James M. Bernhard, Jr. is the founder, chairman and CEO of The Shaw Group Inc., a vertically-integrated, global company offering a broad range of technology and engineering services to the energy, chemical, environmental, infrastructure and emergency response markets.
Under Bernhard’s leadership, The Shaw Group has grown dramatically through a series of strategic acquisitions to over $3 billion in revenues since its inception in 1987. Shaw has twice been named to the Fortune 500 and is one of the youngest companies to appear on this prestigious list. The company was also named twice as one of “America’s Most Admired Companies” by Fortune magazine. Headquartered in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Shaw employs 20,000 people at its offices and operations in North America, South America, Europe, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region.
In 2001, Bernhard was the recipient of the Ernst and Young “U.S. Entrepreneur of the Year” Award. His professional accomplishments were also featured in a cover story in the April 1, 2002 issue of Engineering News-Record.
Bernhard was recently inducted into the LSU Alumni Association Hall of Distinction. He has received the Corporate Champions for Children Award, LSU College of Education’s “Special Recognition” Award. He was named Perpetual Founder of Catholic High School in Baton Rouge, and received the Tiger Athletic Foundation Augie Cross Memorial “Member of the Year” Award.
Bernhard is a board member for the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus Foundation and was recently named as a member of the National D-Day Museum’s Board of Trustees for 2005-2006. He is a member of Select Council for Revenues and Expenditures (SECURE) for Louisiana’s Future and serves on the Committee of 100 for the State of Louisiana. Mr. Bernhard is also a major benefactor to both Louisiana State University, Louisiana Tech University and at Southern University, where he served as an adjunct professor. He is a member of numerous trade and civic organizations.
Prior to founding The Shaw Group, Bernhard was vice president and general manager of Sunland Services, a state-of-the-art pipe fabrication company, which was later acquired by Shaw. He also served on the board of directors of Barnard and Burk Engineers & Constructors from 1984 to 1986.
Bernhard is a native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he currently lives with his wife Dana and their children. He graduated from Louisiana State University in 1976 with a bachelor’s degree in construction management. Bernhard enjoys traveling, golf, hunting, fishing, and most importantly, spending time with his wife and children.
Growing up in my father’s house, you learned about LSU at a very early age. My father was the first graduate from Catholic High School in Lafayette to receive a football scholarship to LSU. Both he and my mother bled purple and gold and they passed this love for LSU on to their children. We attended the games or listened to them on the radio without exception.
My favorite player when I was young boy was a guy named Jerry Stovall. He was my hero and I cheered him on faithfully - except I thought his name was Jerry Snowball. In fact, I admired Jerry so much, I honored him by naming my first dog after him. Snowball was a good dog.
And from there I was snowballing my way straight to LSU. I always knew LSU was the school for me and couldn’t wait to get there. I enrolled in construction management and the lessons I learned there are still benefiting me today. I learned a lot of things at LSU that continue to have an impact on my life and career, like time management, setting and sticking to priorities, and business management procedures. But by far, the most valuable advantage of my time at LSU was an ability to think logically and approach challenges creatively and aggressively. My studies at LSU and my experiences there instilled the confidence to make timely decisions, produce solutions and motivate others to excel.
I owe a lot to Rudy Aguilar, an LSU professor who taught project development. He was one of the most influential professors I had during my college years. At the time, he was developing the Hilton hotel in Baton Rouge and he would share anecdotes about his experiences creating such a large-scale property. I was fascinated. I took the lessons Rudy taught us about strategic planning and project development and applied them to my first business plan. I used that business plan to start a company called The Shaw Group.
My time at LSU was integral in training me to set priorities and manage my time most effectively. I held many jobs while I was at LSU, from delivering telephone books to working construction. I always had a pretty good work ethic but juggling classes and an aggressive work schedule really challenged me. I quickly realized that in order to meet your goals you have to keep a sharp focus on the end result and not waste a minute making your way to the finish line. This understanding has served me well personally and professionally and I believe that it has helped me motivate others to work hard, too.
I did hold one enviable position during my time at LSU and this job was critical in terms of developing my negotiation and communications skills. In exchange for free meals, I worked at an [undisclosed] sorority house. As you might imagine, assisting easily distracted college co-eds was extremely challenging. They changed their minds quite often so I had to learn to be flexible and easily adapt to change. As demanding as it was, it was definitely one of the best jobs I had while at LSU.
I am humbled and honored by this recognition. LSU provided me - and continues to provide its students - with the crucial skills necessary for project development: coherent thought, logical risk calculation, and a respect for excellence. These lessons have undeniably been a factor in the accomplishments of The Shaw Group. I am grateful to all those faculty members and fellow LSU students who made my time on campus so productive and valuable.
I would also like to thank the great people I have worked with over the years who helped me take that first business plan and turn it into a successful company. I am so proud to be associated with them. Most importantly, I would like to thank my family for their support and for bringing joy into my life. I would particularly like to thank my wife Dana, who is not only my best friend, but my most trusted advisor.