PODCAST: In Conversation with Queen's Engineering Alumnus Bob Dengler

Posted on October 29, 2019


Bob Dengler (BSc ’65, DSc ’88) is a consummate self-starter and lifelong entrepreneur. Together with fellow Queens grad, Bill Shaver, he founded Dynatech Corporation, an international mining company that employs more than 1,500 people, and has a superb reputation for safety and innovative mining solutions. After retiring in 2005, Bob earned his helicopter pilot licence, and in 2017 flew his helicopter around the world to celebrate Canada's 150th anniversary.

Read our story about Mr. Dengler's circumnavigation by helicopter to celebrate Canada's 150th anniversary.

  • TRANSCRIPT:

    Bob Dengler is a consummate self-starter and lifelong entrepreneur. Together with fellow Queens grad, Bill Shaver, he founded Dynatech Corporation, an international mining company that employs more than 1500 people, and has a superb reputation for safety and innovative mining solutions. After retiring in 2005, Bob earned his helicopter pilot licence, and in 2017 flew his helicopter around the world to celebrate Canada's 150th. Welcome to the podcast, Bob. I'm going to start by asking you a little bit about your experience coming back here for homecoming. The campus must look very different.

    Well, it doesn't because I've been here on a regular basis with the Mining Department. I've spoken to students numerous times over the last 55 years. I've given talks on safety. Part of the reason that I emphasize safety is I was badly hurt when I was 27. Being a Queens engineer, I thought it was pretty smart and I thought only dumb guys got hurt. And then I got hurt. I didn't even want to admit I was a dumb guy. So I took a big interest in safety to a point where we were actually requested to put on a safety seminar for Barrick Gold and Newmont Gold, two huge mining companies. We were a junior, or a little mining company, but we pioneered things like behavioral safety in Canada. So I've been out here on a regular basis probably every two or three or four years or something like that. It's wonderful. Nice to be able to come back. It is, it's always fun. I love talking to the students.

    Well, that's great. I understand you had a quite an interesting homecoming reunion last night. Can you tell me about that?

    Well, it was great to see people that I haven't seen. Some of them I haven't seen since I left university, so that was a good fun.

    I also understand that you made a very generous gift last night as well.

    Well, Queen’s have been very generous with me. In 1988 I received a letter from Queen’s and when I opened the letter, it said, ‘On behalf of Senate of Queens University, we'd like to ask if you'd be willing to accept an honorary doctorate of science.’ I started to cry. I, uh, I'm not an emotional guy. It was very, a very big event in my life and have to give the convocation address and so on. Then to receive the second award, which was being selected as one of the 125 engineers, I thought I have to do something special. I understand it was $1,000 for every year. It was a nice gift.

    Excellent. That's great.

    I feel good about giving back.

    When you look at the company that you founded, I see, as well as being very committed to safety, you are also very committed to indigenous relations.

    Yes, interesting you say that. Our biggest success was in Alaska where we work with the Nana native people. They do over a $100 million worth of work a year and they do catering on the north slope. They do catering in south, in, in Antarctica because they're experienced with the cold. We would have cross-cultural meetings before we started the summer drilling season so that we could talk about the things that offended them and they could talk about the things that offended us. And, and you get that on the table right at the outset. So we had a great working relationship with the Nana native people in Alaska. Very successful.

    That's wonderful. So after you retired, you became a helicopter pilot?

    I did.

    What inspired you to become a helicopter pilot?

    I retired partly because our company was taken over. We were publicly traded on the TSX and it was taken over. And when someone takes a company over you, they can ask you to stay on, but if they don't, you're unemployed the next day. So I was concerned that my brain would just atrophy, right. Because I didn't have anything to do. My wife said, I don't use my head on the golf course. So, I was encouraged by our former chairman, Ian Delaney, to take up helicopter flying. So, I decided to do it. There's lots of complications in trying to fly, not complications perhaps, but, but things that you have to do in order to go flying. So it, it really keeps you alert. It's very challenging, if you will, and it makes your brain work. So that was partly why I took it up. And because in our business, we used helicopters in Greenland, Mongolia, in the Philippines, all over the place, I never paid any attention to them. I had no interest in it whatsoever. ‘Just show me where we can build the roads,’ or that type of thing. That's why you had the helicopter. wish I had looked at, because I flew in many different kinds of helicopters and I paid no attention to it.

    Then you went on to do an amazing adventure to celebrate Canada's 150th. I wonder if you can tell me a bit about that.

    It's very exciting. It was some of the parts that people don't know about is it took one and a half years to plan it. It was very complex, getting permission to go through Russia was very challenging. I think we had three or four meetings, four meetings with the Russian Embassy. In order to even get in there, you have to go through your member of parliament. There's a real protocol to meeting with the Russians. Once we got permission and we had to have a Russian navigator, that part of the trip was, was flawless. It worked like a champ, going around the world or the planning was intense because you have to allow for crossing the ocean. And helicopters don't fly for a long time. They have to stop for fuel. So we flew to the East Coast and then up from St. John to a Labrador and then across to Greenland, around Greenland and across Iceland, and around Iceland and across to the Faroe Islands and then into Scotland. But a few of the things that we did, we wanted it to highlight Canada's achievements in space, in telecommunications and engineering. So, we deliberately flew past the Confederation Bridge. I wanted it to fly under it really badly, but it's against the law. We also flew to Baddeck in Nova Scotia. The reason we flew there, we had Colonel Gerald Haddon with us on the trip and his grandfather's name was McCurdy and McCurdy built the first aircraft over the fly in Canada. We flew over the spot where the aircraft lives. We started our trip at the Canadian Aviation Space Museum, so we could also see a replica of the Silver Dart there.And then we went on to St. John’s, to signal Hill, where they gave us an artifact to take to Poldhu in England. That was where Marconi sent the original message that went from Signal Hill to Poldhu in England. So it was kinda cool. We also had wreaths that we took to the Vimy Ridge because it was the 100-year anniversary. So we did a lot of things to sort of celebrate Canada and publicize Canada on a trip.

    That's great. And you also did some fundraising.

    We did. We raised money for a South Lake Hospital located in Newmarket. It has the reputation now of being the top cancer hospital in Ontario. We also raised money for True Patriot Love, which is the military veterans. When we started our trip, we had Dave Williams, a retired astronaut who was the president of South Lake Hospital. He flew to Ottawa with us on the first leg. And also Bronwen Evans, who was the president of True Patriot love, flew to Ottawa with us. We picked up Guy Lafleur, famous hockey player, and he flew with us to Quebec City and Fredericton. It was hilarious because you get out of the helicopter and they gravitate to Guy Lafleur. We're just the pilots. And I had my son with me on the trip. He also has a helicopter licence, so he did bought a third of the flying.

    I wonder if you could tell me, what advice should we give to students who are just starting out at Queen’s this year?

    Well, to me, an engineering degree gave me the ability to solve problems. That was the most important thing. It's not knowing what all the different formulas for something are, you know. The important thing was it gave me the ability to never give up. You could find the solution to a problem no matter what. And in true-life experience in our company, we had situations like that and we solved the problems and it helped make the company real success. You have to work hard. There’s no substitute for hard work unless you're really smart. Today people use computers a lot more. We certainly didn't have them in our day, so we had to learn to write properly or to prepare reports. Well, that's still important. You have to have a good command of the English language. I think it's really important to embrace the arts because that helps you to develop a creative inquisitiveness. If you're prepared to work hard, then the world's your oyster. To me, the young engineers today are the movers and shakers of tomorrow. It's so much fun to watch them develop.