Engineering Firm Founded By RIT Professor Marks 50 Years in Business
Aug. 4, 2005
by Michael Saffran
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One of the Rochester area’s longest-running engineering firms marks its 50th anniversary this month.
Larsen Engineers, located in Metro Park in Brighton, was founded in 1955 by Bill Larsen, who is now an associate professor of civil engineering technology at Rochester Institute of Technology. Larsen, who ran the company for its first 25 years before leaving for a teaching post at RIT in 1980, began the business in the basement of his Rochester home. A municipal engineering and construction management services firm, Larsen Engineers has come a long way since modest beginnings when Larsen was the company’s sole employee. Today, the firm employs 31 and has annual sales of $2.1 million.
Growing family pushes expanding business out of its ‘nest’
The distraction of “little feet pounding overhead in the kitchen” convinced Larsen to relocate the firm to rented space on Monroe Avenue in Brighton. (The feet belonged to David and Chris, the first children of Larsen and his wife, Dotte.) A couple moves later, in the late 1960s, the company landed in its own building on Saginaw Drive in Henrietta. Larsen Engineers moved to its current location in Metro Park in 1989.
“A large international firm offered to purchase Larsen Engineers in the ’60s, but I turned it down,” Larsen recalls. “Our business just wasn’t that kind of company and it wouldn’t fit our clients—who were, at that time, primarily western New York towns and villages.”
Larsen, who now lives in Brighton, later agreed to sell the firm to younger partners, John Karle and Richard Passero. Today, Ram Shrivastava is president of Larsen Engineers and William VanAlst is vice president.
A second career in academia and a foray into politics, but always a humanitarian
While still with Larsen Engineers in the 1970s, Larsen was instrumental in the development of RIT’s civil engineering technology undergraduate program. Around the same time, he made a foray into politics. Larsen was a candidate, in 1976 and 1982, for the U.S. Congressional seat then held by Rep. Frank Horton. Larsen recalls receiving about the same number of votes each time he challenged the popular incumbent, even though he spent none of his own money in his second bid. A highlight of campaigning, he remembers, was meeting then-presidential candidate Jimmy Carter on a Rochester campaign stop in 1976.
Though staying on the political sidelines since his second run, Larsen has remained active in civic causes. He has served as president of the United Nations Association of Rochester, a member of Partners of the Americas (a Washington-based private voluntary organization), a consultant to the Pan American Health Organization, an adviser to the chief health inspector of Antigua and Barbuda, and the faculty advisor to the RIT Caribbean Students Association. Larsen’s involvement in humanitarian efforts in the Caribbean region spans more than two decades, and he visits the region an average of once a year (most recently last month).
Collaborating with RIT engineering alumnus Sarah Brownell, Larsen helped design a solar-powered drinking-water disinfecting system for use in rural areas of undeveloped countries such as Haiti. He has hosted international training programs covering solid waste management and safety, and he coordinates twice yearly shipments of donated eyeglasses and shoes to needy Haitians—personally paying to ship thousands of pairs of eyeglasses and shoes through the years. Larsen also coordinates RIT students’ participation in the annual International Coastal Cleanup.
The Rochester Chamber of Commerce honored him with its Civic Award in International Relations in 1987, and he was recognized as a Paul Harris Fellow by the Rotary International Foundation. The Rochester Engineering Society named Larsen the Leo H. East Engineer of the Year in 2002, and RIT presented him with its Four Presidents Distinguished Public Service Award in 2005.
Fond memories of Larsen Engineers
Looking back at his time running Larsen Engineers, Larsen recalls the family-like climate among employees.
“We were laid back, informal, but serious about our work and our clients,” Larsen remembers. “We didn’t have job titles, as I recall. But everyone knew where they fit, and everyone cooperated to get things done.
“It’s pleasing to me—although not surprising—that the firm is still going and the folks there today have operated it for as long as I did.”
Company president Ram Shrivastava, who has been with Larsen Engineers since 1969, credits Larsen with setting the foundation for a sturdy, sustainable local company. “Larsen Engineers’ focus in the future,” he says, “is providing our clients sustainable green design services with care.”
Note: Larsen Engineers, a municipal engineering and construction management services firm founded by Rochester Institute of Technology professor Bill Larsen, celebrates its 50th anniversary throughout the coming year. An open house will be held this fall at the firm’s 700 West Metro Park, Brighton, offices. Visit Larsen Engineers online at http://www.Larsen-engineers.com.