THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JAMES A. BONDOUX

HIRED AS A PAWN IN A CORPORATE POWER PLAY

Bechtelís hugely successful history was a four decade-long string of construction projects and engineering feats, in such things as dams, power plants, pipelines, oil refineries, steel mills, mines, airports, hotels, harbors, and much more. The company's top echelon was a small group of hard-charging, no-nonsense, pragmatic engineering and construction types whose focus was getting "it" done, on time and under budget, whatever "it" might be. The culture was tough and gruff.

A member of that echelon was "Raph" Dorman, an urbane, elegant, refined gentleman, widely read and interested in poetry, often characterized as "a Renaissance Man", and who seemed quite out of place (and thereby somewhat suspect to his engineering and construction colleagues). Raph had prospered due to his ability to open doors and gain access to top government and business decision-makers around the world, and to his extreme loyalty and dedication to the Bechtel family.

His latest new initiative – the commercial information and financing department – was composed of a colorful collection of individuals which included, among others, a Russian economist, a former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, a municipal bond specialist, a retired British military officer, an international banker, a former multinational development bank executive, and so on. This group was totally alien to the companyís core engineering–construction culture.

Sometime in 1973, Raph imagined another innovative tool for obtaining business – the capacity to invest in a prospective clientís new project. He set out to annex Bechtelís investment department, which had control of Bechtelís growing financial reserves and therefore the resources needed to carry out the idea. Being rebuffed in this quest (no surprise, given the cultural clash), he decided to attempt at an end-run by hiring his own investment professional. This is where I came in, sold on the idea of direct project investment, and naively unaware of the simmering organizational conflict.

No client investment project having yet been identified, I was asked on my first day to review a recent commitment, described in a lengthy report, made by the investment department. I found the investment analysis to be pseudo-sophisticated, academic, and more oriented toward tax considerations than to the fundamentals of risk and return. I remember a lot of Monte Carlo simulations, but not much in the way of boots-on-the-ground, grassroots research and analysis. And I innocently said so in a fairly blunt two-page memo to Raph.

The feedback was immediate and enthusiastic, I was momentarily stunned since the response seemed to me to be so much out of proportion to the effort I had expended. Raph then escorted me on a grand tour of the entire executive suite, introducing me in glowing terms to each of the top corporate movers and shakers. Since I was one of his minions, and clearly neither an engineer nor a hard-hat construction guy, the tour probably proved equally damaging and helpful to my prospects with BechtelÖ

Hiree

Self-confident young Turk pictured in the mid-1970s.



He had over the years, contributed necessary and useful innovations to the enterprise, for instance correctly and successfully arguing for the need for a personnel department (before the term "Human Resources" came into use) and then a public relations department (whose mission would become to keep Bechtelís name out of the news), a new business intelligence unit, to which eventually would be added a financing services group intended to facilitate prospective clientsí ability to launch new projects and cement Bechtelís role in executing those projects.

Each time, after Raph had sold his idea, he was happily granted the task of creating the new organization but also, eventually, he would find himself slowly edged out of his new staff department, as it became an intrusion onto the turf of the other Bechtel managers running the various line departments of the business.

Bechtel Corporate Logo

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