In celebration of an exceptionally distinguished career, dedication to community engagement and outreach, and long-time support of the students, programs, and faculty in the Colorado State University Department of Construction Management, Gordon Marks (’66) has been named the 2022 College of Health and Human Sciences Outstanding Alumnus.
Building a foundation
Marks grew up in Lakewood, Colorado “I was always interested in tinkering and building things,” he said, and thought he might pursue a degree in civil engineering. When he came to CSU, he learned about construction management, and was intrigued by the focus. He gained practical experience with building, electrical, plumbing, and other hands-on learning that fueled his desire to earn his bachelor’s degree in industrial-construction management.
During his college years, he lived in a fraternity house and apartments with roommates. Although CSU didn’t have a ski team at the time, Marks and friends spent time on the slopes during the early days of Vail resort. “We would park right underneath the gondola and be some of the first people on the mountain,” he recalled.
Marks met his wife Joan while working in the kitchen and dining room of her sorority house. “We called it hashing,” he said. Though they didn’t date then, they later reunited in Denver after she graduated from the University of Colorado and they created the foundation for a loving partnership.
From the Rockies to the waves
After graduating, Marks’ early career took him back to the mountains to lead the Colorado State Highway Department survey crew that laid out the roadway for the Eisenhower Tunnel on Interstate 70. From there, he was recruited by Swinerton Builders to work building Rocky Flats and then jokingly notes that he was “unfortunately sent to Hawaii” where Swinton was building the iconic Sheraton Waikiki Hotel on Oahu. The crew worked six grueling days a week for three years, with a “distracting view of the beach.” They kept surfboards under the construction trailer to make the most of any down time. “Sundays were pretty precious,” Marks remembered.
Marks put his education to use over decades of leadership at Swinerton Builders. He held various positions with Swinerton over the years, including roles in scheduling, estimating, field engineering, and project management. He credits his CSU education as being “instrumental in preparing me for all of these tasks.” In 1985, Marks became vice president and division manager for the San Francisco division of Swinerton. He was named president and chief operating officer in 1995, leading the company until his retirement as CEO and board chairman in 2008.
‘Your work will carry you forward’
“I was always surprised about how I continually got promoted and ended up as CEO. I never really had intentions of going that way, I just kept doing my job,” said Marks.
Reflecting on takeaways for future generations in the construction industry, he said, “If you work hard, and stay focused, you don’t have to promote yourself. Your work will carry you forward.” He notes with pride that several CSU construction management graduates have risen through the ranks at Swinerton, leading with the same work ethic and problem-solving approach he also gained from his education and displayed throughout his career.
Marks’ leadership impacted the construction industry beyond his roles at Swinerton. Through Swinerton, he became involved in the Associated General Contractors of America and went on to serve the San Francisco AGC chapter board of directors as president. A dedicated volunteer and community leader, Marks was also a member of The Beavers, a heavy engineering construction association, as well as Construction Employers’ Association of Northern California.
“These organizations serve critical roles in industry workforce development, university engagement, and industry collaboration that help improve overall industry performance,” explained nominator Paul Goodrum, professor and department head of CSU’s Department of Construction Management. Marks stepped up with philanthropic support for CSU when The Beavers galvanized fundraising to ensure sustained quality for CSU’s heavy construction faculty.
Giving back to support the future
Marks’ dedication to community extended beyond the construction industry: he served on the board of the Boys and Girls Clubs of San Francisco for more than 15 years and he has supported the Alzheimer’s Association. In addition to organizational leadership, Marks constructed philanthropic partnerships. He helped establish Swinerton’s charitable foundation and championed support for CSU’s CM Cares service-learning program.
Marks and his wife, Joan, personally invested in CM Cares and other student-success initiatives for many years as well. Together, they created the Gordon and Joan Marks Scholarship to support students preparing for careers in the construction industry. The couple chose criteria that match their values when creating the endowment: they wish to provide sustained support to students who persevere through adversity.
The scholarship is intended to provide multi-year support to support recipients throughout their time in the program through graduation. With a preference for students who have overcome a personal or family challenge, and/or who show grit and determination in pursuit of a college degree, the scholarship supports full-time students in their sophomore, junior, and senior years at CSU.
“I attributed my business success to the education I received at CSU, and I wanted to offer assistance to someone in need, so that they may have that same opportunity,” said Marks. With a goal of setting up graduates for success, Marks hopes to inspire recipients to not only achieve rewarding careers, but also to inspire their own future generosity. Learn more about the scholarship, first recipient, and Marks’ practical advice for CM students.
In retirement, the couple makes time to connect with their two grown children, Heidi and Jon, their partners, and Heidi’s children. They have enjoyed travel around the world, with highlights including Vietnam, Peru, the Galapagos Islands and several European trips. Expeditions to Morocco and Egypt were halted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but they are eager to return soon to Hawaii – where they have vacationed many times since their years on the beach. And, Marks keeps tinkering. “There’s always plenty to do around the yard, the garden, and the house,” he said.
The Department of Construction Management is a part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.
Dottie Cartrite contributed to this story.
View photos of the College of Health and Human Sciences All-College Awards. Learn about previous CHHS Alumni Award recipients.