Robert L. Bowen

President and CEO
Bowen Engineering Corporation
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[Robert L. Bowen]

For his outstanding contributions to the construction industry, and for his loyalty and devotion to Purdue University, the Schools of Engineering are proud to present the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award to Robert L. Bowen.

On learning engineering before Purdue

In grade school I picked up graphing like a duck takes to water, and I was always good at math and shop. My dad was a civil engineer, a paving contractor, and I worked for him in the summers. He taught me surveying, and I ran a survey crew for him in college.

On his musical career

At Purdue I played saxophone in the band, and I remember all the band trips to Illinois, Ohio State, and Wisconsin. If we took the whole band there were seven buses. Some of the buses came back after the game but one bus would always stay-and I always stayed. We'd leave town about midnight and sleep all the way back. [Band director] Al Wright was great-he walked on water. It was about as much fun as I've ever had, but I didn't appreciate it at the time. Now I'd just love to be back and do it again! Whenever the alumni band marches I'm out there with them, and the crowd is really supportive.

On his first job after graduation

Professor Frank Stubbs helped me get my first job. I went to California to work for W. M. Lyles. That was as great a job as I expect Purdue had to offer. At Lyles I was a stockholder and I got experience in every part of the business, which led to me starting my own company. I will always be indebted to the Lyles family and to Stubbs.

On his success

I had no conception my career would go like this. If I had closed my eyes 40 years ago and made a wish, it wouldn't be anything near what we've done. My business is doing so well; we're working on a record year and I'm in total shock. We're finishing a $30 million design-build job. The owner negotiated only with us. For an owner to have that much confidence in you brings tears to your eyes. And we did him right-we're $5 million under budget.

On the future of his business

We've built something with a strong foundation, and now younger people in our company are stepping up. We're in the process of making a serious transition from the old guard to new and younger managers and leaders. It's gratifying to see so many people coming in here with creative ideas and new ways of doing things. Our company is in a changing market, and we've got to keep up with the market. We're constantly looking around for new, different, and better ways of doing things. For example, we now have a tunneling business-I never imagined being in the tunneling sector 30 years ago, but we have a big job in Dayton tunneling a 48-inch sanitary sewer through solid rock. I can hardly believe this is Bowen Engineering! And to my knowledge, we are the only contractor in the state doing post-tensioning concrete. We're going into metal building construction, to try to do more industrial work. We've got to constantly look for new ways of doing things in order to be at the front of our business in the next century. It's a challenge, because the competition are a bunch of sharp guys, too.

On his engineering

degree I wouldn't trade my civil engineering degree for a hundred million dollars. I feel like I got a great education. I still do some design management. If there's anything Purdue stands for, it's the highest values and traditions and highest quality in everything they've done. They have a long history of excellence. I don't think you can achieve success in business today unless you have the highest values and the highest standards. You can't survive by cheating people or lying, and at Purdue you don't get those things. Purdue is the other side of the coin-they're upbeat and first-class. I travel all over the world, and no matter where I go, when I tell people I'm a Purdue graduate, I'm automatically respected and admired. The rest of the world thinks Purdue is a private school-the Harvard of the Midwest.

Won Ernst & Young's Indiana Heartland Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
Outstanding Civil Engineering Alumnus, Purdue.
Bowen Engineering won Contractor of the Year Award from Habitat for Humanity. To date, the firm has built five Habitat homes.
Won AGC of America (SIR) Skill, Integrity, Responsibility Award recognizing leadership in the construction industry.
President, AGC of Indiana (construction trade association).
1967- :
Founder, President, and CEO, Bowen Engineering. The firm is engaged in municipal, utility, industrial, and environmental construction and is the largest environmental contractor in the Indianapolis area. Its 350 employees include 23 Purdue graduates. Bowen Engineering has planned or built more than 700 water and wastewater treatment systems.
Project Manager, W. M. Lyles Construction Company.
Survey Chief, R. M. Bowen Construction Company.
Survey Chief, Indiana Department of Highways.

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