Engineering alum Bechthold receives honorary doctorate at UW-Madison spring commencement
In 1992, a young African-American man named Sean McDowell signed on as a seasonal laborer with Waukesha, Wisconsin-based asphalt production and construction services company Payne & Dolan. Through a combination of his own initiative, on-the-job training, and personal mentoring from the company’s CEO, McDowell not only rose through the Payne & Dolan ranks, he struck out on his own and formed not one, but two successful companies.
McDowell’s mentor was Payne & Dolan chairman Ned Bechthold, a man known as much for innovation in and vision for the asphalt industry as he is for his compassion for all people and his commitment to the community. McDowell is among the hundreds of people whose lives Ned has quietly touched — and changed — as an employer, a mentor, a benefactor, and an ambassador. “Ned’s success is driven by his aspiration and motivation to succeed by helping people, business and community organizations prosper,” says colleague Ervin Benish, of Construction Resources Management. “Ned’s philosophy is to feel success by helping others succeed.”
A 1959 bachelor’s degree recipient in civil and environmental engineering, Bechthold will receive an honorary doctorate of science May 14 during the UW-Madison spring 2010 commencement ceremonies.
An innovator in his company and industry
After earning his bachelor’s degree, Bechthold served as a officer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and joined Payne & Dolan, his father’s road construction business, in 1962. From that point, his involvement in the company, the community and the asphalt industry rapidly increased. Guided by a customer-centric focus, Payne & Dolan has completed contracting jobs that range in size from parking lots to the Interstate and Milwaukee’s Marquette Interchange. “His intensity and work ethic are unbelievable,” says Edward Reesman, a 48-year Payne & Dolan employee and current company vice president. “His understanding of customers’ needs, employees and employees’ needs, and industry and the industry’s needs, gave him the tools that he needed to be the highly respected leader of our company, an outstanding leader and motivator of the paving industry, and a tireless community activist with many positive results.”
Within his company and his industry, Bechthold embraces an “advancement through innovation” philosophy. With a few colleagues around the country, he helped to establish the National Center for Asphalt Technology (NCAT) at Auburn University, created to help the asphalt industry develop durable, environmentally friendly, quiet, safe and economical pavements. After the center was established, he served as the NCAT board of directors chair. He also was president of the Wisconsin Asphalt Pavement Association and the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association, and served on the boards of the National Asphalt Pavement Association, and the Michigan asphalt pavement and transportation builders associations. “On each important issue within each of the associations, it was a consensus that the involvement of Ned Bechthold was needed,” says Rob Witte, retired president of Koch Materials. “That is a true testimony to Ned. His pioneer efforts in quality pavement performance truly added value to society.”
In Wisconsin, Bechthold played a key role in developing a five-year pavement warranty program for selected Wisconsin Department of Transportation projects. His companies — Payne & Dolan, and Northeast Asphalts — were the first to complete warranty projects. Payne & Dolan also took the lead in forming state and local committees devoted to improving hot-mix asphalt performance.
For his company, Bechthold hired a quality-control manager to oversee product improvement and new product development. The company researched and adopted technologies such as pavement additives, foamed asphalt, fly ash for road base stabilization, and stone-matrix asphalts. For the latter, Bechthold traveled to Europe to research stone-matrix asphalt use there. Ultimately, Payne & Dolan was the first U.S. company to install a test strip for feasibility research it conducted in conjunction with the Federal Highway Administration and the state of Wisconsin. Today, stone-matrix asphalt is the premiere hot-mix asphalt pavement in the United States.
In the late 1970s, Payne & Dolan started a recycling program that enabled it to reuse such materials as pulverized asphalt pavements, oil, tires, glass, foundry sand and roofing shingles. Bechthold hired an environmental expert to manage and promote environmental responsibility; Payne & Dolan is a perennial National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) Ecological Award recipient.
Asphalt paving contractors and researchers around the country recognize Bechthold’s contributions to and leadership in the industry: In 2005, NAPA members inducted him into the Hot-Mix Asphalt Hall of Fame. “Ned’s pioneering efforts have benefitted the entire nation and have enhanced Wisconsin’s reputation as a transportation leader,” says Frank Busalacchi, Wisconsin transportation secretary.
