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Building for the Future

A new era begins at Bowen Engineering

By MARY BREIDENBACH

Like all Krannert graduates, Doug Bowen understands the importance of statistical analysis. But one set of numbers simply doesn’t compute for him — those showing that fewer than one in five family-owned companies make the transition to a second generation.

As the new president of Bowen Engineering, a self-perform, general construction firm headquartered in Fishers, Indiana, Doug is already building on the success of his father, Robert Bowen, the company’s founder and chief executive officer. “We’re very fortunate and lucky to have a family member take on this position,” says Robert. “A lot of companies are not able to make a generational transition. It can only work if a family member is qualified and genuinely interested in leading the company. Fortunately for us, Doug is both.”

There’s no doubt that Doug knows the family business well. He began his career at age 15 as a summer laborer and continued with the company after earning a BSM from Krannert in 1993. Following two years working in California for a general contractor, he returned to Bowen Engineering to stay. For the last eight years, he has held several positions with the company, advancing from a project manager to senior vice president of administration.

Doug officially assumed leadership of the company last September from Jed Holt, who served as president from 2001 to 2006 and remains with Bowen Engineering as chief operating officer and executive vice president. With Holt’s assistance, however, the transition actually began nearly a year earlier with a reorganization of the company’s management structure. Doug now has a cabinet of leaders that will help lead Bowen into its next phase of growth.

The transition marks a new era for the company, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Under Doug’s guidance, Bowen Engineering is also continuing its transition from a successful start-up company to the $200 million corporation it has now become.

“When my dad started the company as an entrepreneur, he wore every hat. He had to because that’s how you get out of the box,” Doug says. “Now we’re at a point in our growth where that is not the most efficient way to leverage our market position.
The goal now is to be creative and maybe a little unconventional and identify who within the organization can wear each of those hats most effectively.”

This reorganization is far removed from the birth of the business. After graduating from Purdue in 1962 with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, Robert began his construction career with a company in California. He returned to Indianapolis in 1967 and started Bowen Engineering in his home, working for six months before landing a contract. In year two, the first successful project was completed in Brookston, Indiana, netting a profit of $6,000.

Today, Bowen Engineering has grown to employ more than 700 people working on projects throughout the Midwest and South. It operates three offices in Indiana as well as locations in West Virginia and Tennessee, and the utility markets it now serves include water, wastewater, power, steam, and chilled water.

“In the past year, we’ve had about 30 people shift roles. It wasn’t about getting the right people on the bus. For the most part we had the right people. It was about getting them in the right seat where they’ll be most effective, charged up, and having fun,” Doug says.

Other changes also include strategic planning based on the tactical plans of each department. As Doug explains, this type of planning allows everyone in the company to be on the same track so they can contribute fully. And it is this type of planning that reflects the new president’s focus. “My focus is to create an environment where people count and have a voice,” Doug says. “If you’re willing to listen, everyone has a nugget to offer.”

With the transfer of leadership to the second generation and so many changes in the structure of the company, there are sure to be some moments of unease. But Bowen Engineering is aware of the difficult path it has embarked on and feels well prepared for the journey.

As former president Holt says, “Any company heading into its second generation has every reason to be fearful; however, I am proud of the way Doug has developed into what will become our greatest president. We will see our company succeed beyond our expectations with Doug at the wheel.”

“I think he’s going to take us to the next level,” adds founder Robert. “We’re going to be a better company, a bigger company, and have much more impact on our industry.”

In addition to his father’s strong support, Doug also receives great encouragement from his wife, Julie, and their children, 6-year-old Ali and 3-year-old Bryce. He sees a bright future for Bowen Engineering and is determined to beat the odds against second generation business success.

“My vision is to positively change and move the corporation forward yet still maintain the core values of the company and continue to provide the best opportunities to our employees,” he says.