Richard J. Swift

For his leadership, engineering judgment, and financial acumen, demonstrated as head of a premier corporation in the power-systems industry, the Schools of Engineering are proud to present the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award to Richard J. Swift.

Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer
Foster Wheeler Corporation
MSME '72


On his Purdue experience

After I graduated from West Point in 1966, I was in the Army for four years. At the time I got out I was 26 and married. I came to Purdue as a graduate student. While my wife worked at the university, I had to spend a lot of time in the lab. I was very focused. It was basically just a work-and-go-home type of existence. The challenge was to get reoriented into engineering and to successfully get my master's degree and get a job as quickly as possible. I was at the university for 12 months. To be able to get my degree in that time was a real accomplishment.

On his career

When I graduated from Purdue, I thought I'd get a job as an engineer somewhere and see what happened-I didn't have a grand career plan. I've been very fortunate in how my career has turned out. There's a lot I've been able to do, and it looks as though there are more opportunities ahead. Our business appears to be in a long-term market upswing. Our challenge is to take advantage of that and stay ahead of the competition. When you're a U.S. company you have to be better, be more flexible, and have greater technical ability, because everyone else around the world is cheaper than you are.

The highlights of my career have been the opportunities to travel all over the world. My company does 70 percent of its business overseas, in 50 countries. Over time I've traveled to just about all of them and had the opportunity to meet world leaders and senior people. In 1984 my family and I moved to France for three years-that was a lot of fun, and one of the highlights of my life, not just of my career.

My professional involvements today are mostly with my company. Running a large company is a full-time job. I also sit on the boards of directors for Ingersoll-Rand and Public Service Electric & Gas.

On society, morality, and business

What troubles me most today is a lack of moral character that seems to be pervasive in society, a willingness to compromise principles for instant gratification. There seem to be no sense of responsibility and no frame of reference for talking about moral values, even though everybody is talking about them now.

A lot of business done at high levels is based on relationships, under standings, handshakes, and oral agreements. There seems to be a malaise getting up into the senior management of companies. I have a feeling that that's one of the reasons why you have so many corporate downsizings today: executives sometimes see their role in tunnel vision.

On the benefit of an engineering education

When you decide to study engineering, you really don't know what you'll be doing on down the road. I've said this to my own kids: For an undergraduate education, I don't think there's anything better than engineering. The way you think about things and look analytically at a problem is going to benefit you no matter what you do, whether it's medicine, law, or some other field. When you get into a company, you can go wherever you want: sales, marketing, management.

On college coursework

To those in school now, I'd say take the hardest courses you're capable of taking. Once you take basketweaving and then try to retrain yourself more technically, you can't go back. Set the highest standards you can for yourself. If you do that, you're going to come out ahead.

1994- :
Chairman of the Board, President, and CEO, Foster Wheeler Corp. The company's operations include the design, engineering, and building of process plants and fired heaters for oil refineries and the production of steam generators and condensers.
1992-94:
President and Chief Operating Officer. Increased net earnings at a 20% annual rate.
1992:
Group Executive and Executive Vice President, Energy Equipment Group.
1989-92:
CEO and Group Executive, Power Systems Group.
1987-89:
President and Chief Operating Officer, Foster Wheeler Power Systems.
1986-87:
Vice President, Foster Wheeler International Corp.
1984-86:
Director of Contract Operations, Paris subsidiary.
1981-84:
Director of Commercial Operations, Process Plants Division.
1972-81:
Project Manager, Process Plants Division, Foster Wheeler Corp. Designed large utility boilers.
1966-70:
Commissioned officer, U.S. Army Infantry.

BSME '66, U.S. Military Academy; MSME '72, Purdue.