A Family Firm with a Rich Heritage

Broadway Mechanical-Contractors

Broadway Mechanical-Contractors, Inc., celebrates its 70th anniversary this year, but its Californian roots in plumbing reach back over a century through the family of its owners. With headquarters in Oakland, this full-service, mechanical contracting company has worked on many landmark buildings in the Greater Bay Area.

Broadway Mechanical designs and builds plumbing, piping and HVAC systems and also offers engineering, fabrication, detailing, sheet-metal work, energy analysis, and so on.

“Historically we focused mostly on plumbing and piping. Over 10 years ago, Broadway Mechanical began pursuing HVAC projects. We typically look to provide both plumbing and HVAC services; however, there are times when we are only awarded one type of work. The majority of our revenues come from plumbing projects,” says President Ken Nurisso, who runs the firm with his older brother, Fred.

Broadway Mechanical has worked on a huge range of projects, including residences, offices, retail outlets, commercial buildings, educational facilities, healthcare centers, hotels, and sports facilities. The company provides full services with a full time, unionized workforce of plumbers, steamfitters, pipefitters, construction workers, sheet metal workers, and others. Total personnel, including both trades people and office admin staff, tops 250.

Staying in the Bay
At present, the company only works in the Greater Bay Area, with a focus on San Francisco and Alameda Counties, where the Oakland headquarters are located. “As we continue to fine-tune our internal controls and processes we will consider expanding our reach. Fortunately, there is so much work locally there isn’t a need to expand to other locations at this time,” Nurisso says.

Indeed, Broadway Mechanical has worked on some of the biggest recent building projects in the Bay Area. Broadway did the plumbing for Trinity Place Phase III, a 19-story residential tower in San Francisco that includes over 540 units and six underground levels of parking.

Broadway Mechanical is currently installing the plumbing systems for Trinity Place Phase IV, a 17-story residential tower with 502 units. The Trinity Place high-rise residential complex is a mammoth development in a premier location. “We came in and did a really good job on tower three. We’re in the process of building tower four,” says Nurisso.

Broadway is providing plumbing and HVAC services for the San Francisco Campus for Jewish Living, which includes 113 assisted-living apartments for seniors and 77 memory-care support suites, plus a swimming pool, movie theater, cafe, and fitness center.

Broadway Mechanical is also involved at Pier 70, a massive 69-acre property on the San Francisco waterfront that’s being revitalized to showcase historic buildings, park space, retail space and the district’s shipbuilding / industrial heritage. Broadway is responsible for the plumbing and HVAC systems in several of the historical buildings at Pier 70 including Building 101, a 70,000 square-foot space that will house the flagship store for home furnishings company, RH [formerly Restoration Hardware].

Earthquake rebuild
Broadway can trace its lineage to one Charles Nurisso, who arrived in San Francisco shortly after the Great Earthquake of 1906. Nurisso worked as a plumber – a skill in high demand as the city went about rebuilding. By the time he retired in 1949, Charles Nurisso had become majority owner in a large mechanical contracting firm. That same year, three of his sons (Lawrence, Norman and Charles), who worked for the same mechanical contractor as their father, decided to strike out on their own.

They launched a company and called it Broadway Plumbing (it became Broadway Mechanical-Contractors in 1972). Ken Nurisso admits he doesn’t know why ‘Broadway’ was chosen, though he’s fairly sure that the name has no connection to the famous Broadway of New York City.

In 1965, Robert “Broadway Bob” Nurisso (father of Fred and Ken) started working at the family business. Fifteen years later, Bob Nurisso bought out his relatives, expanded the company, and then merged with a large mechanical contractor in 1989. The merged entity “grew to be one of the largest mechanical contractors in the United States, having offices all over the place. They did work in several states including California, Hawaii, Washington, Colorado, Illinois, and Texas,” recalls Nurisso.

However, operations at the merged company were wound down in September 2003. In October 2003, Broadway Bob relaunched the family firm (back in the late 1980s, Bob had purchased corporate rights to the Broadway company name, allowing him to reuse it when the time came to revive the old family business).

Significant player
Nurisso recalls that Broadway Mechanical quickly grew to become a significant player in the Greater Bay Area. Early projects included Mills-Peninsula hospital – a $38-million plumbing project, which was the first full 3-D BIM project in Northern California – and the St. Regis Luxury Hotel and Condominiums in San Francisco.

