Charles W. Pryor, Jr.
Class of 1966, BS; Class of 1968, MS; Class of 1970, Ph.D.
If Charles W. Pryor Jr., had a motto, it might be for people to live their lives so that the world is a better place than when they entered it. Relatively few people could meet this altruistic goal, but the Virginia Tech civil engineering (CE) graduate is on his way.
Pryor is currently working on plans for the nation’s first state-of-the-art and cost-efficient uranium enrichment plant. The plant will be located in Lea County, New Mexico, and based on modern centrifuge technology.
Pryor, a 35-year veteran of the nuclear industry, remains optimistic that “future generations will harness their energy from the atom .... I look to the day when a neighborhood will have electricity coming from small distributed atomic power sources,” not from poles and wires, he says. “People have the right to question nuclear power but it really is more of a political issue than a technical one,” asserts the president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Urenco, Inc., and Urenco Investments Inc. Urenco Inc., is the North American marketing arm of Urenco, Ltd., a global supplier of uranium enrichment services, delivering more than 13 percent of the world’s enrichment requirements.
Pryor, well known and respected throughout the global electric utility industry, has spent most of his career as a president or a chief executive officer. Prior to his Urenco position, he served as chairman of the Board of Westinghouse Electric Co., president and CEO of British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) Utilities Business Group, president and CEO of B&W Nuclear Technologies, and chairman of the B&W Nuclear Fuel Co. He also operated a successful management consulting company.
A native of Lynchburg, Virginia, and a graduate of E.C. Glass High School, Pryor knew as a teenager that engineering would be his career choice. He enjoyed building structures, often going into the woods with some of his friends, cutting down trees and fashioning small cabins. One day his dad, an accomplished real estate broker, introduced him to a Virginia Tech alumnus, Martin Johnson, who was president of Wiley and Wilson at the time. “Up until that time, I thought of engineers as wearing hard hats, blue jeans and boots, and supervising construction projects,” Pryor laughs. Instead, he spent time that day looking at blue prints and examining a plush office by his teenager’s standards.
Choosing Virginia Tech was also easy for the young man. First, his uncle had attended the Blacksburg university due to the flip of a coin. His grandparents could only afford to send one of their sons to college, and his uncle won the toss. Second, he wanted to be a cadet, and he had admired a “great guy down the street from my home who wore the cadet uniform.”
During his undergraduate days, he spent his time on academics and developing leadership skills. He was inducted into three honorary societies: Chi Epsilon, Tau Beta Pi, and Phi Kappa Phi. He received the Sam Carson Award, given to the “Best Rat” in B Squadron. And from his sophomore year on, the only grade he saw on his report card was an “A.”
After earning his bachelor’s degree in CE in 1966, he was influenced by Richard Barker, now retired from the civil and environmental engineering (CEE) faculty, to pursue graduate school. He received a National Science Foundation Fellowship, one of only about six awarded at Virginia Tech in the 1960s. By 1968, he had his master’s and two years later, his doctorate in structural engineering. Pryor worked on Virginia Tech’s Themis grant, the University’s first major effort in composite materials. The military had started a program to develop high-strength, light-weight materials, triggered by the 1963 sinking of the USS Thresher, the lead ship of a new class of nuclear-powered attack submarines. The Themis grant is considered the starting point for Virginia Tech’s evolution into a world-class research university in advanced materials.
Using skills learned while pursuing his Ph.D., the structural engineer started his professional career in 1970 with McDonnell Douglas Aerospace Co., where he was responsible for the development of composite materials and the use of boron-epoxy for the wing of the F-15 Air Superiority Fighter. Two years later, he returned to Lynchburg to join B&W, later known as Framatome, Inc. While at B&W, the company encouraged him to pursue an executive MBA from Northeastern University. This perk was provided to only a limited number of employees.
Pryor grew the B&W nuclear business into a successful player in the nuclear power market and led its divestiture to the French company Framatome. Now called Areva, the sale “allowed the French to get a beachhead in the U.S. which had the largest nuclear market in the world,” Pryor says. In appreciation, French President Francois Mitterand presented Pryor in 1991 with the distinguished “Chevalier du l’Ordre National due Merite” for developing cooperative business relationships between the U.S. and France. Only four such awards are given annually, usually to French nationals. They were started in 1963 by then French President Charles De Gaulle.
In 1995, Pryor started CW Pryor & Co., a successful management consulting firm, specializing in the teaching of core values of business leadership. His skills soon attracted the attention of Westinghouse’s Chairman Mike Jordan, who in 1997, recruited Pryor to become president and CEO of Westinghouse Energy Systems and Westinghouse Electric Co. Pryor was charged with transforming a then sluggish, poor-performing business with losses to a profitable venture. Within five years, his leadership led Westinghouse to become one of only three principal suppliers worldwide to the nuclear utility industry.
In April of 2002, Pryor became president and CEO of BNFL Utilities Business Group and chairman of the board of Westinghouse Electric Co., a supplier of nuclear fuel, nuclear services, and advanced nuclear plant designs to utilities operating nuclear power plants. Based in London, Pryor streamlined the company’s operations and improved productivity by more than 20 percent. He remained in this position until he joined Urenco in October of 2003. With Urenco, Pryor hopes to witness the first modern uranium enrichment plant break ground in August of 2006 in New Mexico. “This will be the first such plant built in this country in over 30 years, and I am happy to be associated with it,” Pryor says.
Pryor is an active member in his community as well as at Virginia Tech. Among his previous activities, he served as chair of the Central Health Corp., of Lynchburg, president of the Lynchburg Chamber of Commerce, director of Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, director of regional development for Allegheny County, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and on the Board of Trustees for Lynchburg College and Central Virginia Community College. He received the 1993 Outstanding Industrialist of Virginia Award. He was recently elected to the National Academy of Engineering list.
At Virginia Tech, he is a member of the Foundation Board, the Ut Prosim Society and the Committee of 100. He is a past member of the CEE Advisory Board and the Corporation and Foundation Major Gifts Committee. He and his wife Mary Jane established the Charles W. Pryor, Jr., Endowed Scholarship in Engineering and a second one in athletics.
They have three sons and one daughter and reside in his hometown of Lynchburg.
Class of: 1966, 1968, 1970
Year Inducted into Academy: 2006