In memoriam: Douglas W. Barr, founder of Barr Engineering Co.

A message from Ward Swanson, Barr’s president and CEO:

The Barr community marks the September 4 passing of Douglas W. Barr, the founder of our company, with both sorrow and gratitude for his remarkable life and legacy.

Few companies can claim a relationship as long and rich as the one we’ve enjoyed with Doug, who was 98 when he passed away.

A civil engineer and hydrologist, Doug founded Barr Engineering Co. in downtown Minneapolis in 1953 after attending Harvard, serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II, and then obtaining a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and a master’s degree in hydrology from the University of Minnesota.

Over the decades, he built a thriving company with 16 employees by 1966, 250 employees by 2003, and 900 by 2021. As the company grew, Doug onboarded staff members who helped shape and uphold Barr’s high standards and unique, integrated approach to consulting. His determination and persistence shaped Barr’s culture and gave rise to our mission: to solve clients’ problems as if they were our own.

Today, our company fosters long-term client relationships built on trust, exceptional service, innovation, technical excellence, and creative problem-solving—just as Doug had done from the beginning. 

We also owe our highly engaged, collaborative internal culture to our founder. Simultaneously independent and a strong champion for mentoring others, Doug believed in balancing individual interests and passions with collective responsibility. Long before “flexible work environments” had become a commonplace concept in contemporary work culture, he introduced this approach at Barr, encouraging employees to manage their own time and act as consultants.

A brilliant, lifelong learner who studied quantum mechanics at the University of Minnesota well into his 90s, Doug strongly encouraged his staff to keep learning and developing professionally—a practice now institutionalized with flexible education accounts for every employee. 

Until very recently, Doug continued to visit the Minneapolis office on a regular basis to have lunch with staff members, learn about their projects, and meet new employees. We know Doug was delighted to see the company he founded continue to evolve and help clients adapt to a changing world. We’ll continue to do so in his honor.


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