FROM: The Diplomate: The Magazine of the American Academy of Environmental Engineers, 27:3 (July 1991), p.10ff.

Dr. Paul L. Busch, P.E., DEE
Engineer, Philosopher

By William C. Anderson, P.E., DEE

At a time when the only constant is change, it is unusual to find someone who has followed the same course for nearly 40 years. At 15 Paul Busch decided he wanted to be an environmental engineer. This odd choice, in the context of the early fifties, was made for reasons even he cannot recall. But, he has no regrets. Today he is the President and chief Executive Officer for Malcolm Pirnie, Inc., the only employer he has known since beginning to practice environmental engineering.

I fist met Paul Busch in 1983 when we served as members of the board of Trustees of the Academy, he as Trustee-at-Large and I representing ASCE. The Academy has been the focal point of our relationship ever since. Paul moved on to become an officer and President of the Academy in 1988 while I moved into the Executive Director's position. Working together as President and Executive Director is a unique relationship which necessarily colors much of this story.

My first impressions of Paul were that he was bright and ambitious. Nothing that has occurred in the ensuing years gave cause to alter those initial impressions. However, I've since learned that there are additional facets. He is a workaholic and a perfectionist who abhors leaving anything to chance. He is capable of extraordinary powers of concentration. But, he takes pains to conceal these qualities by an "Aw, shucks," easy-going facade that belies an intensity curbed by learned discipline. And, in spite of his 50-plus years, he radiates an infectious, boyish enthusiasm for life, environmental engineering and Malcolm Pirnie. When he likes something, it is always, "Boy, that's really neat!"

Gifted with talents in math and science, his love is history and philosophy. These natural talents and the conventional wisdom of his early advisors were instrumental in propelling him into engineering. But it was history and philosophy combined with an inspiring high school teacher, William Issacs, that guided Paul early on to consider the consequences of oneís actions. Sparked by Isaacs, Paul pursued his philosophical interests with formal courses at MIT. At Malcolm Pirnie, the young engineer Busch learned from Earnest Whitlock, one of the firmís founding partners, the practical connections between engineering, history and philosophy and their application in the business of consulting engineering.

But, Paul is too action-oriented to find philosophical pursuits totally satisfying. He is attracted by technology and revels in the quest for new and imaginative problem solutions. To some, Paulís interests may appear to be schizophrenic. However, his willingness to assess the implications of technology is a particularly important attribute that Paul brings to the practice of environmental engineering.

He is a team-oriented person. Unlike the standout star, in the mold of a Larry Bird, Joe Namath or Reggie Jackson who through singular talent and force of personality produce winning teams. Paul is the consummate team player. Accordingly, his resume is not studded with rewards for individual performance, but rather his success is reflected in the success of Malcolm Pirnie. And, while this is a story about Paul Busch the man, it is inextricably intertwined with that of the firm.

Malcolm Pirnie, Inc. is one of the nationís oldest environmental engineering consultants with a legacy of some 90-plus years. During its life the firm has grown to be one of the nationís largest firms specializing in environmental engineering. Due to the competitive nature of the consulting business, the approach the large firm brings to the application of technology and business practices produce profession-wide impacts. Therefore, what Malcolm Pirnie does and how it does it under Paulís leadership, a reflection, in part, of his personal perspectives, is of more than a passing interest to the entire profession. However, I'm getting ahead of Paulís story.

Halloween 1937, Paul entered the lives of Merwin and Lillian Busch. He joined Hope, 4 years his senior, thereby completing the idealized American family. Merwin Busch owned a small business that manufactured roof and floor drains and grease traps. Life in the Bronx for young Paul was at first a struggle but improved with the fortunes of his fatherís business. When his father could, he indulged young Paul, yet he also expected work and performance. Unlike the prototypical "New Yorker," summer camps in the Poconos and Catskills taught young Paul that there was a world beyond the Hudson filled with more than concrete, steel and hustle. Little in the early years suggested the success that has followed. Paul was, in his words, "an adequate though not spectacular student in high school". The drive to succeed was there, but it had not yet focused.

The college phase in Paul's career spans twelve years with only a two-year "sabbatical" in the practical world. During this time he earned four degrees and pursued a fifth. The college years are formative for many, particularly so for Paul. He also had the good fortune to learn from and associate with many of the leaders in the environmental engineering profession at that time as well as with others who today occupy similar positions of prominence.

He began this odyssey at MIT in 1954, chosen because of his math and science skills, to study civil engineering. Part way through his freshman year he decided that he wanted to study philosophy. Fortuitously, at that time MIT had just created a program called Humanities and Engineering. This new program enabled Paul to pursue his interest in philosophy while continuing civil engineering. "People thought I was crazy, but in those days you could take all the courses you could schedule at no added cost and I cajoled my way through each year," Paul recalls.

