Billionaire Profile: Riley Bechtel

By | March 11, 2011

Riley P. Bechtel is the Chairman and CEO of Bechtel Group, Inc. He is the great grandson of the company’s founder; Mr. Warren A Bechtel. He joined the business in 1966 after spending his summers working various construction jobs. His first job with Bechtel was as a mechanic’s helper where his job entailed menial tasks such as cleaning planes, disassembling engines and sweeping floors.

Outside the family business, Riley worked tirelessly on his academic goals. He completed his undergraduate studies at the University of California, Davis where he studied political science and psychology. After obtaining is his undergraduate degree, he returned to Bechtel’s Legal Department and gained more experience before heading off to Stanford, where is he received both a JD and an MBA. After passing the California bar exam in 1979, he was hired as an associate attorney at the law firm that provided outside counsel to Bechtel Corp.

How he made his fortune

Although he thoroughly enjoyed his brief law career, he decided that he received real satisfaction from working for the family business and joined Bechtel as a full-time employee. He was reacquainted with the company and had to work from the bottom up. His first positions with the company when he returned were as contracts coordinator and piping superintendent. In 1983, Riley was assigned to Bontang, Indonesia as the area superintendent for a natural gas plant. He moved his wife and two sons to the country while he worked on the project. His position in Indonesia displayed his overwhelming interest in the work, which could be seen by all who worked with him. Even with language barriers, he won the respect of his crew and colleagues. Indonesia was not the last location that Riley had to relocate to for the business. In 1985, he moved to London and served as a business development representative for the company.

What he is doing now

Riley P. Bechtel had clearly paid his dues and in August of 1987, he was elected to the company’s Board of Directors. After serving on the board for three months, he was elected Executive Vice President and member of the Executive Committee. In his new role, he has the responsibility of overseeing all corporate functions and coordinated Bechtel’s international marketing and business development effort. On March of 1989, Riley’s grandfather, Steve Bechtel Sr. passed away. At the age of 37, Riley was elected president and chief officer of operations for Bechtel Group, Inc. His father, Steve J. stayed on as chairman and chief executive officer.

What Can We Learn

When his father retired in 1990, Riley was named the company’s CEO. Early on in his job as CEO he was confronted with conflict; two months in to his new charge, Kuwait was invaded and more than a hundred Bechtel employees and their family were trapped in Baghdad. Through effective crisis management and intervention, Bechtel employees and their families were eventually released and the company carried out its intended work in the region, despite the turbulence. Riley P. Bechtel has been featured in Forbes magazine and reportedly has a net worth of over $2 billion. He and his family are true examples of how hard work and perseverance pay off. Even though Riley P. Bechtel was a descendant of the founder, he still understood that he would need the education, skill and experience required to take the company into the future. At the core of it all, he enjoys the work, and even through challenges, he has made his dedication to the survival and continued legacy of the company known. Aspiring entrepreneurs can look at the story of Riley P Bechtel with admiration and as an example of a true leader in business.