The Association for the Capital Projects Engineering & Construction Community.

#FLASHBACKFRIDAY – Future Leaders Look Back on the 1980s

August 10, 2018

by Brandon Mabile and Eric Moore (Communications Team)

Flashback Friday - 1980s

Join the ECC Future Leaders as we continue to look back on five decades of ECC, one week at a time.  Each post will feature a brief interview with industry leaders who were active during those decades.  Last week, we looked back at the 1970’s, and this week, we are excited to discuss the decade that brought us big hair, big phones, pastel suits, shoulder pads, and Pac Man.  Many of the Future Leaders recall fond childhood memories full of Cabbage Patch Kids, Rubik’s cubes, Punky Bruster, Air Jordans, and the Super Mario Brothers.

In the business world of the 1980s, technology began to rapidly evolve, but we were still about two decades away from the feverish pace of technological advances we now know today.  The cell phone and laptop computer came to market, forever changing the way business was done in every sector.  The oil glut of 1986 had a tremendous impact on our industry and the world economy as a whole.  However; the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of the cold war brought new optimism and more global stability.  In the World of ECC, conference topics weren’t all that different from what we see today.  Conference sessions focused on cooperation and team integration, quality management, and productivity.  The 1980’s also saw the beginnings of a revolution in construction safety as both of our interviewees will point out.  In this edition of Flashback Friday, we will hear the perspectives of two long-term friends who currently sit on the ECC Board together.

Kenny Manning and Ash Ayoub are two ECC members who were early in their careers during this decade.  Kenny and Ash met back in the 1970’s.  They grew up in College Station, Texas, attended the same high school and university, and shared a common group of friends and continue to do so today.

Ash Ayoub - The Dow Chemical Company
Ash Ayoub, The Dow Chemical Company

The Ayoub’s and the Manning’s have strong family ties to Texas A&M University (TAMU), with parents each in academia or administration at their alma mater. In leadership positions at Dow Chemical and Zachry Group respectively, Ash and Kenny each have siblings and children that attended TAMU who are also in the engineering, refining, and chemical or industrial construction industry.

Kenny Manning, Zachry Group
Kenny Manning, Zachry Group

On any given Saturday in the fall, you’ll find these two industry leaders and friends in the warm confines of a tailgate party outside of Kyle Field, eagerly awaiting kickoff of an exciting Aggie football game.

We asked Kenny and Ash a few questions about the industry and their experiences in the 1980s. 

FUTURE LEADERS: Can you share a few memories from the industry in the 1970s including your work life, your assignments, company culture, etc.? 

Kenny Manning (KM): I began my career in the early 80’s, beginning in Commercial Real Estate Development and then ultimately joining Zachry Group (H.B. Zachry Company), where I’ve been working in the large industrial construction and services business.  In contrast to today, the 80’s were:

  • Formal Business: Our offices, meetings, travel, and industry functions typically called for Coat & ties.  Today, we are much more relaxed.
  • Hierarchical: Most decisions were made by the “Boss”.  Teamwork, transparency, collaborative decision making did not exist.
  • Politically incorrect: We had ashtrays in our offices, we had “3-Martini” lunches, and it was almost all men.  Can you even imagine someone lighting up in a meeting these days?  It happened!
  • Schedule & Price Driven Projects: It was all about the money... safety was not engrained in our culture.  Thankfully that has changed.

Ash Ayoub (AA): When I graduated from Texas A&M as an electrical engineer in 1980, I had 9 interviews and 9 offers.  In 1983, the college grads were going for the record to see who could get the most rejections.  Hiring trends changed quickly in the 1980s.  I chose to accept an offer from Dow as they were creating their own distributive control system and I wanted to be part of the “computer age.”  The project load at the time was small and intermediate projects with quick turnaround timing.  So, I started as an instrument engineer designing a facility in Freeport, Texas.  I was then given the advice to go follow the project through construction and start up.  I would recommend every young engineer to push for that type of assignment.

The safety focus was just beginning and, as I look to today, I am proud to say that our industry has come a long way in keeping folks safe at work and at home.

FUTURE LEADERS: What is one of your earliest career moments where you felt that you were becoming a leader?

AA: Dow started building an integrated work process discipline in the mid-1980s.  I was just 6 years out of school and a Senior VP asked me to join this senior team and lead the Instrumentation and Analyzer work process development.  Looking back, this was a great opportunity for me to impact the engineering function for years to come.  Finishing this and working with some outstanding team members from around the globe gave me the opportunity to see the Dow Global impact.  The senior leaders that worked on this forgot more information than most of us will ever learn.  The leader that had the vision of putting this team together and the younger ones of us that had the privilege to work on this effort are now the leaders of the Dow Engineering and Maintenance functions.

