William Lyles III
President and CEO
Lyles Diversified Inc.
For his outstanding accomplishments and leadership in civil and construction engineering, and for his entrepreneurial achievements and support of community, the College of Engineering is proud to present the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award to William Lyles.
Written in the Stars
For William Lyles III, graduating from Purdue seemed like an act of fate.
“I was in the Derby Parade in 1935, the year my father graduated,” he says. “I wore a sweatshirt that read CE ’55. And that’s a sure chance that I would graduate from Purdue 20 years later.”
Lyles grew up in El Segundo, California, where his father worked for Standard Oil before starting his own construction company in 1940. Lyles began working on the construction crews of the family business when he was only twelve years old.
“I knew very early that construction was what I wanted to follow,” he says.
A high school graduate six years later, Lyles returned to Purdue, where he tailored his coursework to fit his future plans.
“At that time, no schools that I know of had construction management in their programs,” Lyles says, “so I kind of created my own construction management program.” This self-orchestrated curriculum included civil engineering, accounting, labor relations, economics, and public speaking. “I may not have got it started,” Lyles says, “but I certainly did it before it was created.”
A Family Affair
Family ties with Purdue run deep for Lyles, himself a third-generation engineering legacy.
“My grandfather was H. T. Venimen, who is listed as one of the teachers of the year on the board outside the student union,” Lyles says. Venimen, a recognized expert on refrigeration engineering, taught an undergraduate course in heat and power technology. Lyles enrolled in the course. “So I had my own grandfather as a professor,” he says.
Lyles was also a “half-miler” on the Purdue track team and a member of the glee club.
After graduation, Lyles served two years as a construction supervisor in the Civil Engineering Corps of the U.S. Navy and then joined the family business in 1957.
“I figured I wasn’t brilliant enough to invent something that was patentable, and I wasn’t lucky enough to hit a gold mine or an oil well,” Lyles says. “So I thought I would go back and try to be a part of a little bit of something my parents began in at the end of World War II; I wanted to work and build the family business.”
When his father passed away in 1965, Lyles became president of the company he had worked in as a young boy.
“I realized in my sophomore year of Purdue that every time I received some honor or some success, I was thrilled to death for a short time,” Lyles says, “but then I would always say ‘What next?’”
Driven to Succeed
This drive has taken the construction business that Lyles’s parents began at the end of World War II into a corporate expansion that now includes real estate, pipeline, utility, concrete, and mechanical construction, as well as agricultural manufacturing operations.
In 1987, under Lyles’s entrepreneurial leadership, Lyles Diversified joined Pelco—a closed-circuit television manufacturer—in an unusual partnership for a construction company. Since the venture, Pelco’s growth has been thirty-fold; the company now employs 1,400 workers and currently holds the heavyweight title as the world’s largest manufacturer of video security equipment.
Lyles’s entrepreneurial expertise is widely recognized. He is on the Fresno Chamber of Commerce; the Advisory Council of Purdue’s School of Civil Engineering; and the Boards of Directors of the Fresno Opera Association, the Boys and Girls Club, and the Fresno Metropolitan Museum, to name some of the fourteen civic and corporate positions which he holds. In addition, Lyles is a chair on the Business School advisory board and is the Entrepreneur in Residence at California State University in Fresno.
And the Purdue engineering legacy continues. Lyles’s son graduated from Purdue with two degrees in 1981. “So there’s actually four generations in a row of our family,” he says, “that have graduated from Purdue.”
|2001||Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, California State University|
|2001||Civil Engineering Alumni Achievement Award, Purdue|
|1999||Fresno Foundation Service Award, California State University|
|1999||Entrepreneur in Residence, Business School, California State University, Fresno|
|1987||Lyles Diversified acquires Pelco|
|1965-present||President and CEO, Lyles Diversified|
|1955-57||Civil Engineering Corps., U.S. Navy|
BSCE ’55, Purdue University