Aug. 25, 2017

Bob Bowen

Bob Bowen, a distinguished entrepreneur in the construction industry, is a proud IPS graduate and businessman who continues to give back to the community.

His rise as a businessman began during his college years, but he credits his IPS education for providing the foundation to his promising career. Bowen, a 1957 graduate of Shortridge High School, is founder and chairman of Bowen Engineering Corporation. The Indianapolis-based, multimarket company specializes in water and wastewater treatment plants and energy utility construction that covers more than 15 states throughout the Midwest and Southeastern United States.

Bowen and his wife Terry set up the Bowen Family Foundation Inc., which provides scholarships to African-American students: “I believe that a country cannot survive if all people aren’t taken care of, and I feel very blessed and now feel it’s my responsibility to give back.” Additionally, he partners with the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust to award 80 scholarships a year. Together, the Bowens have awarded more than 800 scholarships.

Early life in Indianapolis …

I originally planned to go to (Arsenal) Tech because my father graduated from Tech. However, all my classmates went to Shortridge, so I went to Shortridge instead. I was an average student – placing 255 out of 625 students. I attended School 45 for elementary school and had the lead in the school play. No one believed I would amount to anything because I was an average student, but my English teacher saw something in me and encouraged me. I ended up playing the lead of Johnny Appleseed in our school play.

Your experience at Shortridge …

Honestly, I wasn’t getting anywhere being an average student. My cousin asked me to join the dance band where I learned to play the saxophone and became good at playing it. I ran cross-country, but wasn’t good at it. Though I was an average student, I received a great education.

Fondest IPS memory as a student …

I have a few fond memories – one of which is being in the dance band and in the vaudeville act. I was also in the pit band for all other acts. I remember my calculus teacher telling me I wouldn’t make it through Purdue. I also remember traveling to New York for the first time with my teacher, Mrs. Hamilton, my junior year, which was a very exciting trip.

My IPS education prepared me for ….

Success. I received a good education at IPS. When I went to Purdue, I knew I was well prepared. I survived Purdue because I had a good education. I was better prepared than most other students.

Higher Education …

I received my bachelor’s in civil engineering. I started as a mediocre student. After 2 years, I maintained a C average. I dropped out and worked at Indiana State Highway for a year and took part in building the 465 interstates. I then went back to Purdue and told myself I am smart enough to perform better and complete my college education. I made A’s and B’s from then on and graduated with a B average. I was in the Purdue marching band and loved it. It was a very exciting experience. Once I started making good grades, I received the greatest job ever.

My life since graduating …

Once I settled down and made good grades, everything fell into place. I first started out as the project manager for a construction company in California. We built waste water treatment plants. Six years later, in 1967, I started my company, Bowen Engineering. I could have started the company in California, but I am glad I came back to Indiana to build my business because I was brought up here; my father’s company was here and my family was here.

Nonetheless, Bowen Engineering is celebrating 50 years this year. Today, it’s all about Bowen Engineering. All the companies I competed with are now all out of business because they didn’t know how to take care of their employees. My company is a union contractor. We hire all union workers. All my apprentices get a two-year degree from Ivy Tech. Ivy Tech gave over 10,000 degrees to two-year apprentices. We’re the only state that does this.

Currently, I teach at Purdue where each year during the first class I have students write to their mentor. I have students then read the letter to me. I received this idea from my grandson as he wrote a letter to me 12 years ago that inspired this idea. Nonetheless, I have the students mail the letters to their mentor and I keep a copy.

Proudest accomplishments …

I am proud of starting Bowen Engineering and receiving an honorary doctorate at Purdue University. I am proud of my wife Terry and am most proud of my employees at Bowen Engineering. We built a family, a team that works well.

Family …

My family has been in construction since the 19th century. My great-grandfather worked on the Greensburg Courthouse. I came from an extensive line of contractors, including my grandfather and father.

My wife Terry and I have been married for 28 years. We have four children – three boys and one girl. We have 10 grandkids – seven grandsons and three granddaughters. I am very proud of my kids and my grandchildren.  

Interests/ Hobbies …

I like to go biking. I am active with the Purdue Foundation and I enjoy spending time with my grandchildren.

Vision/Dreams …

My son oversees the business. I am 77 years old and retired.  My dream is that the family business is passed down to my grandkids to eventually take over. All my grandchildren have been told they can join the family business, but they must get a college degree and work somewhere else first.

Final Quote …

“It is not concrete and pipe, it’s people. You can’t build a company and not take care of your people.” — Bob Bowen