Building a better builder
President of BNBuilders embraces innovation, employee ownership.
Brad Bastian, president and founding partner of the commercial general contractor BNBuilders Inc., says his time in the College of Engineering at Oregon State University prepared him for entrepreneurial success in a particularly important way.
“More than anything, I really learned how to think,” said Bastian, B.S. construction engineering management ’85. “I learned how to view engineering challenges from a business perspective.
You have to consider how every decision you make is going to affect the company’s bottom line and its future.”
Bastian has seen the impact of countless decisions, large and small, since he launched BNBuilders. Over the past 24 years, Bastian has led the company’s growth from a self-funded, two-person operation to a 1,400-strong, employee-owned company with offices in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Irvine, San Diego, and Denver.
“When we started out, the goal was to become a West Coast general contractor,” Bastian said.
“We wanted to reach $4 million in revenue our first year. We figured we’d stay right around that size for a long time. But we did good work initially, and some of our clients wanted to use us outside of the Seattle region and take us into other markets. We just kept on growing.” This year’s revenues are projected to hit $1.4 billion. Today, BNB is a full-service general contractor with key specialists in every area of construction, including preconstruction, designbuild, integrated project delivery, lean construction, building information modeling, and sustainability. Its client roster includes some familiar names like Amazon, Apple, Boeing, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft.
The company’s size and breadth of expertise make it particularly well-suited to take on complex, technically challenging projects for commercial clients in the life sciences, biotech, data center, health care, education, and technology sectors. This versatility is reflected in its motto: “If you can imagine it, we can build it.”
All along, the mindset Bastian developed at Oregon State has helped guide the growth of the business. Entrepreneurialism has been the driving force of BNB from the beginning, he says, and it’s something he has sought to instill in each employee.
“We have, and we encourage, a culture around everyone being an entrepreneur within the company,” he said. “That means we encourage creative thinking in all of our construction project challenges. We don’t try to have a pre-thought-out answer for every problem. We try to find a solution that fits the individual project and client best.”
Early on, BNB carved out a niche for itself in the biotech and health care industries, and has continued to leverage its life sciences expertise to land bids on major projects for Bristol-Myers Squibb, Gilead Sciences, GlaxoSmithKline, and Pfizer. Pharmaceutical manufacturing, in particular, remains an important part of the business.
“There are not many contracting firms in the country that have the resume for that type of work,” Bastian said. “It’s really technical and fairly challenging to work through the FDA and all of the validation requirements. So, we get asked to look at projects even outside of the regions where we have offices.”
BNB has also made its mark on the local landscape, with major projects in Seattle and the surrounding region. This is a particular point of pride for Bastian, as the company faces some tough competition on its home turf.
“Seattle has some really good, quality firms, some that have been here for 100 years,” Bastian said. “It hasn’t been easy to grab market share. So, we’re super proud and happy that BNBuilders is on the list to be considered for just about anything in the area.”
BNB’s Seattle portfolio includes the Kraken Community Iceplex. The $80 million, 172,000square-foot facility — boasting three NHL regulation ice rinks with combined seating for 1,400 spectators, as well as team offices, retail space, and a restaurant — opened in fall 2021. It serves as the practice facility for the Seattle Kraken hockey team, in addition to providing a venue for public skating, lessons, and community events.
Defining itself as a “progressive company,” BNB has consistently received recognition as a “Best Place to Work,” from publications up and down the West Coast. The company has identified six core values, around which it structures its corporate initiatives: safety, community, diversity, innovation, sustainability, and knowledge. These values, Bastian said, are what guide the company’s strategy today.
In January 2022, the company announced it had transitioned through a traditional employee stock ownership plan, or ESOP, to become 100% employee-owned. The change represented a natural next step in the company’s evolution, Bastian said.
“Empowering our employees has been one of our primary goals since our founding in 2000,” he said. “Throughout the last two decades, our employees have been investing their passion and efforts in putting our client’s satisfaction and goals above all else. With this transition to an ESOP, we now are reinvesting in the people who have delivered on those promises.”
The move to employee ownership also serves the company’s long-term interests by helping it attract and retain people who share the company’s “collaborative and progressive vision to be the best builders.” Nearly two years since the changeover, Bastian says it has been an incredible success.
“Today, all of our employees are, in fact, owners,” he said. “They are now direct stakeholders in the success of our company and of our clients. I believe this sets the foundation for our next generation of leaders and overall future success.”
For that next generation of leaders, some of whom are no doubt studying at Oregon State today, Bastian offers these words of encouragement:
“Don’t be afraid to dream big. Work really, really hard, and you can find solutions to just about any hurdle that presents itself. You’re going to have them. You’ve just got to be creative and find the way over the top.”
Photos by Matt Hagen and courtesy of BNBuilders Inc.
December 18, 2023