A fruitful life
Saying goodbye to Bud Cianchette
By Maria Fuentes
When Bud Cianchette died on November 5, the transportation/construction community across the country mourned a man who, with his brothers, grew their small company into one of the largest and most respected general contracting firms on the east coast. They also mourned a man who dedicated himself to the betterment of the construction industry he loved, and who spent a lifetime sharing his talents and resources with others, determined to make his community and state a better place to live.
A patriot who served in World War II, Bud’s funeral took place fittingly on Veterans’ Day. Bud’s oldest son, Tom, provided the eulogy, noting: “When the time came, and he had done all he could do, and given all he could give, he told my mother simply he wanted to go home – home to Pittsfield, to this little town in Maine, to this little church, where his life started, a fruitful life, so long ago.”
Ival R. “Bud” Cianchette did accomplish a remarkable amount in his lifetime. He was born on July 19, 1926, to Ralph and Edna Cianchette, the fifth of seven children.
His father Ralph had emigrated from Italy at the age of 11 to join his father working on the railroad in Maine. Later as his family grew, he worked other jobs, eventually becoming a bridge builder.
In 1962, Edna was named Maine’s Mother of the Year. Answering a reporter’s question at the time, she said her greatest thrill as a mother was the day her last boy – five sons eventually served - came home from World War II, as she then knew that all her sons were safe.
Bud’s parents instilled in their children the importance of family and hard work. As the brothers began returning from the war, three of them pooled their money and together eventually built a company. (Younger brother Chuck joined them after the Korean War.) Cianchette Brothers was the forerunner to Cianbro Corporation, and they started with a six-inch pump, a two-inch pump, a few wheelbarrows and hand shovels.
The company grew, and their reputation grew along with it as one that attracted the best people, and always gave back to the community. All of the brothers were very active in their communities, in trade associations, and their company prospered.
In the early years, Bud established himself as a natural businessman, and Cianchette Brothers enjoyed substantial growth in the 1960s. Bud was president of the company from 1962 to 1979. Brother Ken was the planner and technical innovator, and Chuck became the trouble-shooter and “people person.” Together, the brothers built many projects in the 1960s, ranging from the Telstar satellite antenna facility in western Maine, to the construction of the Kenduskeag Stream canal in downtown Bangor, to major bridge projects on I-95.
Later, the brothers completed the Piscataqua River Bridge in Kittery and Portsmouth, and expanded the company into the mid-Atlantic region. The company took the name “Cianbro” in 1970. In 1979, Bud became Cianbro’s chairman. That gave him more time to pursue his passions – including horses and racing – and support causes and organizations important to him.
One of the leadership qualities that came naturally to Bud was bringing people together to discuss issues of common interest. He knew how to build a team, and he knew the value of sharing information with others in the same industry.
Tom said in his eulogy: “He understood that no one person can accomplish as much as a group of like-minded individuals. He involved himself with groups that enabled people and organizations to flourish – each person giving back to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts. . . He insisted that a plaque be displayed in his offices proclaiming ‘No one in this room is smarter than all of us,’ for that was one of his core beliefs.”
Ralph Leonard was vice president of H.E. Sargent, Inc., when a group of leading road builders agreed that Maine needed an association that dealt with the challenges of highway contractors.
“We felt it was time for AGC (Associated General Contractors) – which previously had been comprised of building contractors – to have a highway division. We had a meeting in 1964 at the Samoset, and Phil Corey made the motion to elect Bud as chairman of that division. We, of course, unanimously agreed.”
“Bud was articulate, forceful, extremely knowledgeable in construction, and he knew how to bring people together,” said Ralph, a past MBTA president and Maine Transportation Achievement Award winner. “We knew he was the right person to chair this group.”
The founders of this highway division were all very active in Maine Good Roads Association (MGRA), the forerunner to MBTA. Ralph remembers that when those contractors were representing MGRA, “We had our broad hat on, and we were advocating for the good of the state. We could show a little more self-interest when we were advocating for AGC.”
