Herbert M. Iris, a civil engineer whose firm has helped to design and construct major commercial, industrial and office facilities throughout the state, will receive the Edward F. Weston Medal for Professional Achievement during New Jersey Institute of Technology’s (NJIT) annual Fall Awards ceremony. The ceremony will be held Oct. 6 at the university.
“To move ahead in life you have to be willing to step forward,” to be confident enough in your abilities to take the chances that can lead to success,” says Iris. That’s some of the advice he offers to young NJIT grads from the perspective of nearly 50 years as the head of a highly successful construction company. “If you’re willing to be a leader and make decisions,” he adds, “the odds are you’ll make more right decisions than wrong ones along the way.”
Iris, of South Orange, who earned a BS in civil engineering from NJIT’s Newark College of Engineering in 1951, has certainly made his share of right decisions, including the one that led to starting Iris Construction Company in 1959 after working for a few years in sales and construction and a hitch in the U.S. Navy Civil Engineering Corps. Over the decades, Iris Construction has been the general contractor for the design and construction of major commercial, industrial and office facilities throughout New Jersey. The first dorm built for Rutgers-Newark, across the street from the NJIT campus, is among these projects.
A licensed professional engineer in New Jersey, Iris says that a half century of technological advances has transformed the way people do business in his field, most notably through the use of computers in design and project management. “I guess you could say that a lot of the work is less ‘hands-on’ than when I started,” he reflects. But he is quick to emphasize that one thing has remained constant — making sure that people with the necessary talents are there to do the job.
“I’ve always tried to build teams of people who know their strengths as well as their limitations,” Iris says. “Much of a project’s success depends on individuals who have the knowledge and confidence to make a decision on the spot. However, it’s equally important to know when you have to consult with others to avoid problems. That’s the combination of individual initiative and teamwork that keeps a project moving as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
As important as his professional activities are to Iris, he devotes a great deal of energy to other areas as well. He has served on the South Orange Planning Board and the Board of Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, and he was chairman of the annual campaign of the United Jewish Appeal for New Jersey’s MetroWest United Jewish Communities. He is also national chair of NJIT’s new Highlanders Athletics Campaign, which aims to raise five million dollars to improve campus facilities for team sports and personal physical fitness.
Iris is a life-long sports enthusiast who enjoys playing tennis and golf. As a student at NCE, he was a guard on the basketball team. “Getting out on the court, which was then on the third floor of Campbell Hall, was a great way to relieve the pressure of a very heavy, hard course load,” he says. “Having that sort of outlet actually made us better students. You could go back to the books with a better focus after the exercise.
“I think physical activity that takes you away from the stress of study or work is even more important today. That’s why it’s great to see the effort to promote the athletics program at NJIT, and to upgrade the facilities available to everyone on campus. Sometimes, when you’re dealing with the challenges of life, you just have to take a break and clear your mind.”