KM: Like many, my first major challenge was with my immediate supervisor…the boss.  He was an old school “my way or the highway” leader, demanding of everyone’s time and talent, yet rarely showing appreciation for anyone’s input, opinion or effort.  So many times, I would do something that I thought added value to our company and my boss would take credit for everything – and blame for none.

Patience, perseverance, and confidence helped me overcome the dissatisfaction this challenge posed for me.  This experience has resulted in me being very energetic and genuine about passing on the “credit” to those most deserving – and accepting the blame and accountability for my team.

FUTURE LEADERS: Since your career began, what within our industry culture has changed for the better? What has changed for the worse?

AA: In our industry I am proud of the safety and environmental impact we are having, yet we always have room to improve.  I see we have lost our skill trade levels and the passion for hard work.  Quality of our work and gaining our competitive edge back is a key area for us to focus on during the next business cycle and then sustain it.  We have lost ranks in the US work force and need to attract folks back to building and producing in the USA.

KM: I’ll start with what’s changed for the better:

  • More diversity – people, opinions, and cultures.
  • Focus on safety – it’s not just lip-service anymore.
  • Technology – more rapid communication and decision making, advanced methodology for doing so many things safer, easier, anf more effectively.
  • Teamwork – the “us vs. them” mentality continues to deteriorate.

And for the worse: Technology – despite its benefits, technology often dampens opportunities to develop quality relationships forged by personal interaction and face to face communication.

FUTURE LEADERS: What advice would you give to the Future Leader community of today?

KM: Gain exposure across a broad range of functions in your company.  Seek new opportunities, even outside of your comfort zone.  If new opportunities are not available, that may be an indication of a company or supervisor who lacks vision.  Find a company you like and be committed.  Senior leaders recognize commitment, dedication, and effort even above performance and ability.

Make friends outside of your work environment.  You always need some friends around whom you can really be yourself.

AA: Create the vision of what you want to achieve at work and home, but remember it all comes with hard work and no short cuts.  It is all about Positive Attitude and remembering to leave every situation better than you found it.

The Future Leaders are thankful for the insight and advice from Kenny and Ash, two excellent examples of active leadership both at and away from work.  To help you reminisce in the 1980s a little longer, we’ve summarized some of the key information and events from the decade.


  • $/Barrel of Oil: Low- $23.74(1986); High- $122.88 (1980)
  • Minimum Wage: $3.35(1980); $3.35 (1989)
  • Average Cost of a new car: $7,200(1980); $15,350(1989)
  • US Population: 226,545,805 (1980 census)


  • 1979-81 The Iranian hostage crisis is resolved.
  • 1980 CNN was first broadcasted worldwide.
  • 1981 Sandra Day O’Conner is named as the first woman on the Supreme Court.
  • 1981 Video killed the radio star when MTV began broadcasting.
  • 1982 First artificial heart transplant was successfully performed, kicking off what would become a breakthrough decade for medical science firsts, including the first heart-liver transplant in 1984, the first dialysis machine in 1985, first heart-lung-liver transplant in 1986, and the first separation of occipital craniopagus (Siamese) twins successfully completed 1987.
  • 1983 The series finale of MASH became the most watched episode of a television series with 121.6 million viewers.
  • 1983 Sally K Ride is the first female astronaut.
  • 1983 Motorola introduces the first mobile phone in the U.S.
  • 1985 Scientists announce the discovery of hole in the ozone layer over the Antarctic.
  • 1985 The Nintendo Entertainment System is released to the public.
  • 1986 IBM develops first laptop computer for commercial distribution.
  • 1987 The global stock market crashes on Black Monday.
  • 1989 The Cold War comes to an end as the Berlin Wall falls.
  • 1989 The first tension well leg platform was installed by Conoco in the Gulf of Mexico with production from the platform beginning November 8.  The platform floats on the surface of the water and is connected to a foundation template on the sea floor by tubular steel tendons.  The platform was placed in 1,760 feet of water, about 170 miles southwest of New Orleans in the Jolliet Field.
  • 1989 Best-selling author Tom Clancy concludes a successful decade with the publication of Clear and Present Danger in 1989.  The book follows previous bestsellers The Hunt for Red October (1984), Red Storm Rising (1986), Patriot Games (1987), and The Cardinal of the Kremlin (1988).

Notable ECC Conference Themes and Focus Areas:

  • 1985 Innovation: The Challenge - Innovative E&C Requirements and Methodologies, Integrated and Cooperative Team Efforts to meet New Challenges, “Quality” Management
  • 1986 Critical Issues – Dilemma of Liability Insurance, Organizing Hazardous Waste, Get More for the Construction Dollar
  • 1987 Partners for Progress - Owner/Contractor: A Partnership, International Competition, Partners in Quality
  • 1988 Change – Evolution or Revolution - Partnering – Case Studies, Contractor Selection, Limitations on E&C Resources, Issues of the Future