2009 Distinguished achievement award: P. Dan Gilbert

// Civil & Environmental Engineering

Tags: alumni, CEE E-Day, Engineers' Day, P. Dan Gilbert

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P. Dan Gilbert
Gilbert Mechanical Contractors Inc.
Edina, Minnesota

In 1961, the year P. Dan Gilbert entered college, U.S. President John F. Kennedy announced the country would land an astronaut on the moon by 1970. For Gilbert and many of his peers, the race to the moon provided the impetus to study engineering.

Gilbert grew up on the Near West Side of Madison, in the shadow of Camp Randall Stadium, in a house his parents purchased to afford their children ready access to the university. Both the stadium and the greater campus became Gilbert’s playground, where he learned to ski, box, wrestle, swim, climb buildings, and sneak into Badger football games.

As a UW-Madison student, Gilbert was interested in becoming a bridge designer. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering in 1966 and worked for the Trane Company as a sales engineer until 1971. For the next seven years, he worked for a heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) contractor, pursuing the design/construct marketplace and becoming certified in Minnesota as a registered professional engineer. During that time, Gilbert realized he wanted to run his own company. With the support of his wife, Marty, he invested their savings, leveraged their house, and founded Gilbert Mechanical Contractors Inc. in 1978.

Based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the engineering, construction and service company grossed about $300,000 its first year. Over the last 30 years, the company has grown consistently at 18 percent per year, with 2008 sales approaching $40 million. The company designs and installs controls, electrical, fire protection, plumbing, and HVAC systems in buildings ranging from medical and educational facilities to large-scale retail, industrial and office complexes. Long active in Bible study, Gilbert says his Christian faith has helped shape his ethics and values.

Gilbert is a past president of the Minnesota Mechanical Contractors Association and served for 23 years as a trustee on the local plumbers and pipefitters health and welfare fund. As an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota, he developed and taught Building Energy Systems, a required course for construction management students.

Gilbert also enthusiastically and actively participates in his community, extending both personal involvement and financial support to such organizations as the Salvation Army, Hope Academy (a private, inner-city Christian school), local hospitals, and others, including UW-Madison.

After 40 years of racing sailboats, Gilbert now prefers fishing for grouper and snapper in the Gulf of Mexico. In addition, he is an avid golfer, both at courses in Minnesota and in Florida, where he and Marty spend winters. The two, who celebrated their 38th wedding anniversary in August, have two children. John is an artist in Santa Monica, California, while Erika is a part-time journalist and lives with husband Dan Henschel and their two children in Telluride, Colorado.