Building A Century: Bechtel Celebrates Centennial From Hoover Dam To Space Launch Facilities, All Un
17 January 1998
San Francisco, CA
Building A Century: Bechtel Celebrates Centennial From Hoover Dam To Space Launch Facilities, All Under Family Leadership
Begun in 1931 with the award of a $49 million contract to the Six Companies consortium, Hoover Dam was the largest civil engineering project in U.S. history. Six Companies finished the work in five years, two years ahead of schedule.
Since 1898, four generations of Bechtels have led the privately held business through 19,000 projects in 140 nations on all seven continents. These accomplishments range from the Trans-Arabian Pipeline and the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system to pioneering efforts in nuclear power and program management for Hong Kong's new US$20 billion airport and associated infrastructure.
"We are the most recent of the hundreds of thousands of men and women who have participated in this endeavor," said Riley Bechtel, chairman, chief executive officer, and great grandson of W.A. Bechtel. "Over the past 100 years, we have tackled challenges that others wouldn't and built what others couldn't, always striving to improve the quality of life for millions of people around the world."
Bechtel noted that the Hoover Dam experience taught enduring lessons: "No job is 'too big' if you build an effective team with real leadership. No job is 'too big' if you apply the best technical innovations to get it done. No job is 'too big' if you're willing to take calculated risks. And no job is 'too big' if you work hard and simply refuse to fail."
Riley Bechtel's father, Chairman Emeritus Stephen Bechtel, Jr., led the San Francisco-based company from 1960 to 1990. Steve's father, Stephen Sr., succeeded W.A. as head of the family business upon the founder's death in 1933.
Today Bechtel is at work on such projects as demilitarization in Russia, Ukraine, and the United States; the world's largest refinery job, in India; two of the world's largest oil and gas development efforts, in Peru and Mexico; a landmark liquefied natural gas complex in Trinidad & Tobago; an electronics facility in northeast China; telecommunications installations from Indonesia to Saudi Arabia; the upgrade of Manila's water and wastewater system on a privatized basis; an advanced power plant in England; and Cardiff Bay Barrage, Europe's largest seaside construction undertaking.
Bechtel began its 12-month global celebration with a rededication ceremony at Hoover Dam. Those assembled, including Riley Bechtel, Steve Bechtel, Jr., and employees representing more than 60 offices around the world, commemorated the landmark structure, saluted the people who built it, and memorialized those who perished during its construction. Another key event is an exhibit opening May 22 at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.--"The Business of Innovation: Projects from Bechtel's First Century".
A Brief History of Bechtel
Warren A. Bechtel performed his first construction work in 1898, grading railroad beds with a mule-drawn scraper in Oklahoma Territory. By 1906 W.A. Bechtel was contracting on railroad jobs up and down the Pacific coast of the United States. Soon the W.A. Bechtel Co. was also building roads, tunnels, bridges, and dams. Customers responded to W.A.'s work ethic, and the business prospered. W.A. himself put it succinctly: "When you can't trust a man's word you can't trust his signature."
To get the work done efficiently, W.A. learned to rely on the most modern methods available, a Bechtel tradition that continues to this day. Early on W.A. mastered the steam shovel, and he and his sons pioneered such applications as dump trucks and tractors right on the job site. His final project introduced perhaps the most significant innovation of all.
In 1931 W.A. helped put together one of the industry's first large-scale joint ventures, the Six Companies consortium that built Hoover Dam.
Son Stephen took over as president when W.A. passed away in 1933. Assuming his duties in the midst of the Hoover Dam project, Steve's management efforts helped workers finish the job two years ahead of schedule. An associate once remarked that Steve Bechtel could "conjure up a vision of the future at an instant's notice."
Steve himself is reported to have said, without boasting, "We can build anything, anytime, anywhere." Indeed, he built Bechtel into a global concern, landing projects on all seven continents and expanding the portfolio of work to include areas such as pipelines, petroleum and chemicals, mining and metals, and power.
Steve Bechtel pioneered the concept of the turnkey project, and took on monumental tasks such as the Trans-Arabian pipeline, as well as innovative efforts like the Dresden nuclear power plant in Illinois, the industry's first privately financed facility.
Stephen Bechtel, Jr. became president in 1960, upon his father's retirement from active service. Steve Jr. ushered in the era of the "megaproject." Always employing the latest techniques and technology, Steve Jr. led a team that designed and built extraordinarily complex projects worldwide, including numerous refineries, offshore platforms, transit systems, mining developments, and nuclear and fossil-fired power plants.
Landmark projects included Jubail industrial city in Saudi Arabia, the James Bay hydroelectric plant in Quebec, Northern California's BART rapid transit system, and the Ok Tedi gold and copper project in Papua New Guinea.
Today Riley P. Bechtel continues the firm foundation of family leadership, as the fourth generation to lead the company during the past century. As president since his father retired from line duties in 1990, Riley has overseen an era abundant with potential.
Recent Bechtel efforts include Space Launch Complex 3 (California), the Reliance oil refinery (India), the Sines-Aveiras petroleum products pipeline (Portugal), the Samalayuca II power project (Mexico), the Raglan nickel and copper complex (Canada), the Boyne Island aluminum smelter (Australia), the Huntington Stage 4 water treatment works (England), the cleanup of the Hanford Site (Washington), the Renca power plant (Chile), the TEP-6 telecommunications program (Saudi Arabia), energy consulting (Egypt), and Motorola's MOS-17 semiconductor plant (China).
Bechtel is also involved with some of the largest urban infrastructure efforts to date, such as the Boston Central Artery/Tunnel project and the Hong Kong Airport Core Programme. In addition, Bechtel is taking an active part in the privatization that is driving economies in emerging nations throughout the world, such as the Manila Water Company and the Quezon Power project in the Philippines.
Organized under Riley Bechtel's direction to respond quickly no matter what the industry or the region, Bechtel today is poised for another century of excellence.