Remembering Harold Sandberg, Benesch’s First Employee

In the fall of 1947, a man named Harold Sandberg walked into Mr. Benesch’s office and asked for a job, explaining that he would work on any project and help out in any way he could. Mr. Benesch took Harold up on his offer, officially hiring him as the first employee at Alfred Benesch & Associates, Consulting Engineers.

Harold would go on to have a storied career at Benesch, dedicating the rest of his professional life to the firm. His strong work ethic, kindness and commitment to excellence shaped the firm’s culture, and he influenced several generations of engineers – many of whom are still at Benesch today.

“I actually met Harold before I graduated,” Diane Campione, Benesch project manager, recalls. “He came to speak with a student group I was a part of, and we got to chatting about how he came to work at Benesch—about the types of projects he was working on.”

Diane remembered their conversation when the time came for her to look for a job, and just like Harold, she found herself at Benesch. “I could tell that his heart was in Benesch, and once I started working there and he took me under his wing, I could see firsthand that Harold did whatever he could to make Benesch a better place for everyone.”

“Harold didn’t see me as a woman engineer, he saw me as an engineer. He really challenged me – and all of us – to bring our best work to every project,” Diane Campione remembers.

That dedication and kindness would guide Harold’s leadership style—including during the many years leading up to, during and after his term as the company’s president. “If you did something wrong when Harold was in charge, he would sit down and talk with you – he wouldn’t rant and rave,” former Benesch president Michael Goodkind remembers. “He wanted to help you understand what it was that you did wrong, so that you could come to a better conclusion the next time.”

Mentoring the young engineers who came to work at Benesch was Harold’s passion. He often organized group lunches to discuss unique solutions to complex structural challenges or interesting problems that were solved in the field. “Mr. Sandberg opened my eyes to a different way of thinking about structural problems that has stayed with me for almost 20 years,” Bill Zippel, Benesch project manager, says.

Harold often hosted lunch hours with the company’s young engineers to discuss complex engineering problems.

Harold continued learning throughout his career. He was involved in the design of high-rise buildings, long-span highway bridges, railroad bridges – almost everything the company worked on, he became a technical expert on the subject. However, he also knew the value of cultivating those softer, non-technical skills that made good engineers into great leaders.

“He would hold writing classes and give us homework assignments on writing in the present, not mixing tenses, how to be succinct – Harold wanted us to be well-rounded in our skillsets, because it made us better engineers,” former Benesch president and CEO John Carrato remembers.

Participating in professional organizations was part of that – Harold himself was heavily involved in industry organizations and he encouraged his engineers to take leadership roles in them. To this day, Benesch encourages membership and chairing committees in these organizations, and because of Harold’s strong belief, that commitment to furthering the profession has become an integral part of Benesch.

“Harold was an excellent role model, he always supported my involvement with professional organizations and pushed all of us to participate,” Michael recalls.

Many of Harold’s projects would receive national recognition for their engineering accomplishments, such as I-39 over the Kishwaukee River – Illinois’ first segmental concrete box girder bridge.

His enthusiasm for continuous professional development was felt by many engineers at Benesch. Diane remembers working on the I-70 over the Mississippi River project with Harold, and being assigned an additional task solely to further her development as an engineer.

“While my focus was the Lifecycle Cost Analysis, Harold also had me do some scour analysis on the project, which he then asked me to write a paper on,” Diane recalls. “I eventually presented it at the University of Illinois and it was published – I think he wanted me to do it, not because it was a particularly interesting scour analysis, but because he knew it would make me a better engineer.”

Before he became an engineer, Harold worked in construction on the Rock Island Centennial Bridge over the Mississippi River in 1938 and was inspired by the complex structure. The bridge’s iconic five arches captivated him, sparking a dream that he would one day design an ideal arch bridge over the Mississippi.

45 years later, Harold accomplished that dream when he designed the Jefferson Barracks Memorial Arch Bridge, which spans across the Mississippi just south of St. Louis. It achieved national recognition, won several awards, and was heralded as a triumph of design.

His career was laced with challenging projects—some were even deemed “unbuildable”—but Harold’s determination to find innovative solutions to even the most complex problem made the impossible, possible. “Harold was considered a brilliant engineer by every client he worked for,” Muthiah Kasi remembers.

In 1997, Alfred Benesch & Company honored Harold during a dinner reception in recognition of 50 years of service to the firm.

Sixty years after he was hired, having served as president for 11 years and chairman of the board for 21, Harold ended his career where he started it and retired from Alfred Benesch & Company—but even then, he continued to appear in the office to check in on the projects that were being worked on and the engineers he had mentored.

As the company started to grow under his successors, he made an effort to visit offices beyond Chicago to meet those engineers and form relationships with a new generation of Benesch employees.

Today, the company’s core values are derived from those tenets that Harold lived by – in essence, he fundamentally defined what it meant to be a Benesch employee. “What’s always been true about Benesch, is that it’s a group of really good people, doing interesting work,” Michael said. “I think Harold embodied that.”

In March of 2020, Harold passed away at the age of 100. All of us at Alfred Benesch & Company are deeply indebted to his legacy and dedication to the pursuit of engineering excellence.