Murli Tolaney is well aware of potential ethical pitfalls that lie in wait for engineers in the workforce. As former CEO of one of the world’s leading water and wastewater engineering firms, he encountered his share of situations that challenged his professional principles. Tolaney will provide insight on taking the high ground and the success that comes with it when he gives the inaugural J.A. Tiberti Family Lecture at the University of Kansas School of Engineering.
“I’m going to talk about finding balance and succeeding in these turbulent times. You can stay honest. You have to work hard, and you can stay ethical and still succeed,” Tolaney said.
The talk is set for 3 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 29, in the Spahr Engineering Classroom in Eaton Hall. The presentation is free, and all KU students are welcome to attend.
Tolaney earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from KU in 1969 and a master’s degree in environmental engineering from KU two years later. He retired in 2008 as chairman and CEO of the engineering firm Montgomery Watson Harza (MWH).
He plans to give students several real-world scenarios that highlight tough ethical decisions engineers can face – including one dilemma he encountered on a job overseas.
“The minister of a foreign country openly told me if I’d give them 10 percent of the total contract, we’d get the job. We had submitted the best bid, but we still couldn’t get the job. What you have to do is just get away from it,” Tolaney said.
Tom Mulinazzi, professor of civil, environmental and architectural engineering, worked with the Tiberti family to establish the lecture series, which is designed to address topics such as ethics, ingenuity and entrepreneurship. While ethics is essential in all disciplines of engineering, Mulinazzi said integrity is particularly crucial for civil engineers.
“Civil engineers work for the people. They build highways, bridges, sewage treatment plants – the infrastructure necessary for civilization. If a civil engineer makes a mistake, the least that’s going to happen is that a company is going to lose a lot of money. The worst that could happen is that people are going to die. You just can’t afford to cut corners,” Mulinazzi said.
Tolaney is a 2000 recipient of the KU School of Engineering’s highest honor, the Distinguished Engineering Service Award and has established a scholarship that’s awarded annually to one or two KU students majoring in environmental engineering. He credits his Jayhawk roots for his successful career.
“I get emotional with these kinds of things. It made my life, being at Kansas, without a question,” Tolaney said. “People took me under their wings, people like (Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Civil Engineering) Ross McKinney. There was camaraderie, guidance, like a family … I really enjoyed it.”
The J.A. Tiberti lecture series was set up through the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering in January with a $100,000 gift to KU Endowment from the family of Jelindo Angelo Tiberti, who in 1950 founded J. A. Tiberti Construction Co. in Las Vegas. Under his leadership, the firm became a major player in construction projects throughout Las Vegas and southern Nevada.
KU Endowment is the independent, nonprofit organization serving as the official fundraising and fund-management organization for KU. Founded in 1891, KU Endowment was the first foundation of its kind at a U.S. public university.