In many ways, Steven Demetriou’s success is the epitome of the American dream.
After leaving school without any qualifications, his father jumped on a ship from his native Cyprus to settle a new life in America, where he set up a Cypriot restaurant. “I started peeling potatoes and doing the dishes,” says Demetriou, who grew up in Boston. “Before finally being promoted to waiter.”
Today, Demetriou is one of the world’s most influential engineering, construction and consulting leaders as Chairman and CEO of Jacobs.
It is responsible for 60,000 jobs worldwide, including 13,000 in the UK. While the $16billion (£12billion) company may not be a household name, the projects it is responsible for overseeing are.
In Britain, Jacobs oversees High Speed Rail Link 2, the Hinkley Point C nuclear reactor, the renovation of the Palace of Westminster, the Lower Thames Crossing, London’s Crossrail and the Dogger Bank Wind Farm, to name a few. cite just a few.
Operations in the United States extend beyond construction and civil engineering: Jacobs handles classified information, surveillance and cyber threat management.
Work isn’t everything for Demetriou, however. “I’m a big die-hard Boston Red Sox fan,” he says, taking a relaxed figure from his office in Dallas, Texas. “[But] basketball is my number one sport. I peaked in high school and was elected to my high school hall of fame.
And so, naturally, the millionaire sports fanatic – who took home $16 million in salary last year – bought a minor league basketball team. “It’s based out of Orlando, Florida, and it’s called Lakeland Magic,” he says. “And by the way, we won the championship last year.”
After working for 17 years for oil giant Exxon, Demetriou moved on to a series of smaller manufacturing companies, managing to turn things around and allowing US private equity firms to reap big returns. In 2015, a recruiter called to say that Jacobs was looking for a general manager.
Then, he says, Jacobs was best known for his work “for people like Exxon, Shell and Rio Tinto. It was more of a traditional energy-type design office”.
Demetriou says he could see the impact climate change activists would have on the energy industry. Oil and gas would become “coarse” words.
“We made the bold decision, a few years after my arrival, to sell [sell] the industry I was hired in,” he says.
The money raised was used to accelerate an expansion in consultancy work. The acquisition of rival CH2M for $3.3 billion was key – the Colorado-based engineering consultancy is best known in the US for orchestrating the Panama Canal expansion in the 2000s.
In the UK, he was chosen to oversee the £4 billion development of London’s stadiums, sports venues and Olympic Village.