The MIT years kindled in Paul that drive that I later witnessed. In the fifties, MIT was particularly demanding of its undergrads ó a gentlemanís "C" did not exist. Confronted with a room full of valedictorians, Paul was challenged beyond his wildest dreams. "Even in humanities I felt run over, he says. The time demands of the dual degree program forced him to work harder, to prioritize, and to produce more than he thought possible. In that time, MIT required an undergraduate thesis. Paulís on radioactive wastes spanned both degrees and assessed the philosophical implications of radioactive decay spanning generations along with the technical "how-to-do-it" factors. In May 1958 he graduated from MIT with baccalaureate degrees in Civil Engineering and in Humanities and Engineering. In that four-year cauldron he learned that anything was possible if he applied himself, that philosophy was interesting but could not be his lifeís work, and that his early interest in water and the environment offered the best opportunity for a satisfying life-long career.

In the fall of 1958 he entered MIT's sanitary engineering program. The MIT sanitary engineering department was headed by Rolfe Eliassen, one of the Academyís founders, and included such present and future luminaries as Claire Sawyer, James Symons, Perry McCarty and Ross McKinney. His Masterís thesis on activated sludge and other courses spawned an interest in biological waste treatment. The Masterís degree in sanitary Engineering he earned in 1959 was just the beginning. Paul knew he would have to learn more. So he continued at MIT in pursuit of a doctorate degree emphasizing activated sludge with a minor in chemistry / biochemistry and course work in microbiology. Six months before he was to finish his research another person published material very similar to his work. This event and his advisor's response, "Well, now what would you like to do?", were devastating. By now he had a wife and child to consider in addition to his own welfare. As he groped with this traumatic setback, he took a few special courses but concluded he must earn some money. He went to work for Malcolm Pirnie in 1961.

The time at Malcolm Pirnie was but a brief "breath-catching" interlude in Paulís quest for a doctorate degree. In 1963 he turned to Harvard to begin again. The choice of Harvard is in part attributable to Malcolm Pirnie. The senior Pirnie, as well as most anybody who was anybody in the firm at that time, was a Harvard graduate. The choice of Harvard again exposed Paul to other stars and rising stars in the profession. On staff were Gordon Fair, The Master, and Carol Morris, Harold Thomas and Werner Stumm. Working on post-doctoral studies there at the same time were Warren Kaufman, Charlie OíMelia, Ron Packham, who was with the Water Research Association of England, and Owen Bricker, a geochemist now with the USGS.

The association with Werner Stumm, then just emerging as a key player in the world's environment (since Harvard Stumm has headed EAWAG, the Swiss environmental research program) and his wife Elisabeth, a microbiologist who taught Paul German by helping him read relevant German technical articles, was very influential. Through Paulís day in and day out relations with these two, which occupied six days of every week, he learned chemistry, an insight into the impact of nutrients on lakes and streams and that nutrient conversions in waste treatment were possible. A doctoral degree from Harvard in 1966 culminated his unusually lengthy formal education.

The present day Malcolm Pirnie, Inc. began in 1911 when Malcolm Pirnie, Sr., entered the profession as employee of the then nationally known firm of Hazen and Whipple, Sanitary Engineers, which was founded in 1894. Pirnie shared Allen Hazenís interests in water supply and in 1916 he became a partner in the firm then known as Hazen, Whipple and Fuller. Changes in the firm and the stock market crash galvanized Malcolm Pirnie to open his own office, Malcolm Pirnie, Civil Engineer, in 1929.

Pirnie built upon the base he had established with the Hazen organization during the post-depression and war years, 1929-1946, adding to the firm's staff, clients and reputation. In 1946 Pirnie, then employing about 25 people, and a few of his key associates formed the partnership, Malcolm Pirnie Engineers. The firm capitalized on the slowly-awakening interest in pollution control that followed WWII and steadily grew in size to more than 50 employees in 1961 when Paul Busch first worked for the firm. While Paul was employed in his hiatus between MIT and Harvard (1961-1963), the firmís growth curve dramatically increased. There was ample work for the young engineer in many locations east of the Mississippi, and Alaska as well, that kept him forever challenged and always on the move. It even included a residency in Battle Creek, Michigan, to finalize construction and start-up of a new wastewater treatment plant for the city. During this period Paul worked with key Pirnie personnel such as Bob Mitchell, whom Paul regards as one of the best problem-solvers ever, and Dan Okun, to name but two. This practical experience provided a special benefit to Paulís doctoral studies at Harvard.

By the time Paul returned to Malcolm Pirnie in 1966 the changes of rapid growth were everywhere; the firm now employed more than 90 and it had opened offices beyond its headquarters in New York City. The growth continued and in 1970 the partners organized the present day firm as Malcolm Pirnie, Inc. Paul was elected Vice President. The growth during this period brought many new complex assignments that tested Paulís advanced education in waste treatment. The firm established a laboratory for industrial process engineering and put Paul in charge. He, along with Bob Mitchell, also headed a newly-formed process and equipment review Committee.

