Stephen Bechtel Jr
Stephen Bechtel Jr
Amount donated: Hundreds of millions of dollars
Philanthropic causes: Science, technology, engineering, education and the environment
Region of philanthropic focus: California
Ranking: Unparalleled and transformative donations made in California
Net worth: £3.4 billion (Forbes, 2016)
Source of wealth: Engineering and Construction – family business
For the past six decades, the Californian State of America has received hundreds of millions of dollars to enhance both its landscapes and waterways and to bolster its education system from Mr Stephen Davison Bechtel Junior.
A third generation member of the Bechtel Corporation dynasty, Bechtel Jr. (we shall call him Bechtel) has taken practical steps to ensure that his five children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, will follow in his philanthropic vein.
Renowned for its part in great feats of engineering and construction such as the Hoover Dam and the Channel Tunnel, the Bechtel Corporation is America’s fifth largest privately-owned company. It provides a range of services across the globe. Former Chairman and CEO of the operation, Bechtel is a co-owner (with his son, Riley). In April 2016, Forbes estimated his net fortune to be $3.4bn.
Born in Oakland, California, in 1925, Bechtel took over the reins of the family business from his father Stephen Bechtel Senior at the age of 35. Warren Bechtel, father and grandfather to the ‘Stephens,’ was the business-founder of what was originally a ‘rail-road grading operation.’
Blessed with an incisive mind and head for figures, Bechtel doubled the size of the 60-year-old company in less than 20 years – he had completed a BSc degree in Civil Engineering (Purdue University) and a Master’s in Business Administration well within the allotted timeframes. Bechtel has also been at the helm of the private investment company Fremont Group LLC, whose business concerns include real estate and publicly-traded securities.
The father-of-five embraced philanthropy early in his career – in 1957, he launched the S. D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, which operates in partnership with the ‘pass-through’ Stephen Bechtel Fund, collectively known as ‘The Foundation.’ Its mission statement reads: “The Foundation invests in preparing California’s children and youth to contribute to the state’s economy and communities, and in advancing management of California’s water and land resources.”
The Foundation’s landmark donations include a $10m gift in 2013 to the University of California’s Centre for Watershed Sciences in a bid to help solve the State’s ‘critical water issues,’ and a $25m cash injection in 2014 for the , described as “ the largest cash gift ever contributed to a national park.”
The Foundation was extolled for the latter gift – “It’s an amazing act of generosity that makes possible the completion of one of the most amazing park transformations in the world,” said , executive director of the , which manages an extensive swathe of the park. Meanwhile Greg Moore, President and CEO of the Parks Conservancy, expressed deep gratitude to the Foundation for its “visionary generosity.”
The Boy Scouts of America received a $50m donation in 2009 from Bechtel to help fund a 10,600-acre wildlife preserve. Bechtel’s affiliations run deep – he had been a Boy Scout, and received the organisation’s distinguished Eagle Scout Award and .
Bechtel is in fact the recipient of many prestigious awards which include honorary Doctorate degrees (one of which is from Purdue University), and the National Medal of Technology. He was elected a Fellow of the in 1990.
The 90-year-old’s philanthropic vision unites the expenditure of great wealth with policy and practice – he was appointed to high-profile positions by Presidents B Lyndon, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, which include sitting on the Committee on Urban Housing and membership of the National Industrial Pollution Control Council.
The Foundation is fast-approaching what has euphemistically been described as its “sunset,” or shut-down, in 2020. Its philanthropic donations appear to have been ‘ramped-up’ since the 2009 announcement, with larger grants being awarded to fewer but selected organisations.
In 2015, the Foundation’s donations totalled $120m, and are expected to increase to $160m this year. In 2012, the Foundation awarded $97m in grants, which rose to $109m in 2013, and increased again to £129m in 2014. Additionally, the Foundation has joined forces with other regional philanthropies as a catalyst to further its aims, particularly in the fields of STEM (science, technology, education and maths).
It is on his family, however, that Bechtel has placed the onus to continue his philanthropic legacy. The Foundation website asserts: “Mr Bechtel has established foundations for each of his children and grandchildren, committing his time and expertise to their education as responsible and innovative philanthropists.” Accordingly, it appears that the Californian State will continue to reap the benefits of Mr Stephen D Bechtel Junior’s philanthropy, and that it will extend to a much broader vista.