Stephen D. Bechtel Jr., Ph.D., Dist.M.ASCE, NAE, retired chairman and CEO of Bechtel, who led the company through massive expansion from the 1960s through the ’80s, and was a lifelong philanthropist who championed production of ASCE’s 2017 IMAX movie Dream Big: Engineering Our World, has died at 95.
A grandson of founder Warren A. Bechtel, Bechtel extended the firm’s reach worldwide during his leadership from 1960-1990. According to the company, under his leadership, Bechtel’s sales improved 11-fold, its workforce grew five-fold, and the number of major projects increased from 18 to 119.
Bechtel was a Marine Corps veteran who after service earned a civil engineering degree from Purdue. After receiving an MBA from Stanford University in 1948, he joined the family business as a field engineer.
Among the notable megaprojects under his leadership were the Bay Area Rapid Transit system of San Francisco; many first-of-a-kind North Sea oil and gas platforms; liquefied natural gas plants in Algeria, the UAE, and Indonesia; nuclear power plants throughout the U.S.; the Jubail Industrial City and King Khalid International Airport in Saudi Arabia; and the Channel Tunnel between Britain and France. Bechtel retired as CEO in 1990, succeeded by his son Riley P. Bechtel, and in 2016 by his grandson, Brendan P. Bechtel. He continued to serve on the company’s board through 2018.
Through his family foundation, Bechtel became a major benefactor for causes he believed in, including student outreach and advancing the engineering profession. In addition to his support for Dream Big, which represented the single largest gift to ASCE in the organization’s history, other ASCE projects Bechtel supported included National Engineers Week, ASCE’s ExCEEd teaching workshop and the Vision for Civil Engineering in 2025. The Bechtel Conference Center at ASCE’s world headquarters in Reston is named in his honor.
Bechtel was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1975 and served as chairman from 1982 to 1986. He was the 1980 recipient of the Hoover Medal, for his civic and humanitarian achievements. He served on six presidential commissions for three U.S. presidents. In 2000 he received ASCE’s first Outstanding Projects and Leaders award for construction.
Bechtel was an ASCE Distinguished Member, as was his father, Stephen D. Bechtel Sr.