Kenneth Bell, Geotechnical and Hydraulic Engineering
Ken has more than 30 years of Bechtel experience in geotechnical engineering and foundation design. He is a fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers and first vice chair of ASTM Committee D18, Committee on Soil and Rock.
Get to Know Ken
What is the most exciting or challenging project you were involved in, and what was your role?
At one time in my career, as the lead geotechnical engineer on the project, I was asked to immediately travel to the Damietta Egypt jobsite during construction due to concerns of a possible failure of a cofferdam structure built for the construction of the river intake structure, which was approximately 25 percent complete at that time. The cofferdam was designed by a local consultant. Within 48 hours of my arrival at the jobsite it was clear to me that the cofferdam could fail at any time, and the work inside needed to be stopped immediately. Working with the site team we quickly came up with and implemented an immediate temporary fix to keep the cofferdam from failing. We then worked together to come up with a unique permanent fix that allowed the construction to continue safely.
What is the best career advice that you've received?
I would say without hesitation that the best career advice I've gotten was that I needed to be more prudent in the content of the emails I was sending out. I was unhappy about an ongoing situation at work and let my frustration get the better of me, and I was sending not so nice emails to everyone I could think of. When similar situations arise now, I always think back to that advice. I still write the emails, but then delete them before sending.
What do you see as the key skills that new engineers need to have in the global job market?
When we hire new engineers as either college hires or experienced engineers, we expect them to bring a certain level of knowledge that is consistent with their degree or experience. More important, we expect, want, and need them to have the willingness to learn and a willingness to seek and accept challenges. This needs to be a willingness not only to learn the Bechtel systems and procedures, but a willingness to accept new challenges that might include working anywhere in the world and working on projects of a scale that most likely they have not seen before.
What leadership skills do you think are needed to be a great engineer?
For an engineer to be a great engineer in a leadership role they obviously need to be very competent. Other engineers reporting to them will only respect them as a leader if they respect them first as an engineer. Beyond that, from a leadership standpoint, they need to be a good listener, willing to accept other ideas, be approachable, be willing to share their ideas with others, accept responsibility for errors made, and be willing to recognize and award others for their accomplishments.