Developing a more diverse workforce
However, Bechthold’s greatest contributions have less to do with asphalt than they do with his devotion to his community — both as a place to do business and a place where all citizens deserve a chance to enjoy better quality of life. “The work he has done on the front lines and behind the scenes to help underprivileged youth, promote diversity in employment practices, and support innovation and higher education is extraordinary, especially for one person,” says Tim Hoeksema, Midwest Airlines chairman, president and CEO.
Nearly 20 years ago, Bechthold recognized the need to diversify the construction industry workforce, and began with his own company. Working with inner-city Milwaukee organizations, Payne & Dolan began recruiting, screening, interviewing and hiring minority and female workers. He helped these new workers obtain or renew driver’s licenses, paid their outstanding parking tickets, and provided them loans to purchase cars — or simply donated cars — so they could drive to distant job sites. In addition, he ensured each new worker received mentoring, training, feedback and the opportunity for professional growth. Payne & Dolan has hired hundreds of employees through this program. “He did it without fanfare and never made the people he hired feel like he was doing them a big favor. He said he needed them,” says John Norquist, former Milwaukee mayor. “They might start in his cement bagging plant, but Ned encouraged his employees to get additional education. Several went on to school while working for Ned and now are prosperous U.S. citizens raising their families and living the American dream.”
Some employees, like Sean McDowell and William Earl Johnson, eventually founded their own companies. “Ned passed the baton of success to me and I am now doing the same for others through employment, training and skill-building,” says McDowell, president of McDowell Construction and McDowell Affordable Concrete. “My impact today parallels Ned’s mentoring from years ago; I am his protégé.”
Today, Johnson’s son Eric Mandel Johnson runs South Star Trucking, the company he founded in 1984 at Bechthold’s urging. “I have been in business for over twenty-five years and in that span I have helped more than twenty people in the same way that Ned helped me,” says the younger Johnson. “Ned’s strong commitment to community and diversity has continued in me. Ned is the embodiment of the Minority Business Enterprise programs developed by governments to strengthen black businesses, which in turn, strengthens black families.”
Throughout his career, Bechthold has worked to proclaim the benefits of a diverse workforce with business owners both locally and nationally. Payne & Dolan minority hiring programs have become national models and Bechthold now travels around the country to speak about his company’s efforts.
His commitment to diversity isn’t only for the benefit of his company or his industry. Rather, he genuinely cares for people. “Not only has Ned committed time, talent and treasure to so many important causes in our broader community, he is thoughtful for the future strength of organizations and encourages involvement of the next generation at leadership levels,” says Daniel McKeithan, chairman and CEO of Tamarack Petroleum Co. “He and [wife] Helen are driven by compassion for the cause and the people served, not for personal recognition.”
Devoted to his community
Bechthold maintains a presence in the community. As the Rev. Mick Roschke, an inner-city Milwaukee pastor, says: “Ned is the kind of person who doesn’t just promise to help others; he follows through.”
Bechthold has taken an ongoing, active role in such organizations as the Boys & Girls Clubs, Junior Achievement of Wisconsin, the Next Door Foundation, Boy Scouts, PAVE (Partners Advancing Values in Education), the Minority Business Enterprise Development Program, and the Greater Milwaukee Committee, among others. In addition to long-term service on boards of directors, he has committed financial assistance to myriad immediate and long-term needs. For example, he and Helen provided funds that enabled the Boys & Girls Clubs to build a gymnasium at a new Boys & Girls Clubs location for which fund-raising efforts fell short. They supported inner-city Milwaukee programs for impoverished youth and jobless disabled residents. They established a college scholarship fund and encouraged fellow Boys & Girls Clubs trustees to support scholarship programs that have provided tuition assistance to more than 1,000 young people to date. “Ned is one of the greatest humanitarians I know,” says Samuel Williams, Boys & Girls Club of Milwaukee executive vice president. “And we are fortunate to have him on our team.”