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Miller-Davis Company Announces Retirement of CEO Bell

Rex Bell
Rex Bell
KALAMAZOO, MI — Miller-Davis Company, a Michigan-based construction management and general contracting firm, announces the retirement of Chief Executive Officer, Rex Bell. Bell has served the company for more than four decades and has overseen more than $1.5 billion in construction work. “We’re grateful to have started this transition two years ago,” said 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.”
Bell joined Miller-Davis Company in 1977, bringing with him an appetite for learning, strategic growth, and a dedication to quality. Rising through the ranks, his leadership was instrumental to the company, reaffirmed by his 2021 Michigan Construction Hall of Fame induction. Under his stewardship, Miller-Davis expanded its portfolio, undertook significant projects, and fostered a culture of safety, integrity, and community engagement.
Early Career at Miller-Davis
Bell 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 to the Kalamazoo office for his first major project with the company — the Kellogg Company's World Headquarters in Battle Creek, a $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 2,000 activities — set the stage for his future success at the company.
Over the years, Bell 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 work. By 1996, Bell landed an offer to step into the role of company President. “I have to laugh at how my career transpired,” Bell said. “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
Bell’s leadership at Miller-Davis is marked by several key milestones:
  • Expansion of Services: Bell oversaw the diversification of Miller-Davis’s service offerings, integrating technologies and sustainable building practices.
  • Notable Projects: Under Bell's guidance, Miller-Davis completed numerous projects, including the Kalamazoo College Hicks Student Center and the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership, as well as the Sangren Hall, a $60 million project that forms the “front door” to Western Michigan University.
  • 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, Bell 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: Bell fostered strong community ties, encouraging Miller-Davis’s active participation in local charitable activities and partnerships with educational institutions. In 2001, he oversaw the establishment of the Miller-Davis Foundation, that has since provided over $550,000 in financial assistance to disadvantaged persons, a variety of southwest Michigan organizations, and endowed scholarships. Bell has also served on more than a dozen boards, committees, and advisory groups for organizations.
  • Hall of Fame: Bell was inducted into the Michigan Construction Hall of Fame in 2021. The institution recognized Bell'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, Bell 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 said 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,” Bell said. “It’s people that do the real work. You can have all the machines and strategies and technology ... but never lose sight that people are the reason for success.” Bell 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,” he said.
A Bright Future
“There’s no doubt that thoughtful transition planning over the past two years has left us in a really good spot,” Coffman said. “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.
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