John M. Harbert


Harbert was born in Greenville, Miss., but lived most of his life in Birmingham. He was five hours short of finishing engineering school at Auburn University when he was called to duty in World War II. After service with the U.S. Army in the Pacific, he returned to complete his degree.

He used his winnings in dice games on his troop ship to buy his first concrete mixer, and started a one-man construction business. He parlayed that start into an international company that did business in construction, real estate, mining, and oil and gas ventures.

Harbert’s company built structures in Europe, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and South America, in addition to numerous projects in the U.S. In Birmingham, it built the SouthTrust Tower and AmSouth/Harbert Plaza. Harbert also constructed the Riverchase Galleria and developed the Riverchase residential project.

Harbert gave generously to Auburn, the Alabama School of Fine Arts and Birmingham-Southern College. He also supported the Birmingham Museum of Art, Eye Foundation Hospital, Boy Scouts of America, Young Women’s Christian Association and the Smithsonian Institution.

“Everybody wants to leave the world a better place than they found it,” he said.

Harbert’s first project, a five-span bridge built in 1949 with borrowed money and war surplus equipment, has long since been overshadowed by his other projects. But the bridge still stands in Autauga County, Ala.