#22 The Construction of the Empire State Building

Once in a while you ask yourself; “I wonder what I did right this time?“. Monday the 24th of October was such a day. On Friday, three days earlier, I submitted a manuscript to Business Horizons. On Monday I received the following response from the Editor-in-Cheif;

Dear Professor Jacobsson:

Thank you for the submission of your manuscript, “Revisiting the construction of the Empire State Building: Have we forgotten something?”. After careful review of the manuscript, it is clear that the topic has the potential to be of interest to both our academic and practitioner audiences. Thus, I am delighted to accept your manuscript for publication in Business Horizons. Congratulations! […] Thank you for your efforts on this manuscript. Congratulations again on your success and I look forward to seeing the paper in an upcoming issue of Business Horizons. Finally, thank you again for choosing to send your work to Business Horizons.

Accept as is!

The manuscript (which is written together with my friend and colleague Timothy Wilson) is focused on understanding the success of a historic Megaproject—the construction of Empire State Building (ESB). We basically ask how come the ESB came in 40% under budget and 25% faster than anticipated, when most other megaprojects throughout history have failed? The manuscript is thus a historic/retrospective case study of the ESB, and based on an integrative literature review with a thematic inductive categorizing.


What’s past is prologue. Or is it? 40% under budget and 25% faster than anticipated! The construction of the Empire State Building (ESB) was not only the fastest erection of a skyscraper ever, but the construction company that took on the job allegedly began with no equipment or supplies that would be adequate for the job. The project was completed ahead of schedule and under budget. Instead of 18 months as anticipated, it only took 1 year and 45 days. The costs totaled $24.7 million instead of the estimated $43 million. So, we ask, how was this possible and is there something we could learn? Based on a review of existing literature describing the history and construction of the ESB, we outline strategic, operational, and contextual based explanations to what appears to be a truly successful megaproject. We illustrate how, for example, inspiration from Henry Ford’s assembly line technique, the uniqueness of the logistics during the construction period, the economic decline of the Depression, and early ideas of concurrent engineering and fast-track construction, enabled the success. Our conclusion is that there are lessons to be learned in going back to basics.



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