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NorCal Engineering Firm Taps Its 5th President In A Century Of History

For Greg Hurd, traveling between offices on the freeways of the San Francisco Bay Area is one of the most rewarding parts of his job. 

Driving allows him to admire many of the projects where his company, BKF Engineers, has lent a hand.

“No matter where I am, I can always see a project where we’ve had some level of involvement, whether it's planning, surveying, designing or monitoring,” Hurd said. “The Salesforce Tower, the Chase Center and Stanford's new Redwood City campus.”

The Chase Center in Mission Bay, San Francisco

Hurd has served at BKF, an engineering and land surveying consulting firm with 500 employees, for over a decade, as a principal, a vice president and, most recently, as executive vice president. During his tenure, BKF's portfolio has expanded to include residential, healthcare, civic, education, commercial and transportation projects.

Soon, Hurd’s pride in his projects will take on even more significance: He has been named BKF’s new president and CEO. When he takes over the position in January from David LaVelle, the current president and CEO, Hurd will be only the fifth person to lead the firm in its 105-year history.

With a host of marquee projects under their belts and many more in the pipeline, Hurd and his team are optimistic about the future. Hurd sat down with Bisnow to discuss the importance of engineering in commercial real estate, where his firm is heading and how he feels about filling the shoes of some very impressive predecessors.

Bisnow: Engineering can sometimes be a behind-the-scenes piece of the puzzle. What projects should CRE professionals recognize BKF for? 

Hurd: There are too many to count, really, and each has helped shape its surroundings. There are huge community projects like the redevelopment of Parkmerced and Treasure Island, transportation projects such as the BART extension to San Jose and local downtown improvements as well as stadiums like the new Chase Center and the planned Oakland A’s ballpark.

Then there are also dozens of commercial projects, like Salesforce Tower and the Netflix, Google and Facebook campuses. A lot of people may actually know us from the Russian River Brewing Co.’s new facility. BKF has really had its hands in almost nearly every part of the evolution of the greater San Francisco Bay Area in the last 100 years, from San Jose to Santa Rosa to Sacramento. 

Bisnow: What BKF project are you proudest of?

Hurd: Probably the expansion of the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit system, which has been in planning for the last 20 to 25 years. BKF was brought in on the ground floor for the construction of the project, providing design and construction surveys. It was joyous to see the first trains start running in 2017. We are currently wrapping up the southernmost link, connecting the SMART to the Larkspur Ferry Terminal, effectively connecting the North Bay to the rest of the Bay Area. 

BKF President and CEO Greg Hurd

Bisnow: What do you wish CRE professionals knew about engineering?

Hurd: That civil engineers need to be brought in as early as possible. Too often, engineering requirements — fire safety, water quality, ADA accessibility, sustainability — are overlooked in the original design of a building site, and we get brought on to be problem-solvers. If you only pay attention to engineering late in the game, you lose the opportunity to do something amazing with it. At its best, engineering is about a whole lot more than just checking off the boxes and following the latest building codes, it’s about making a project work in a completely elegant and seamless way, bringing the highest possible value to the client and user.

Because we’ve been around for such a long time, we have a lot of institutional knowledge at our fingertips about what works and what doesn’t. We know that the North Bay is different than the South Bay, that San Francisco is different than Oakland, that Northern California is different than Southern California. We know how to navigate all of those waters.

Bisnow: How does it feel to be taking over a position that’s only been held by four people?

Hurd: I’m completely humbled and so grateful that my colleagues believe I have what it takes to lead this firm. Stan Kangas, who led the company before David LaVelle, shook my hand after the internal announcement and told me about his faith in the firm’s future and how I have the opportunity to prolong the successful legacy that started in 1915. Really, I’m just very proud to have this opportunity and that the firm has put their trust in me.

Bisnow: Was there ever any talk of finding an external executive, or did you all know it was going to be an internal choice?

Hurd: We did consider going external, but you have to remember this is a 105-year-old company. We’re balancing new college graduates with employees who have been here for two or three decades. The company culture is totally unique, so when we began the search for who could run the company, we felt we needed someone who could navigate all the relationships, personalities and complexities that make BKF such a special place to work and have a career.

Russian River Brewing Co.'s new campus in Windsor, Calif.

Bisnow: What’s your favorite part of your job?

Hurd: I like being the go-to guy and for people to call me up and ask for my opinion and direction. I really enjoy sharing my years of knowledge as well as mentoring the next generation of employees. I also like the procurement side of the business. It’s always an adrenaline rush when I see opportunities for new projects and I get to help assemble the best possible team to win that job. I guess it’s the art of the deal, from the beginning to the end.

Bisnow: What keeps you up at night? 

Hurd: Making sure BKF and our clients are prepared for a downturn in the market. So long as we stay diversified in our markets, adhere to a strong strategic business plan, attract the best employees and rely on the quality of our work, then we will be in the best position as possible to succeed in any situation. Our success has always stemmed from diversifying and growing to meet our client and staff needs.

Bisnow: What do you want to accomplish in your very first year as president? 

Hurd: We have just recently opened two new locations, in San Diego and San Luis Obispo, bringing us to 15 total locations. Because of our focus on collaboration between offices and client networks, we can successfully expand to these areas of the state and grow our Central and Southern California markets. I want to assure that we successfully implement our traditions and cultures in these new locations. 

Bisnow: What about in your entire time as president?

Hurd: I just hope that in a decade or so, whenever I step down, that the sixth president can look back and say “Greg did a great job.” I want every employee to be proud that they were part of this next phase of BKF.

This feature was produced in collaboration between Bisnow Branded Content and BKF. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.