The thriving firm moved into a new corporate building on five acres in Oakland in 2006. The new facilities included over 100,000 square feet of space devoted to manufacturing and storage for the plumbing, piping and sheet metal departments.

Fred Nurisso came on board to help out shortly after Broadway Mechanical was launched. Ken, who had been working as an accountant, joined in 2011. Their father is still with the firm. His job title is now “CEO Emeritus” and he primarily does plumbing estimates. Broadway Bob “continues to be actively involved in estimating projects and is relied on for his wisdom and the relationships he has built over many years in business,” Nurisso says.

Five generations
So Broadway Mechanical meets all the definitions of a family business at present, with ownership split 50/50 between Ken and Fred, who serves as company CEO. “Fred and I now equally own Broadway Mechanical and are the fourth generation of the Nurisso family in the plumbing industry,” Ken says.

Fred has three children in college who take summer jobs at Broadway, making them the fifth generation working in the family-business.

Building up its in-house facilities over the years, and consequently being able to do its prefabrication in a controlled environment, is one of the keys to Broadway’s continued success, Nurisso says, giving it an edge over firms that are unable to offer similar services.

“We design [a plumbing system] as much as we can and have the component parts built here, so that when we get to the field, we can take [the system] off the truck and make as few connections as possible,” Nurisso says with enthusiasm. “There is a whole plumbing prefabrication process that is first-in-class at Broadway. We have previously hosted the National Mechanical Contractors Association Pre-Fabrication Seminar at our headquarters.”

Nurisso says that Broadway Mechanical also stands out from the pack through its tradition of the CEO and president having “hands-on involvement in all of our projects. Following in our father’s footsteps, Fred and I are involved in every project pursuit, execution, and completion. Owners, developers, and general contractors know that if any questions arise on a project we are available to provide solutions.”

Close and collaborating
A lot of companies talk a good story, but Broadway’s engineering, detailing, fabrication and field-install teams do really work closely together in an integrated and effective way. This is the natural effect of the company’s longstanding collaborative culture, of teamwork and mutual respect, says Nurisso.

Broadway also works hard to keep its highly-valued workers safe. The company has a full-time safety director; conducts “daily huddles with the field teams to discuss safety and upcoming work plans”; and requires foremen to make daily reports and attend regular meetings at head office, says Nurisso. Broadway’s safety programs meet and exceed OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) requirements.

“There are stickers on each field employee’s helmet that have important safety information including health precautions, key contacts, and other vital information. We have a comprehensive Injury and Illness Prevention Program and Code of Safe Practices that are updated annually… Our safety-first culture results in a low EMR (Experience Modification Rate), safe employees, and lower insurance rates,” Nurisso says.

Broadway Mechanical has won industry recognition for its safety record. Among other honors, the company earned a 2018 Safety Excellence Award from SMACNA (the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association) in the 200,001 – 300,000 man hours worked category. Broadway aims to achieve an OSHA recordable incidence rate of zero, a goal that the company met for the years 2016 and 2017.

Broadway Mechanical has picked up other honors as well, making the list of the San Francisco Business Times’ Top 50 Private Companies in the East Bay every year since 2013, for example.

People for the future
A handful of staff have been with Broadway Mechanical for more than four decades. The company places a strong emphasis on employee loyalty and developing its workforce. “We have plaques on our wall at our entrance recognizing those that have worked five or more years at Broadway,” says Nurisso.

However, as the firm grows, it may become necessary to start “identifying talent from outside our company.” And, echoing the observation of many of the best, quickest-growing companies around, the biggest challenge facing the company at present is “recruitment of highly qualified personnel.”

That said, the man who is the fourth-generation of the Nurisso family to be president remains highly optimistic. What is his forecast for the future of the company? “Continued growth,” he says. ”A focus on control and process refinement; trying to get better in every way each year; internal promotion of qualified employees and possible expansion into other areas or other verticals – all as part of a plan for further diversification of the types of projects [we do].”

Building the Next Generation

As thousands of experienced workers retire across North America every day, it is small wonder many industries are concerned about the future. It has been a decade since the oldest members of the baby boom generation started leaving their jobs, removing from the workplace decades of experience and skills that are tough to replace. The situation is so dire that, when younger workers are not available or knowledgeable enough to take over, retired staffers are often called back to work on a part-time basis.

November 14, 2019, 9:16 AM EST