In the 1970s the adoption of the plethora of environmental laws and regulations that marked this period sustained the firmís continued growth; more offices and personnel were added; technically-unique and challenging assignments were secured from industries and government; and its geographic area of service continued to expand, building upon the international base Mr. Pirnie had established early on. The firmís continuing success and still more environmental regulations produced yet another epochal upward shift in the firmís growth curve as the Ď80s began Paulís success matched that of the firm. In 1988 he became President, succeeding John Foster who had been with the Pirnie organization since 1953 and, as the corporationís first president, presided over the dynamic Ď70s and Ď80s. Today the firm employs more than 950 people and enjoys a reputation for excellence in practice. In the Academyís Excellence in Environmental Engineering competition, it has won an award in all three years of the competitionís existence, two Grand Prizes, and two Honor Awards for its projects, an accomplishment for which Paul is justifiably proud.

A single-minded interest in bettering Malcolm Pirnie left Paul precious little time for other contributions to the profession. But he did find time to serve on a National Research Council Committee that reviewed the Metro Washington Water Supply Study. This assignment led to other NRC committees and to positions on the National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology to EPA and the WPCF Research Foundation as the years unfolded. He served as Trustee-at-Large for the Academy and as a member of its Executive Committee during a period of significant change in the late 1980s.

But Paulís real love in professional matters lies in the education of tomorrow's engineers. He is ingenious in finding the time to be a guest lecturer whenever an invitation is extended. He has served as Mentor to the Masters of Engineering Program at Cornell, as a visiting professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and as an advisor to the Department of Civil Engineering for Polytechnic University. In 1990 he was the Academyís Kappe Lecturer and in that capacity visited 11 campuses.

As the CEO of Malcolm Pirnie, Paulís style is to find and nurture people best qualified to manage key areas so that he can keep in touch with the firmís primary purpose ó serving clients by project work to which he still devotes I 10-20 hours each week. Responding to the lessons he learned from Ernest Whitlock about the importance of good clients for a consultant's success. "I want to continue our focus on clients, quality, cooperation and communication," Paul says, "There is a sense of professionalism that critically differentiates our services from those of a contractor. We have to keep our clientsí interests above our own and the publicís interest above all others."

Paul believes that American industry has to change the way it produces waste. He strongly embraces what is now called "pollution prevention" and other changes in processes and materials to minimize the need for end-of-pipe and end-of-stack treatment. ĎTo respond to these seemingly inevitable changes, Paul and his associates at Malcolm Pirnie are gearing the firm to serve these new approaches to environmental management.

He is intrigued by the Total Quality Management (TQM) concept now in vogue in industrial management. At Pirnie they have adopted the idea under the label "Client Quality Service." According to Paul, "Executing programs to support quality client service requires an integrated effort across the entire organization plus a systematic commitment to continuous improvement. That's a neat idea, which engineers have always understood, but never put in exactly those terms. Iím convinced that continuous improvement in our level of service will be the hallmark of the coming decade."

Aside from his career, Paulís primary interests are his family and enjoying the outdoors he is helping to protect. In the single-minded pursuit of his career, Paul has enjoyed the support and understanding of his bride of 33 years. He first met Iris Greenberg his first year at MIT

while she was a student at nearby Simmons College majoring in psychological measurements. They were married when they both graduated in 1958. Being the top student in her class led to work at MIT for the renowned Edgar Schein doing psychological experimentation. The beginning of her own career provided support for the fledgling Busch family while Paul pursued his graduate studies.

Paul and Iris have been blessed with 3 children, each now successful in their own right. Jordan, the oldest, is a doctor and chief resident at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston. Their second son, Jeffrey is an attorney who also works in Boston. And Lisa is a free-lance science writer living in Sitka, Alaska, who just had her first major article published in the May issue of Science. Paul's career pursuits took him away from his family more than he likes, albeit his example did imbue them with a work ethic. As he notes, "They donít come to me with 'I'm working too many hoursí stories about themselves."

The family shares Paulís interests in sailing, skiing, tennis and hiking. His increasing success in business has provided the resources for them all to more fully enjoy these interests. A ski house in Vermont is but one oasis to which they all can retreat when their hectic schedules permit.

Paul has no interest in slowing down. Retiring from environmental engineering is not on his horizon. Over the years he has developed many personal friendships among the persons he has come to know through Malcolm Pirnie, his work on committees, and his involvement in academia which sustain his desire to continue. "Iím truly fortunate to find warm, compassionate, interesting, intelligent people in my work whom I enjoy being around ó and who always help me see things in different ways," he concludes.