Paving the Way to Success

This Chicago entrepreneur discovered a winning combination—a Purdue education and a positive working environment.

Bigane Paving Company takes pride in its dedicated employees. “We have a lot of multiple generations working for us. That’s the sign of a good family business,” says Anne Bigane Wilson (BSCEM ’79, MSCE ’81), president of the Chicago company.

One of Purdue’s first graduates in construction engineering and management, Wilson applies her education and experience to running the fourth-generation firm she and sister Sheila took over in 1987 upon their father’s death. Founded in 1907 by their great-grandfather, the company initially operated in retail coal and oil sales, and last October marked its 100th anniversary. Today it ranks as a commercial and industrial paving leader, particularly in city streets.

Purdue gave Wilson a strong foundation for her entrepreneurial pursuits. “It provided a great preparation,” she says. “I found the internship program to be a great opportunity toward helping me focus my education to meet my career choices.” She describes her CEM classmates as a “close-knit group” who—thanks to being the program’s first class—enjoyed getting to know their professors on a more personal level. Upon completing the program, she stayed on at Purdue to pursue her master’s degree in civil engineering.

Leading a company of 120 people, Wilson believes effective leadership lies in treating employees well and creating a positive environment. “It needs to be someplace people enjoy going to work,” she says, a setting that cultivates team members who become invested in the company.

Take a tour around the Windy City, and you’ll find evidence of Bigane Paving’s achievements. Years ago Mayor Richard Daley shared his vision of bringing “green” back to the city, and the company has played a key role in the resulting streetscape projects (including work at the entrance to Lincoln Park Zoo). These urban beautifying initiatives combine decorative paving, trees, and other visual aesthetics that emphasize the distinct personalities of Chicago’s neighborhoods and communities.

The company has also tackled expansion work for the McCormick Place convention center as well as the University of Illinois at Chicago. Last fall the group celebrated a crowning achievement, paving the North Avenue Bridge over the Chicago River by applying unique asphalt designs when the weather became too cold for latex overlay.

Today a growing number of women work in Wilson’s field, and they’re assuming larger roles on project sites and in design work. “It’s an evolution,” she notes, adding that future engineers should always embrace trying something new. “There’s no tradeoff for experience,” Wilson says, whether someone gains it through classes, internships, or volunteerism. Plus, she says, one should be willing to learn at any stage of life and not shy away from asking questions of professors, mentors, bosses, or colleagues.

Wilson lives in Evergreen Park with her husband, Jim (BSCE ’69), and remains active with her alma mater. She serves on the advisory committee for Purdue CEM and has participated several years in the MentorNet e-mentoring program, offering insight and encouragement to current students as they pursue their engineering futures. She recently received Purdue’s Civil Engineering Alumni Achievement Award in honor of her professional success.

- Matt Schnepf