Taking the Leap with Leon
Maggie Blondin can’t believe the day is finally here. Friends and family have gathered to celebrate her retirement from a 35-year career at Kmart. For those who know and love Maggie, however, the festivities represent so much more. As her only son, Leon, quiets the crowd, Maggie is certain of two things—his speech will spark laughter, and there won’t be a dry eye in the room.
As she waits for her son to speak, Maggie can’t help but recall the many ways Leon—now the charismatic construction executive before her—stood in the gaps for their family of five that survived on a single mother’s $8 an hour salary. She can still hear the deep, heavy thunk of an axe as Leon split logs that heated their Syracuse, New York home. The crackling of ice he chiseled bit by bit from her windshield. Never once had Maggie allowed adversity to culminate in defeat. And neither—as she reflected over the years gone by—had her children.
From a young age, it was clear that whatever silver spoon Leon lacked, he made up for in spades with a fierce competitiveness. Leon excelled at nearly every sport he tried his hand at, but on the wrestling mat, he found his calling—and a few trophies along the way. When discussing potential careers with his guidance counselor, Leon realized that construction offered just the adventure this self-professed thrill-seeker desired, plus he could put his aptitude for math to good use. As luck would have it, nearby Alfred State College had a strong construction program. The icing on the cake? He could wrestle there too. The prospect of paying his own way through school never once deterred Leon. He’d learned the art of perseverance from the best.
Upon graduation, Leon was offered a job in the Washington, D.C. area. For a young man who’d never even taken a vacation, the move might as well have been to the moon. But as Leon would demonstrate throughout his career, success often starts with a simple leap. Leon packed what few possessions he had to his name, and upon arrival, was awestruck at the number of cranes punctuating the skyline. Soon, Leon discovered he didn’t just enjoy estimating. It was kindling for his competitive fire.
Leadership rapidly recognized Leon’s potential and transitioned him into project management. Initially, he would have chosen to remain in estimating, but looking back, Leon realizes the move helped lay the foundation for his future. In fact, one of those milestones was just around the corner. While working for another national general contractor, he was promoted to vice president at the age of 32. Unlike many who lay claim to that distinction early in their careers, Leon didn’t aggressively pursue executive status. “My family never owned a home. I went to a two-year college. Initially, I set the bar pretty low,” he reflects. And yet, Leon’s talents rose to the surface—an innate desire to compete, unparalleled preparation and a relentless positivity that inspires all those around him to perform at a higher level.
When Leon joined Balfour Beatty in 2001, he was attracted to the company’s legacy of success, but even more to its culture that focused on people. Then a father of three children—twin girls and a boy—Leon began to grasp that management encompassed so much more than flawlessly executing processes and achieving financials. Under the guidance of then division president, John Tarpey, Leon observed that no title or accolade can command followership. It must be won in hearts and minds. Leon still recalls their first jobsite walk together. “From the superintendents to the laborers, John knew everyone’s names and something personal about each one. He really cared, and it showed,” Leon remarks of his friend and mentor. From then on, Leon strove to become a leader whose authenticity equaled his approachability.
Leon’s journey in the construction industry isn’t one he could have scripted, even in his wildest imagination. He certainly couldn’t have predicted his career path the day he drove from upstate, New York, past the White House, past the Washington Monument to a small townhouse he rented on a dream and a dime.
Over the past two decades, Leon went on to hold many transformational roles for Balfour Beatty in the Mid-Atlantic region and nationally. Among Leon’s proudest accomplishments are the projects Balfour Beatty has completed with the federal government. Projects that support our national security and provide healthcare for the very individuals who put their lives on the line to protect our freedom. Leon’s the first to admit he couldn’t have achieved any of this success without the support of his wife, Sue, to whom he has been married for 25 years.
With each elevation in leadership, Leon never forgot three things: where he came from, the lessons his mom taught him and that the best business decisions put people first. In 2018, that promotion was to CEO of Balfour Beatty’s US Buildings business, a role he is uniquely suited to fill as one who rose through the ranks. Leon genuinely believes Balfour Beatty’s future is bright, because he believes in our people—all proudly his colleagues, many his dearest friends.
While traveling the country, Leon is known for participating in team events termed “Balfour Beatty Spirit!” From skiing trips to happy hours, softball games and more, Leon never misses an opportunity to foster a work-hard, play-hard culture.
At his mom’s retirement party, Leon didn’t end up giving a speech. Instead, he recited a poem he authored, and it brought down the house. Taking a leap, it turns out, doesn’t always require moving across the country or accepting a job running a multi-billion-dollar organization. It’s often in the way we treat one another or how we deliver for our clients. Every now and then, it’s achieved by someone just like Leon’s mom, Maggie, setting an example of hard work and humility that makes its mark on the next generation.
That’s a leap worth following.