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Stephen D. Bechtel, Jr., received his bachelor of science degree in civil engineering in 1946 from Purdue University and earned his master’s degree in business administration from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business in 1948. He holds an honorary doctorate of engineering degree from Purdue University and an honorary doctorate of science degree from the University of Colorado. As a civil engineer and the leader of one of the nation’s foremost engineering and construction firms, Bechtel has directly contributed to building America’s industrial base and improving the quality of life at home and abroad.
First employed by one of the Bechtel engineering-construction companies in 1941, Mr. Bechtel held a wide variety of jobs and responsibilities, both in the field and in the San Francisco home office, before being elected president of the parent company in 1960 and later chairman in 1973.
In the 1960s Bechtel helped his company secure its leadership position in power, petroleum, mining, and civil engineering. Of note, in 1963 he set the company to work on California’s San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station Unit 1 - at that time the largest U.S. single-purpose nuclear plant.
The 1970s saw Mr. Bechtel guiding the company into an era of international demand for technically complex, often first-of-a-kind projects. Such major challenges were the James Bay hydroelectric project, the largest civil engineering project ever undertaken in Canada; and Jubail Industrial City in the Arabian Desert, which consisted of infrastructure for several basic industries and a population of 250,000.
During the 1980s, Mr. Bechtel maintained his company’s success by being the engineers of choice for unique projects such as the New Zealand Gas-to-Gasoline project, the world’s first commercial facility for converting natural gas to gasoline; and the Cool Water Coal Gasification project, the United State’s first power plant based on coal gasification technology.
Mr. Bechtel supported the establishment of a research and development unit in the company, a group that today is one of the oldest and largest of its kind in the engineering-construction industry. He is also a strong supporter of research in the application of automation to engineering and construction.
Mr. Bechtel has served three presidents. President Johnson appointed him to the President’s Committee on Urban Housing. President Nixon named him to membership on the National Industrial Pollution Control Council, the National Commission on Productivity, the Labor Management Advisory Committee, and the National Commission for Industrial Peace. He accepted appointment from President Ford to serve on the President’s Labor-Management Committee.
Mr. Bechtel was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1975 and served as its first chairman from 1982 to 1986. He has been recognized by a series of awards including the Engineering News-Record’s Construction Man of the Year (1974); the Moles’ Award, the construction industry’s highest award (1977); the 1980 Herbert Hoover Medal; the 1982 Chairman’s Medal from the American Association of Engineering Societies (AAES); and the 1997 National Engineering Award, also from the AAES. In 1991 President George Bush awarded Mr. Bechtel the National Medal of Technology, America’s highest honor bestowed for technical achievement.
Established in 1965, the Founders Award honors "outstanding engineering accomplishments by an engineer over a long period of time and of benefit to the people of the United States."