After more than four decades in the geotechnical and geo-environmental construction industry, Chris Ryan is heading into retirement. He founded and led Geo-Solutions as well as a predecessor firm, Geo-Con, and was well known for applying new technologies to solve difficult soil and groundwater problems.
Chris was educated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned three degrees in the Civil Engineering Department, focusing on geotechnical engineering and construction management. His early work was with a Pittsburgh-based contractor called Engineered Construction International (ECI). ECI had two joint ventures with the leading French specialty construction companies, Soletanche and Menard. Through his work with these two ventures, he was introduced to sophisticated technologies applied to geotechnical issues. As a young engineer, he worked on sites around the US and several in Europe as he trained.
In 1979, after 7 years with ECI, Chris left and founded a new specialty construction company called Geo-Con. Geo-Con grew from a one-man operation to a nationwide specialty contractor with operations overseas as well. Chris developed a unique specialty contractor business model, called Technical Assistance. With this model, Geo-Con provided specialty equipment and experienced supervisors to a project, with a local contractor providing the local labor. This business model allowed Geo-Con to expand rapidly and to work in difficult labor markets in the US and also to work on sites as far away as Australia.
Under Chris’s leadership, Geo-Con expanded into the environmental remediation market as it started to develop in the early 1980’s, using some of the techniques from the geotechnical construction industry applied to the environmental issues like Superfund sites and other contaminated situations. Geo-Con always had a strong technical focus and was responsible for bringing a number of first-time technologies to the construction market, including:
- The use of high-volume grouting techniques to solve mine-subsidence problems.
- The first use of mulit-stem jet grouting equipment in the US.
- The first use of soil mixing with multi-shaft equipment in the US.
- The first use of large-diameter soil-mixing for block stabilization.
- The first use of in situ soil mixing on an environmental remediation project.
- The first use of biopolymer slurry technology to create a collector drain at a remediation site.
Internationally, Geo-Con was also leading the way, with the first use of a US-style slurry wall containment in both Japan and Australia.
In 1995, Geo-Con was sold and Chris stayed on for a year, leaving in 1996 to found yet another specialty contactor, Geo-Solutions. Geo-Solutions worked in the same markets, but focused on developing relationships with owners earlier in the design process. Many Geo-Solutions projects started with an initial consulting assignment relative to construction feasibility or a laboratory project to develop a specialized mix design for a containment barrier or a soil-mix reagent for a particular site. These up-front assignments led to unusually strong client relationships. Geo-Solutions also relied more heavily on the Technical Assistance business model for expansion into new markets, while at the same time developing a fully capable construction company. Geo-Solutions worked in the entire US market as well as on sites around the world. A Canadian subsidiary was founded to handle its extensive operations throughout Canada.
Geo-Solutions continued with the Geo-Con tradition of innovation and finding new ways to solve soil and groundwater problems, particularly on contaminated sites, including:
- The use of in situ soil mixing combined with chemical reagents to de-toxify sites.
- The development of specialized backfill blends to be used in slurry wall containments around highly toxic sites.
- The use of the biopolymer drain construction technology to install passive reactive barriers.
In 2013, Chris began the process of retiring. He handed over leadership to the team that had supported him for most of the firm’s history. Bob Schindler became the new CEO. At about the same time, Geo-Solutions acquired Geo-Con, bringing all of the staff back together again. With the beginning of 2016, Chris completes his retirement, although still remaining available to the company and its clients as needed. Officially retired, he continues to accept occasional assignments as an expert witness in court cases where his experience may be relevant.
Chris was an active member of a number of professional organizations, including:
- American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)
- American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM)
- Deep Foundations Institute (DFI)
- Young Presidents Organization
- American Entrepreneurs Institute
- The Moles
He published numerous technical papers and articles, primarily on the topics of containments and in situ mixing. He was selected as the Entrepreneur of the Year in 1988, recognition for his role in the growth of Geo-Con.