John F. Hennessy III:

A Tribute

Earlier this year, Syska was saddened to learn about the death of John F. Hennessy III, our former chairman and CEO. He died at the age of 65 on February 21 after a long illness.

David Hennessy, John Hennessy and Peter Hennessy at Syska's 50th anniversary

John was instrumental in shaping Syska into the firm it is today. The grandson of our co-founder, John Hennessy, and the son of former chairman and CEO, John F. Hennessy Jr., he upheld the family tradition by becoming a leader in the engineering industry.

John joined Syska in 1978 after earning a B.A. in physics from Kenyon College and a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Rensselear Polytechnic Institute. In 1988, he received an M.S. in management from MIT Sloan School of Management.

As a mechanical engineer, John worked in our Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City offices. His portfolio included some of the firm’s most prestigious projects, such as the Javits Convention Center in New York, Procter & Gamble’s headquarters in Cincinnati, New York University Medical Center, Mount Sinai Hospital and School of Medicine, the New Jersey State Aquarium, and the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Before taking over the chairmanship when his father died, John served as senior vice president of business development and human resources. He felt strongly about helping employees develop effective communications and interpersonal skills. In a 1990 interview with ENR, he remarked: “The biggest problem in 1990 is ‘people.’ It’s not enough to be technically proficient anymore.”

As chairman and CEO, John strove to raise awareness of what engineers do and why their contributions are so important. He told the Boston Business Journal in 1989 that “there’s not, on the part of the public and on the part of the business community, an understanding of what engineers do. Very rarely does an engineer get a great deal of press.” He added that “many businesses are struggling with cost issues today. Everybody’s trying to get leaner and meaner, and engineers and architects can help them with that if they’re more aware of what the engineers can do.”

John’s own achievements, however, garnered significant publicity. He was appointed chairman (on a pro-bono basis) of the Times Square Subway Improvement Corporation, which oversaw and administered the reconstruction of the Times Square Subway Complex. He served as the first chair of ACEC New York. Hannah O’Grady, senior vice president of ACEC New York, recently told ENR that “John was amazing. And he comes from a family with a tremendous history within design and construction in New York and beyond.”

San Francisco sluggers: Don Anderson, Stu Jackson, Mitra Jackson (mascot), Gary Welch (bottom row, left to right); and Dave Harcourt, Jennifer Chiodo, Joe Desiderio, Ruben Torres, Cory Draper, Sam Summerfield and John Hennessy III (top row, left to right).

John also served as a chair of the New York Building Congress. And he was active in many other industry associations, including the National Society of Professional Engineers, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the New York Society of Professional Engineers, ASHRAE, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, and the Building Futures Council. Co-president Cyrus Izzo told ENR recently that John “used his stature in the industry to help move industry organizations forward.”

Cyrus and other Syska executives have fond memories of John. In the interview with ENR, Cyrus said that John “installed a strong work ethic but did not take himself too seriously. He was very professional, but he knew how to have fun.” Cyrus also recalls John’s generosity: “He was an avid Mets fan with season tickets next to the dugout, and he used to offer them to us so that we could take our families to a few games each year.”

G. Venkata Ramu, former principal and chief engineer who worked at Syska for 50 years, remembers John as “a very good engineer and public speaker.” Ramu also appreciated John’s love of clarity, noting John’s belief that one should define a topic so completely that there would be little room for interpretation.

At the time of his death, John was the managing partner of Hennessy Energy. He was also a director at Con Edison and chairman of the advisory board of the Salvation Army.

The staff of Syska extends its deepest condolences to John’s family, friends, and colleagues.

“...there’s not, on the part of the public and on the part of the business community, an understanding of what engineers do. Very rarely does an engineer get a great deal of press.”

John Hennessy III, Boston Business Journal, 1989