail project since it began in 2004. “We started out doing preliminary engineering, setting the base for the design. Then we put together a package to be the design-build contractor for the project and kicked off engineering and early construction in 2007.”
Building a career
A benefit of being involved in a project of this magnitude, Melton believes, is role evolution. “I was the deputy project manager for the preliminary project engineering. Once we went into design-build, my responsibility expanded to include construction. Now I am the project’s executive director and have been promoted to a principal vice president in the company.
“At Bechtel, as you develop your skills, you are constantly challenged and given more responsibility,” he continues. “I’ve had three different assignments in eight years, all at increased levels of responsibility. This is very satisfying to someone who wants to grow professionally.”
Tending to communities and teams
“As a project director, you are the senior Bechtel person on the job,” says Melton. “You get involved in stakeholder management working with the customer, Metro, and the affected communities. You are the face of the project and you coordinate with stakeholders to make sure it’s successful.”
But he focuses inward as well. “I spend as much time in the field as I can,” Melton says. “We call it doughnut diplomacy,” he adds with a smile. “We have small group sessions with our workers where we talk about safety, quality, and how we can help them do their jobs more efficiently. My philosophy is to let people do their jobs but to be as accessible as possible. Their success means that we win as a team.”
A military family
Melton was born outside Tacoma, WA and comes from a military family. His father spent thirty years in the Army before the family settled in South Carolina.
“Sports played a big part in my early development,” Melton says. “My interests were sports and academics. I was always good in math and knew that I wanted to major in engineering.”
“The best decision I ever made”
“When I got to the Citadel, I had a decision to make. My platoon sergeant, a junior, sat me down and in his meanest voice said I had to make that decision. He said if I wasn’t going to the NFL, he would advise me to be a civil engineer.
“So I said, ‘Sir, I’m going to be a civil engineer,’ and that was probably the best decision I ever made. It was tough love but it allowed me to focus and graduate in 1984 with a BS in civil engineering.”
Melton deferred his U.S. Marine Corps commission for eighteen months to work for a transportation engineering company in Columbia, SC called Post, Buckley, Schuh & Jernigan, Inc. “Since the Citadel didn’t have an internship program, I value the time I spent there before I went into the Marines. I think it allowed me to be a step ahead.”
Serving his country in the Marines
Melton served with distinction in the U.S. Marine Corps, and received commendations for valor. He was aide de camp to the commanding general of the 1st Marine Division during Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Before that he served as a combat engineering officer, 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, planning and coordinating large-scale operations.
“When I joined the Marines in 1986, I didn’t know if I would stay for four years or twenty years,” he remembers. “After Desert Storm, I stayed for three more years. Then I decided that it was time for something different.
“I met some Bechtel people in Saudi Arabia and I was impressed with them. A friend from the Marines was working for Bechtel, and he told me they had a similar value system, emphasizing integrity, hard work, and camaraderie. I interviewed in San Francisco and was hired in 1996.”
Growing at Bechtel
Melton’s group in San Francisco supported the civil business for Bechtel’s operations around the world. It gave him a chance to see the bigger company right away. “But you can only do that so long,” Melton says, “before you hunger to get out into the field. Being in the field is probably the most fun you’ll have,” he confides, “interacting with the workers and seeing how things get built at ground level.”
Prior to joining the Dulles Metrorail project, Melton worked on the Boston Central Artery/Tunnel project and the John F. Kennedy Airport redevelopment program in New York.
He is a member of the Project Management Institute (PMI, Newtown Square, PA) and continues to be involved with his college fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, Inc. “When I’m not working, I’m usually doing something with my family, church or fraternity,” he says.
Melton’s immediate priority is to finish the Dulles Metrorail project. “My focus is to deliver and see that we win phase two,” he says emphatically. After that, he aspires to run one of Bechtel’s business lines.
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