Stephen D. Bechtel Jr., who led his family’s engineering and construction company to become the country’s largest by revenue, died Monday at his home in San Francisco at age 95, Bechtel Corp. announced. He served as Bechtel’s CEO from 1960 to 1990, overseeing the company’s growth into a global leader in the construction industry.
Under his leadership, the Reston, Virginia-based firm’s sales grew 11-fold, its employee population five-fold and major projects increased from 18 to 119, the announcement said.
Born in 1925, Bechtel was the grandson of Warren A. Bechtel, who founded the company in 1898, and the son of Stephen Bechtel Sr., who ran the company from 1933 to 1960. As a young boy in the 1930s, he accompanied his father and grandfather on inspection trips to the Hoover Dam, according to the company website.
After graduating from Purdue University, serving in the Marine Corps and earning an MBA from Stanford University, he joined the family company in 1948, working his way up from field engineer to CEO at age 35.
He extended the firm’s footprint around the world and took on efforts of increasing technical sophistication, according to The New York Times. Some of the company's notable projects under his leadership were:
- The Bay Area Rapid Transit system of San Francisco.
- The Channel Tunnel between Britain and France.
- Several first-of-a-kind North Sea oil and gas platforms.
- LNG plants in Algeria, the United Arab Emirates and Indonesia.
- Nuclear power plants throughout the U.S.
- The Jubail Industrial City and King Khalid International Airport in Saudi Arabia.
Bechtel retired as CEO at age 65 in 1990, succeeded by his son Riley P. Bechtel, and later in 2016 by his grandson, Brendan P. Bechtel. He continued to serve on the company’s board through 2018.
Steve Jr. served as a director of leading companies including General Motors, IBM and the Southern Pacific Railroad. He also served as chairman of both The Conference Board Inc. and the Business Council.
Active in civic affairs, he served on six presidential commissions for three U.S. presidents. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush awarded Steve. Jr. the nation’s highest honor for technological achievement, the National Medal of Technology and Innovation. He also served in advisory roles at California Institute of Technology, Purdue, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford universities, and at the Hoover Institution.
“My grandfather leaves behind a remarkable legacy of accomplishment, integrity, excellence, and commitment to customers and communities,” said Brendan Bechtel in a statement. “In every aspect of his life, he was driven by his strong values and a vision for helping to build a better world, which continue to guide us in partnering with customers today.”