Remembering Mike Jordan (1934–2023)

5166B News

Michael A. Jordan, CE, SE

Our founder Mike Jordan passed away on September 2, 2023, in his hometown of Oakland at the age of 88.  We are saddened by his passing but remain uplifted by remembering his influence on our lives and our industry.  As in the name of the company Mike established, “Liftech,” his life’s work lifted the transport industry through literal lifting of billions of tons of containerized cargo, and lifted the spirit of countless numbers of people he inspired.  

Mike was born November 2, 1934, in Oakland, California, where he lived and worked most of his life.  As a child he experienced the excitement surrounding the construction of the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges, stoking his interest in structural engineering.  After graduating from UC Berkeley in 1956 with a BS in Civil Engineering, he gained further experience as an officer in the US Navy Civil Engineer Corps.  Upon completing active military service in 1958, he joined a structural engineering firm, Hugh M. O’Neil Company.  Mike returned to UC Berkeley to earn his MS in Structural Mechanics in 1961.  He became a licensed Structural Engineer at the age of 29 as one of the youngest structural engineers in the state of California at the time.  He collaborated with an innovative team of people to design the world’s first container crane for Matson Navigation Company.  Those first cranes were built by Pacific Coast Engineering Company (Paceco) in Alameda and were in operation at Alameda Encinal Terminals and Hawaii in 1958.

Mike was passionate about his engineering work and his pursuit of excellence.  He was driven by a sense of ethics and was noted for making ethical choices, even when that was not easy or profitable.  Coming from the silent generation, he was often quiet and uncomfortable with public attention.  However, when engaged in a conversation about engineering and projects he collaborated on, you could see the sparkle in his eyes, hear excitement in his voice, and be captivated by the brilliance of his mind.  Although his genius was obvious to others, he never let his ideas dominate.  He would take all ideas, examine each rigorously, and integrate them into a brilliant design.  Mike was quick to give credit to his collaborators.  His innovations include various generations of crane design and other structural engineering designs, such as banded prestressed concrete slabs and improved tilt-up building construction techniques.  One of Mike’s favorite inventions was wire rope dampers used on container cranes to interrupt excessive wind-induced vibrations of flexible structural pipe members subject to steady winds.  This is now an industry standard, as are many of Mike’s innovations.

Many in the industry saw Mike as a great engineer.  People who worked closely with him saw him as a grandfather, a father, a brother, a confidant, a mentor, an idealist, and a philosopher, and playfully child-like at times, and sometimes, all of these at once.  Most importantly, he was simply a great human being who made a diligent effort to connect with each person he met and embodied the best of humanity in his unique ways.  We are honored to take this opportunity to connect with all who were touched by him and have known him. 

Mike is survived by his wife Sue, who was his life’s partner in both his career and at home, three sons, their wives, six grandchildren, and a new great-grandchild.  

The family asks that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made in his name to a charity such as Oakland Youth Orchestra or Engineers Alliance for the Arts.

If you have a story or message about Mike that you would like to share with us, please send to [email protected] and join us in honoring Mike.