The patriarch of the Bechtel Family and third-generation CEO of giant engineering and construction firm Bechtel Group, Inc., Stephen (“Steve Jr.”) Bechtel was a global figure in business, public affairs, and philanthropy. Through far-sighted, well-grounded, and values-based leadership, he transformed a predominantly U.S.-based family company into a global powerhouse.
From 1948 to 1960, he worked his way up the Bechtel ladder from field engineer to chairman and CEO. Under his leadership, Bechtel’s sales improved eleven-fold, its workforce grew five-fold, and the number of major projects increased from 18 to 119. Although Bechtel had a proud history of megaprojects in the United States, such as the Hoover Dam and San Francisco Bay Bridge caisson, Steve Jr. extended the firm’s footprint around the world and took on efforts of increasing technical sophistication. Beyond geographic expansion and engineering excellence, Steve Jr. transformed his personal values into a corporate culture based on honesty, merit, teamwork, and fair dealing.
Steve Jr. retired from CEO duties at age 65 in 1990, succeeded by his son, Riley P. Bechtel. His grandson, Brendan P. Bechtel, succeeded Riley in 2016. Separately, Steve Jr. was CEO of the Fremont Group of Companies until his retirement in 1995, when he was succeeded by his son-in-law, Alan Dachs. Fremont became a prosperous developer and manager of real estate in California, Texas, and other U.S. locations. Through its venture capital arm, Trinity Ventures, it was an early investor in Starbucks and other successful start-ups. Today, it owns and operates businesses in the U.S. and Europe, manages a fund of funds, and is building a portfolio of valuable, publicly traded equities.
Beyond Bechtel and Fremont, Steve Jr. served as a director of leading companies, including General Motors, IBM, and Southern Pacific Railroad. He also served as chairman of both The Conference Board Inc. and the Business Council.
Active in civic affairs, Steve Jr. served on six presidential commissions for three U.S. presidents. Two cabinet secretaries – George Shultz and Casper Weinberger – who served in the Reagan administration had served in senior executive roles at Bechtel.
Steve Jr. also contributed his wisdom in advisory roles at the California Institute of Technology, Purdue, MIT, and Stanford and its Hoover Institution. A life-long Boy Scout, he achieved Eagle rank in 1940 and has been recognized by the Boy Scouts of America with both the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award and the Silver Buffalo Award. He attended the 2013 National Jamboree at the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve with 40,000 other scouts.
In 1957, he established his first foundation. It and successors have distributed more than $1 billion in grants, largely to STEM education and environmental/conservation causes. He subsequently seed-funded foundations for each of his children and grandchildren.
A Tribute to Steve Jr.
Projects and Accomplishments
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Throughout his 75+ years working for our company, Steve Jr. touched thousands of lives and created as many memories. We invite you to share you special memory of him here. Click here to see all memories.