The AGC of Maine’s Highway Division grew, and with it Bud’s status as a leader in the construction industry. In 1967, he was named president of AGC. After becoming prominent in federal construction issues, Bud was elected president of the AGC of America in 1980, the first Maine contractor to fill the national post. During his year as president, he led a business delegation to China and introduced President Ronald Reagan at the group’s annual convention. Long-time executive vice president Bert Beatty later said that Bud was the “best president AGC of America ever had, or ever will have.”
‘Classic love affair’
In Cianbro, the Constructors: The first 50 years, author Ann McGowan tells of how highly the Cianchette brothers valued family. Whenever anyone asked the brothers the secret to their success, they said, “Two things: having the right parents and having the right wives.”
Bud married Priscilla Winslow in 1952, and they raised one daughter, Susan, and four sons: Thomas, Earle, Mark and Peter. Son Peter, a vice president of business development at Cianbro and former U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica, commented to the Portland Press Herald that his parents had a “classic love affair.”
“They met in a doctor’s office where Bud had an appointment, and she was a 19-year old medical secretary,” recalled Peter, a past MBTA president. “I believe it was love at first sight. They had a wonderful relationship and complemented each other so nicely. They had such respect for each other and worked so nicely as a team. He absolutely adored my mother.”
In his eulogy, Tom said: “Across the years he and my mother, Priscilla, traveled the world together. She was his very best friend. Their love for each other had few equals and held no bounds. They had amazing adventures with each other and the many good friends they met. Dad knew and respected people of all walks of life – and he infected them with his commitment, his can-do attitude, good sense, and humor.”
Honesty, effort and a thing for numbers
MBTA past president Bob Desjardins recalled that he first met Bud in 1967 when Cianchette Brothers bought the assets of Ellis Snodgrass, Bob’s former employer. The first thing that impressed him about Bud was his honesty.
“He made it clear from day one that you don’t shop bids – you go with the best price you got going in and you stick with it. If somebody comes in afterwards with a better price, that defeats the purpose.” When asked the key to Bud’s success, Bob attributes it to his honesty, his work ethic, and the fact that all three brothers got along so well.
“It was incredible – they never argued, there was never any in fighting.”
The values Ralph and Edna had instilled in Bud and his siblings were passed on by Bud and Priscilla to their own children. Son Earle, vice president of operations at Cianbro and a past MBTA president, recalled how his father had his children work at the stables or help with the gardens. Bud also told them they always had to try their best.
“When we got our report cards at school, we got two grades for each subject - the letter grade, and then a grade for effort. If we got an A, but only a 3 for effort, that was an ‘ok’ report card. But if we got a B or a C, and a 1 for effort, he was ecstatic, because we tried our best. That was much more valuable to him, and he said if we tried our hardest, then the grades would come.”
Bud also was a pragmatist, and had a great respect for numbers. “Whether we were talking about profitability or safety – it didn’t matter what – we just needed to be sure we had good numbers to back them up,” said Earle. “Bud would say that numbers were irrefutable – you might go to a meeting where people would go on about how well something was going, but Bud knew that the numbers tell the real story.”
‘Luckiest man in the world’
Earle also recalled that he wanted people to be decisive. “He used to say: evaluate the issue, make a decision and then move on.” Making no decision was worse than making the wrong decision. “He felt that once you get used to making decisions, you will learn to make good ones.”
Although Bud won many dozens of awards and accolades throughout his career, in the end he made clear his greatest accomplishment was his family. When the company celebrated its 60th anniversary in Pittsfield last September, Bud was battling the liver cancer that eventually took his life. He told the 400 in attendance that he wanted nobody to feel sorry for him. “I’m 83 years old, have five great kids and 10 grandchildren. You can’t feel sorry for me. I am the luckiest man in the world.”
MBTA members and friends who knew and loved Bud for so many years know that we were the lucky ones.