Stephen Bechtel Jr., who grew family engineering firm, dies

Stephen Bechtel Jr., heir to the construction empire of Bechtel Corp. the third generation, who led his worldwide initiative for 30 years and provided key cabinet members to President Reagan, has died in his San Francisco home.

The company said Bechtel died at 95 a.m. on Monday. No cause of death was given.

The Stanford-trained engineer became a billionaire and led the expansion of the San Francisco-based company through “mega-projects” in Saudi Arabia, the United States and Canada.

At the age of 35, he took over his father’s presidency in 1960, overseeing contracts for the San Onofre nuclear power plant in northern San Diego County, the industrial city of Jubail in Saudi Arabia and the James Bay hydropower project in Canada. In less than two decades, he doubled the size of the company, according to his website.

“As a manager, Steve Bechtel Jr. was very different from his father,” the company said on an online profile. “Steve Jr. was the first professional manager to run the company in any way. Steve Jr. had the numbers and details of the business under control in ways his father never had. “

His net worth was $ 3.5 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Forbes reported that he and his son Riley each own 20% of the closely held company. Riley Bechtel succeeded his father as Chief Executive Officer in 1990.

The San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant.

The San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant.

(Hayne Palmour IV / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Warren Bechtel’s grandson, Stephen Bechtel Jr., served on the presidential committees and councils while running the construction company that built the Hoover Dam during the Great Depression and more than 500 U.S. Navy cargo ships and tankers during the Second World War. He advised Lyndon Johnson on urban living, Richard Nixon on environmental protection and productivity, and Nixon and Gerald Ford on the relationship between industry and work.

The connections of the Bechtel Corp. to the government led to allegations of cronyism. Her partner in the war yards was steel manager John McCone, who later became director of the CIA under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

Two decades later, Bechtel alumni joined Reagan’s cabinet when George Shultz, a Bechtel president, became secretary of state and Caspar Weinberger Jr., Bechtel’s general counsel, was named secretary of defense. Public concern about the company’s influence was heightened by the chairman’s culture of secrecy.

“He had no patience with pesky shareholders or filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, and even less with curious scrutiny from the public and the press,” according to a 1988 Fortune magazine story.

The company’s best-known project during Bechtel’s tenure was the construction of an industrial town in the Saudi fishing village of Jubail. The plan, which began in 1975 and cost more than $ 30 billion, created a center for more than 160 businesses and homes for nearly 90,000 full-time residents, according to the Jubail University College website.

In 1983 the development was listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest engineering and construction program ever attempted. With planned expansions of the existing city, Jubail was, according to Bechtel Corp. still the world’s largest civil engineering project until 2017.

Before stepping down as chairman in 1990, Bechtel led the construction of the Bay Area Rapid Transit System in San Francisco. the early stages of the Channel Tunnel project, which linked the UK to France with a 31-mile underwater railway at a cost of $ 14.7 billion; and the James Bay Hydro Complex, a $ 13.8 billion company in northwest Quebec that harnessed the energy of four rivers and helped boost the province’s economy.

During his tenure, he also advised Caltech, Purdue, MIT and Stanford.

Stephen Davison Bechtel Jr. was born on May 10, 1925 in Oakland to Stephen D. Bechtel Sr. and the former Laura Peart. He had a sister, Barbara.

In 1943, Bechtel enrolled at the University of Colorado as part of the Marine Corps Officer Cadet Unit. He moved to Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering. He received a Masters in Business Administration from Stanford University in 1948.

Bechtel then joined the family business, working on a pipeline project in Texas and other construction work in the US and Canada. He became chairman in 1973.

In 1991, President George HW Bush awarded him the National Medal of Technology, the highest US award for technical achievement. In 2009, the Boy Scouts of America announced plans for a national scouting center in West Virginia after the SD Bechtel Jr. Foundation donated $ 50 million, the greatest gift in Boy Scout history.

“Scouting has had a huge impact on my life,” said Bechtel. “It is the source of some of my fondest memories.”

Bechtel had five children with his wife, the former Elizabeth Mead Hogan, whom he married in 1946.

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