Adam Jones: Ushered in Era of Faster-to-Erect Tall Buildings

Audacious Adam is a moniker that fits Adam Jones—often the only steel erector intrepid enough to bid on out-of-the-box structures, such as the ones that shape Seattle’s Spheres and the Seattle Central Library. Speedy Adam is also an appropriate nickname, especially since he made good on his prediction that his crew could top out Seattle’s 850-ft-tall Rainier Square Tower—with its novel modular plate-steel core—in only 10 months.


The project’s success has prompted five similar designs. “Rainier is a game-changer,” says Jones, CEO of The Erection Co. (TEC). “If we had [been able to use] two cranes, it would have gone up even faster” than two floors per week.

“Speed core” is the brainchild of ENR’s 2018 Award of Excellence winner, Ron Klemencic, chairman and CEO of structural engineer Magnusson Klemencic Associates. Surrounded by a conventional steel frame, it consists of a modular system of two cross-tied steel plates, field-filled with plain concrete. Supreme Steel fabricated the modules.


Jones was the only erector considered for MKA’s daring structure. Developer Wright Runstad & Co. gave the go-ahead for the project to contractor Lease Crutcher Lewis in large part based on Jones’ word, given during TEC’s design-assist phase, that he could deliver the frame twice as fast as a perimeter steel frame joined to a reinforced concrete core. This promise came despite the field welding required. Unlike most erectors, “we’re not scared of welding,” says Jones.


Jones is fearless about many things. In the 1980s, he cut his teeth on novel structures designed by the late John Skilling, when he led MKA’s predecessor firm. There were 10-ft-dia steel pipe columns, filled with concrete, in the core of Seattle’s Two Union Square. Later, TEC erected the daring retractable roof of the Seattle Mariners ballpark. The wildest structures, including the Spheres, the library and others, were all Skilling or MKA designs.


“I can’t think of an erector anywhere who has done that range of innovative projects—all one-of-a-kind structures,” says Jon D. Magnusson, MKA’s former chairman and CEO and a current senior principal. “Whenever something new is suggested, Adam isn’t at all fazed. In fact, he seems excited and embraces it.”


For complex jobs, Jones insists on early involvement. “Adam is a legend and a real master during the conceptual stage,” working with design engineers, contractors and fabricators to help with constructibility and schedule, says Bob McCleskey, chairman of the board and former CEO of Sellen Construction.


Jones, 74, likely inherited his ironworker DNA from his father. To date, there have been 10 ironworkers in the family, spanning four generations. Born in Southern California, Jones started working in the trades at age 15. In 1977, after working for erectors in Alaska, he started TEC—thinking he could do a better job on his own. At the decade’s end, he moved to Seattle to build high-rises.


In 2018, Jones sold the company to his twin sons, Adam Jr. and Brian, and Lance Richotte. In 2019, tragedy hit. A year ago, Brian died in a car crash, and in August, Richotte, then president, CEO and the primary shareholder, died of a heart attack triggered by a mysterious lung ailment.


Jones retook the helm. “The future of TEC looks great,” says Adam Jr., president. “We could travel the world doing speed cores,” but for now, with a full roster of jobs and 230 people on staff, “we are staying close to home.”