Case Studies

Tucker Engineering

Digging into the San Francisco soil and excavation market

Tucker Engineering was founded in 2000 with a focus on soil and excavation work. Over the last 16 years Tucker has expanded its slate of services to include shoring, demolition, dewatering, hazardous and contaminated site remediation, underground utilities both wet and dry, mass and structural excavation, hazardous and contaminated soils remediation and removal, and fine and rough grading and paving.

From its headquarters in Campbell, California, Tucker serves general contractors and building developers in and around the San Francisco region, with occasional trips as far south as Los Angeles for the right client.

Tucker Engineering

Since its inception, Tucker has worked on a range of projects including large commercial apartment buildings and mixed-use projects, retail centers, condominium complexes, school campuses, train stations and water treatment plants. The company also performs landslide and levee repair.

“I would say we’re intelligent problem solvers,” says Dave Rossi, CEO at Tucker. “A lot of times projects have issues — whether it’s a dimension mistake, survey mistake or design mistake — and we’re good at solving those problems with creative solutions and outside-the-box thinking.”

While Tucker hasn’t been around as long as some other names in the market, Rossi has been working on construction sites for most of his adult life, giving him a wealth of experience that he says is an invaluable tool for someone in his position. “People are only as good as their experience and I think we have a lot of experience to draw from,” he says.

While some business owners might prefer to complete the same project time and time again, Rossi is not one for cookie-cutter projects and isn’t afraid to embrace new challenges. “Finding new ways to solve problems makes it more interesting,” he says.

A team approach

After working as a laborer in high school, Rossi attended California Polytechnic State University, earning a degree in construction management. “I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but I had always been into sports, and construction had that same team feeling, with people working together toward a common goal and at the end you got something tangible out of it,” he says.

It didn’t take long for the reality to disabuse Rossi of his romantic visions of the industry. “Looking back now, I don’t know if the industry is any of those things at all; it’s actually pretty competitive and adversarial,” he says.

Still, the construction industry tapped into Rossi’s natural gift for spatial and mechanical understanding and gave him the irresistible opportunity to become a professional problem solver. “There are lot of situations where people are stuck and don’t know where to go in terms of solving a problem, so when we can do that it’s really rewarding,” he says. “You’re not often in a situation where people are working together to solve a problem, so when we are in that situation, it’s a great place to be.”

Tucker first broke into the industry in 1999 with Rossi and his wife, and Tucker co-founder and president, Lesley Matheson. Holding a doctorate in computer science with an MBA from Wharton, Matheson’s business savvy and Rossi’s experience in the day-to-day of the construction industry gave the couple a unique advantage in the market.

The partners launched Dirt Market on eBay in 1999, creating an online marketplace where people could exchange dirt for projects. “It was converted to a broker service after we left eBay and now it’s its own company,” says Rossi.

A passion for problem-solving

With a staff of between 75 and 120 depending on the season, Tucker isn’t the largest soil and excavation specialist in the area, but the size suits Rossi just fine. “We’re big enough to have some economies of scale and a solid level of safety, but we’re able to give better service and develop better relationships with our clients by being smaller,” he says.

Many in the construction industry and related fields have bemoaned the recent lack of qualified labor, and it’s no different for Tucker. “It’s a little more difficult right now finding those people who have the confidence to try something new and the confidence in their ability to understand issues; it definitely takes a different type of person,” says Rossi.

As a relatively young company, the recession was particularly difficult on Tucker, which often saw its own bids undercut by firms that were willing to take a loss on a project. “When you get into a downturn you can’t predict what someone else is going to do,” he says. “We know what we can do and what we’re good at but we can’t control a low bid that someone else might put out.”

“It was not only competitive, but clients were holding onto money longer and getting paid was really hard,” he says. “Had I known what I know now I would have shut the doors for a couple of years, gone to Mexico and come back when it was over.”

While Tucker self-performs a majority of its own work, the company occasionally subcontracts drilling and paving work when it doesn’t have the right equipment for the job. Every so often Tucker is called in to act as a general contractor on a project and in those instances will sub out concrete work.

Rossi’s biggest sense of pride in running Tucker comes from seeing a problem from all angles, choosing a course of action and ending up with a successful project. “You’re presented with three doors and you don’t know which one leads where,” he says. “You read all the clues and say ‘I think door three is the way to go’ and it turns out to be the best, easiest, safest route. It’s great when that happens.”

Now on level footing after a rocky start, Rossi isn’t eager to reinvent the wheel at Tucker. “We are large enough,” he says. “The new thing for us that will really create new growth is standardizing the process and becoming more organized. We’re in a position now where we can start to define our own agenda and do the types of jobs we want to do.”

As a soil and excavation expert with specialties in shoring, demolition, dewatering, hazardous and contaminated site remediation and much more, Tucker Engineering will continue to pursue new challenges and further expand its reach across northern California.

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Spring 2018



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