Retirement Announcement: Rex Bell, Chief Executive Officer

Miller-Davis Company is pleased to announce the retirement of Chief Executive Officer Rex Bell. Rex, who has served the company with distinction for more than four decades and has overseen more than $1.5B in construction work, leaves behind a legacy of growth, innovation, and unwavering commitment to excellence.

“We’re grateful to have started this transition two years ago,” expressed Dan Coffman, Miller-Davis President and CFO. “Our thoughtful planning has allowed us to glean valuable insights from Rex, restructure staff for continued growth, and put the company on a path for enduring success for years to come.”

Rex joined Miller-Davis Company in 1977, bringing with him an appetite for learning, strategic growth, and a dedication to quality that would come to define his career. Rising through the ranks, his leadership was instrumental in transforming the company into one of the most respected names in Michigan’s construction industry—reaffirmed by his 2021 Michigan Construction Hall of Fame induction.

Under his stewardship, Miller-Davis expanded its portfolio, undertook high-profile projects, and fostered a robust culture of safety, integrity, and community engagement.

Early Career at Miller-Davis
Rex started his career at Miller-Davis’s former Chicago office as a project engineer. He had just completed his civil engineering and construction studies at Purdue University and wanted field experience, something Miller-Davis was offering. In 1984, he relocated his family—his wife Denise and young daughter Cile—to the Kalamazoo office for his first major project with the company: the Kellogg Company’s World Headquarters in Battle Creek, a landmark $41 million endeavor in the 1980s. Bell’s meticulous approach to the project’s carpentry takeoffs and critical path scheduling — requiring hand-drawn schedules with over 2000 activities — set the stage for his future success at the company.

Over the years, Rex held several roles at Miller-Davis including project manager, chief estimator, and vice president of estimating. Reflecting humorously on his early days drawing schedules by hand, he acknowledges that his interest in preconstruction ensured job stability at a time when it seemed few were willing to tackle the meticulous work necessary to provide top-tier services. By 1996, Rex’s attention to detail and elevated standards landed him an offer to step into the role of company President, underscoring his leadership abilities and vision for the company’s trajectory.

“I have to laugh at how my career transpired,” shares Rex. “When I was offered a job at Miller-Davis’s Kalamazoo office, I was still living in Illinois. The division manager encouraged me to ‘stay at the company and become president’ and, I have to be honest, that was not my goal. My main focus was on getting field experience and settling in somewhere.”

Leadership and Legacy
Rex Bell’s leadership at Miller-Davis is marked by several key milestones:

Expansion of Services: Rex oversaw the diversification of Miller-Davis’s service offerings, integrating cutting-edge technologies and sustainable building practices, positioning the company as a leader in Michigan’s commercial construction.

Notable Projects: Under Rex’s guidance, Miller-Davis completed numerous high-profile projects, including the award-winning Kalamazoo College Hicks Student Center and the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership, and the monumental Sangren Hall, a $60M project that provides a dramatic and definite edge to the pedestrian mall that forms the “front door” to Western Michigan University. Rex cites Sangren Hall as one of his favorites.

“The project wasn’t without its challenges. No project is,” Rex recalls. “But, for me, Sangren is a legacy project. Nearly every student that steps foot on WMU’s campus will traverse its halls and that means something to me.”

Industry Evolution: Bell witnessed and adapted to significant industry changes, including the rise of specialization, advancements in technology and processes, and the emergence of construction management as a key project delivery method. His commitment to hands-on learning, field training, and embracing change set a foundation for Miller-Davis to thrive in a more management-focused and specialized industry landscape.

Safety and Sustainability: A staunch advocate for project site safety, Rex collaborated with the company’s Operations Team to establish the company’s comprehensive safety program, earning the firm years of consecutive awards and raising the bar for industry safety standards in Michigan.

Community Commitment and Engagement: Rex fostered strong community ties, encouraging Miller-Davis’s active participation in local charitable activities and partnerships with educational institutions, reflecting his belief in giving back and supporting future generations. In 2001, he oversaw the establishment of the Miller-Davis Foundation, which has since provided over $550K in financial assistance to disadvantaged persons, a variety of southwest Michigan organizations, and endowed scholarships.

Rex has also served on more than a dozen boards, committees, and advisory groups for organizations that include the AGC of Michigan, Western Michigan University’s Civil and Construction Engineering Department, Communities in Schools of Kalamazoo, and the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency, reflecting his passion for public education.

“I hope to represent the industry within higher education through my work on various Boards, serving as an interface between theory and practice,” Rex shared when asked about his plans for future volunteer work. “I’d like to help bridge the gap between engineering and construction.”

Hall of Fame
Perhaps one of the most notable public nods to Rex’s contributions to the industry was his 2021 induction into the Michigan Construction Hall of Fame. This prestigious institution recognized Rex’s technical, managerial, and leadership achievements within construction as well as his service to the profession and community.

Insights and Advice
Reflecting on his career, Rex highlights the value of maintaining a long-term perspective, learning from every experience, and upholding high ethical standards. He advises industry newcomers to embrace the unknowns, view every job as an opportunity, and persist through challenges. He admits that he often found himself in situations that made him feel as if he was thrown in over his head but adopting a “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” mindset enabled him to thrive and overcome challenges.

“And if you’re going to lead, you have to keep your eyes and ears open. You must be one of them, so to speak, one of the doers,” Rex advises. “It’s people that do the real work—you can have all the machines and strategies and technology, fine—but never lose sight that people are the reason for success.”

Rex also stressed the importance of infusing empathy into the day-to-day. “Empathizing with staff, owners, clients, architects—it’s so important for building lasting relationships in this industry.”

A Bright Future
“There’s no doubt that thoughtful transition planning over the past two years has left us in a really good spot,” shares Dan Coffman, Miller-Davis President and CFO. “We’re getting ready to tackle some exciting endeavors in the months ahead. We’ve done the work required to take the next step forward and we’ve done it with Rex’s input.”

In 2022, when the century-old firm announced its 9th leadership transition in its history, leaders set their eyes on catalyzing long-term success and goals for innovation and advancement. Since then, the company has seen staff development, revenue growth, technology adoption, innovation in processes, market expansion, and more.

This announcement signals the continuation of Miller-Davis Company’s next chapter, promising sustained growth and success to lead the industry for decades to come. The entire company extends its heartfelt gratitude to Rex for his visionary leadership and unwavering dedication. His contributions have indelibly shaped the company’s path and will continue to inspire future generations.