DPR’s Company Man

San Francisco DPR Construction Bay Area Mike Humphrey development Northern Californa general contractor tenant improvement ground up construction
Humphrey at the DPR San Francisco office
Humphrey at the DPR San Francisco office

DPR Construction’s Mike Humphrey has a unique perspective on the national market and the things that matter the most.

THIS ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED IN THE ‘Q’ – THE REGISTRY’S PRINT PUBLICATION – IN JANUARY 2016

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Since publication, Mike Humphrey and Jody Quinton joined DPR’s Management Committee. Mike Marston, Ray Trebino and Rob Westover will oversee operations of DPR’s San Francisco, Redwood City and San Jose offices as Business Unit Leaders.)

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]ike Humphrey is the San Francisco regional manager for DPR Construction. Mike is one of three DPR regional managers in the Bay Area, where he shares responsibility for over 400 administrative staff and nearly 500 craft workers across a region that brings in roughly $1 billion in revenue a year. He is also actively involved in all the region’s projects, working regularly with owners and architects. His extensive technical expertise includes project evaluation, scheduling, logistics, cost control, subcontractor management and strategic planning.

Humphrey began his DPR career in 1992 as an intern on the company’s first ground-up project. After graduating from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo with a Bachelor of Science in construction management, he joined DPR as a project engineer and was serving as a project manager soon after. DPR is the only job Humphrey has had, but it seems it’s the only job he’s ever wanted, as well.

TR: How long have you been with the company and in what role did your begin your career at DPR?

HUMPHREY: I started with DPR in April of 1992. I actually started as an intern in the fall of 1991 and then came to work full-time as a project engineer in 1992 after I graduated.

TR: In those years, what has changed with the organization and what has remained the same?

HUMPHREY: The biggest change has been the size of the company. I was the 48th employee when I joined. We now have over 1,800 employees nationwide and another 1,800 craft employees in 20 office locations.

However, our fundamental core values, our mission and purpose, and our point-of view has remained the same. We still believe that if we respect each individual we can change the world for the better. Despite growing to 1,800 people, we fight very hard to preserve our family feel. We have always been a very flat organization that values problem solving and decision-making at the front line. We don’t have a hierarchical system that requires people to get approval from their boss. If they have the information, resources and comfort to make a decision, we want them to make it. As we have grown, the sheer scale of our business has required us to add some discipline and some best practices, but we resist adding rules, policies or bureaucratic procedures that stop people from thinking creatively. Innovators need freedom to tinker. We have also remained a focused, technical builder—the more technical, the better. Finally, we are clear that we are a service business. Our attentiveness to our customers’ business needs has always been a top priority.

TR: Can you complete this sentence? Today, DPR is…

HUMPHREY: Exciting. We have accomplished some great results but still feel like we’re still chasing greatness.

TR: Did you see the organization becoming that when you first started here?

HUMPHREY: This is absolutely the reason I joined DPR in the first place. Each year we take on projects more challenging than the last. We continue to hire intelligent, talented people, and we measure our results.

TR: In the Bay Area, DPR is known for doing a lot of work around highly technical and large projects. Does that ability transfer to other industries? Are you able to export that skill set to other industries in the region and nationally?

HUMPHREY: Glad to hear that we are known for technical work. People might not know that we’re not just a large project builder. We have completed over 100 small ($5 million and under) projects in the Bay Area this year.

I do think that the ability to do large, technical projects is transferrable. We believe that one good idea is great, but bouncing several good ideas off other good ideas is truly powerful. The key to successful large technical projects is that ability to increase the number of bouncing ideas. “Big Room teams,” virtual collaboration, relentless curiosity, visibility through modeling, lifecycle thinking, focus first on the “Why?” and recognition events can all be taught and transferred.

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TR: How would you characterize the state of the construction industry today?

HUMPHREY: Specifically in the Bay Area, the construction industry feels like it is at the peak of the boom. Some very significant healthcare projects have been completed or are well under way. We continue to see smaller healthcare renovation projects, but not at the same velocity. The life science market rebounded strongly in the past couple of years and appears to remain strong. Higher education work is steady—not a major market, but it shows a consistent flow of work. The commercial market (specifically for advanced technology companies) is the powerhouse market in the Bay Area and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. We are comfortably busy. Since we would like to maintain $800 million-plus in annual revenue, we are always looking for future work. We are still very busy pursuing work for 2016, 2017 and beyond.

TR: What has surprised you the most about the industry since the Great Recession?

HUMPHREY: Certainly, the speed of information and the adoption of technology in our Industry have been surprising. This generation of graduating students that are entering our industry may not ever get a paper cut flipping through drawings—because they review everything on-screen. They’ll never understand why it took three days to get an RFI answered—because they can move information electronically instantly.

TR: As a national player, you have visibility throughout the organization and across the country. Where do you see positive signs nationally, and what worries you the most as you look across the industry nationally?

HUMPHREY: Texas—Dallas, Houston, Austin—is very busy, with lots of high-rise and mixed use projects. The Mid-Atlantic is strong in almost all of our markets.

However, it’s hard to believe that the industry can maintain this incredible pace. We seem to see a seven-year cycle of boom-bust. There are a few indicators that things may be slowing down: increases in sublease space, which could indicate that companies are downsizing. Vacancy rates have stabilized. Developers are slowing the pace of new projects.

TR: Are you optimistic about 2016?

HUMPHREY: Highly optimistic. Most designers and builders in the Bay Area have a solid backlog going into 2016. 2017 – 2018 are a little more questionable.

TR: Where do you see the construction industry over the next 12 to 24 months?

HUMPHREY: Steadying. Some customers that started very large and ambitious projects may find that if the market conditions change, they don’t need the full programs that they have developed. Projects that are underway could decelerate or reduce scope.

Photography courtesy of Laura Kudritzki

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