Alumni Spotlight: Brian Reilly ENG ‘80

“I’m very passionate about the School of Engineering.” –Brian Reilly ENG'80, Civil and Environmental Engineering

Brian Reilly (BS, Civil Engineering) is a senior vice president at Bechtel, where he is currently serving as project director for the firm’s Uranium Processing Facility Project, a $6.5 billion DOE complex. During his 36 years with Bechtel, he has served in many senior roles, most recently as the Manager of Operations for the company’s nuclear power business,  and has led many major projects. Chairman of the School of Engineering Industry Advisory Board, he and his wife Stacey (DC’80) are generous supporters of the Reilly Douglass Engineering Living-Learning Community.

Where did you grow up?

Stacey and I are both from Toms River, NJ. We were high school sweethearts and have been together for 42 years, and married for 35.

Why did you choose Rutgers School of Engineering?

It’s a good school with a good reputation for engineering. As a state school, tuition was attractive. I thought a degree from there would give me many opportunities. Last but not least, I also went there to be with Stacey.

I’d always known I wanted to build things, but I didn’t know how I wanted to do that.  So I studied drafting and architectural design and got an AA degree at Mercer County Community College. Then I realized I most enjoyed the technical aspects of what I was studying and turned to civil engineering. That’s when I also turned to Rutgers.

What did you do after graduation?

I started working at Bechtel.

What is your current project?

I’m project director for building a $6.5 billion, 650,000-square-foot uranium processing facility. It’s going to house a lot of the operations that take place with uranium at Y12 – a complex which was built as part of the Manhattan Project in the 1940s at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The new facility will improve safety and security and is scheduled to be turned over for operations by 2025.

How do you like Tennessee?

We moved here two years ago. Stacey retired from teaching high school Spanish before we moved and immediately became immersed in volunteer efforts in our new community, and I think she’s as busy as I am. It’s a great area, the people are so nice, and the scenery is great.

Why did you decide to support the Reilly-Douglass Engineering Living Learning Community?  

Women engineers haven’t had the right kind of support system, and as such there’s a low retention rate for women engineers. It starts early -- when students identify a major and what they want to do with their lives.  Stacey, who has mentored women as a teacher, and I are both passionate about this issue.

Douglass dean Jacquelyn Litt and School of Engineering dean Thomas Farris had the tremendously innovative idea for this community that would get women together, and provide a built-in support and mentoring systems. We wanted to support that.

Did you have mentors who made a difference to you?

When I think back to different points in my career timeline, I realize that without mentors to turn to when it was time to make decisions, I don’t know if I’d be where I am today.

What do you most enjoy about being a mentor?

When younger people come to me and ask for time to talk about their careers. That’s the best part of my job.

How did you get involved with SoE?

Six years ago, I went back to the School after not having been back for 30 years. I was living in Maryland at the time. I realized that Bechtel was no longer recruiting from Rutgers, and this didn’t make sense as we had recruited very successfully there in the past. I cold-called Dean Farris and told him I hadn’t been engaged but was ready to get involved.

He gave me a tour, put me in a room with students involved in Engineers Without Borders. The school and students sold themselves. I was hooked. I’m very passionate about the school. I’m engaged and involved.

What advice would you give to fellow alumni who might want to support Rutgers by becoming mentors?

They should get engaged --  get to know the students and professors and the interesting and cutting edge things that are taking place at Rutgers.

Why are internships so important?

I tell our interns that their internships are basically a three-month job interview. Internships are a great way for a company to decide if a student fits their needs and culture, and for the student to determine the same things for themselves.  We’ve found it’s one of the best ways to identify great talent.

What do you look for in a new hire?

I look for maturity and leadership -- and the ability to communicate. If you have that, you will probably succeed wherever you go.

What’s your own leadership style like?

It’s situation-driven, because different situations call for different methods.  

For me, leadership is another form of mentoring. I like to surround myself with really smart people who don’t necessarily agree with me and bring them into the decision-making process. Different opinions are offered, and at the end of the day I need to make the decision. With their input and perspectives, I’ll be able to make a better decision.

Did any professors influence you?

One course in construction management taught by adjunct professor Bob Brehm changed my life. I was doing well in the class and really liked it. He could tell, so he asked me if I’d ever heard of Bechtel and suggested I look them up as they were coming to campus to interview. I had to ask people about Bechtel—there was no internet back then to look things up. I interviewed—flying from Newark to DC on my first flight—and got the job.

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your student self?

I would tell myself college is a lot harder than I thought. High school was easy. Community college was easy. Rutgers Engineering was hard. I didn’t know the right way to study or manage my time.  I’d say get ready: you’re moving up a league. And look for help: find mentors and a support system. That would have made it easier for me.

What did you do for fun as a student?

I spent time with my girlfriend Stacey. I may have spent more time on Douglass campus than Busch.

How do you spend your free time these days? Stacey and I like to travel. I play golf. Because my job has required us to move a few times, we like taking advantage of the things those different areas have to offer. We’ve taken up biking here.

If you could take a vacation tomorrow, where would you go and why?

Next month, Stacey and I are looking forward to going on a biking trip in Belgium and The Netherlands.