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Bob Shell, Former Chairman of Baldwin & Shell, Dies at 88

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Bob Shell, the former chairman of the Little Rock construction company that bears his name, died Tuesday. He was 88.

Baldwin & Shell Construction Co. CEO Scott Copas told Arkansas Business on Wednesday that Shell died after a recurrence of cancer. A visitation will be held from 5-7 p.m. Thursday at Roller Chenal Funeral Home at 13801 Chenal Parkway in Little Rock. His funeral is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Friday at Immanuel Baptist Church, 501 N Shackleford Road in Little Rock, with a reception following.

Shell, one of the most familiar names in Arkansas business, retired as chairman of the company in 2017. He had been a fixture at the firm, which he joined at 19 when it was The Baldwin Co., for nearly 70 years.

The company’s name was changed when Shell became president and CEO upon the death of Werner Knoop in 1983. By the time he relinquished the CEO position to Copas in 2014, Baldwin & Shell was frequently named as one of the 400 largest general contractors in the country despite its former policy of working only in Arkansas.

One of five charter members of the Arkansas Construction Hall of Fame, Shell was named Arkansas Business Executive of the Year in 1990 and was featured by Arkansas Business as one of 10 “Business Icons” in the state in 2016.

“It’s not just a job,” he told Arkansas Business in 2016. “I’ve really loved it.”

Shell not only became a leader in the Little Rock business community, but also the state’s construction industry. He is credited with pioneering construction management in the state, leading Baldwin & Shell away from the bid market to focus on landing negotiated contracts. He also initiated the formation of the first self-insured workers’ compensation insurance program for contractors in Arkansas and served as its board chairman.

His first job at The Baldwin Co. was working as a timekeeper on a federally funded housing project near the airport. 

“It was a huge project, and what I had to do was go around to everybody and keep up with the different forms and who was working,” Shell said. He then had to calculate the pay for each of the 230 people working on the project.

In his time at the company, he had been involved in more than 2,700 projects, including hospitals, offices, schools, churches, industrial plants, financial institutions, renovations and remodeling. A brief list includes the Pine Bluff Convention Center, the Murphy Oil building in El Dorado, J.B. Hunt’s headquarters in Lowell, the renovation and addition to the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock and renovations of the Legacy Hotel and Lafayette Hotel in the state capital.

Outside the office, Shell served as a board member of the Baptist Health Foundation, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Alzheimer’s Arkansas, Associated General Contractors of America, Arkansas Associated General Contractors, President’s Advisory Council for Arkansas State University, Advisory Board of Centennial Bank and Fifty for the Future. He was a member of Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock.

“When I think of Bob I think of a true leader, not just in our business but in our community. He’s both civic minded and philanthropic, someone that is committed each and every day to anything he tries to do,” Copas told Arkansas Business in 2016. “He’s been a very strong leader for the company for many, many years, and I certainly rely on him heavily.”

Shell was born in Honolulu, where his father was stationed with the Navy, and the family moved a number of times before landing in Little Rock, where he graduated from Little Rock High School when he was 16. At 17 he joined the U.S. Navy but served only briefly because of an acute case of seasickness.

A basketball player and competitive swimmer in his youth, Shell avoided traveling for work so he could spend more time at home with his family.

“I wanted to see my kids play basketball, cheerleading, dancing ballet. … The family means a lot more to me than traveling out of state,” he said.

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