Bechtel has been headquartered in San Francisco since the early years of the 20th century. But in recent decades its business units in Houston and the Washington area have grown in prominence as the firm’s work has grown with oil and gas construction services, management of nuclear facilities and government contracting.
“Over the last 15 years the customer base that supported our San Francisco office has diminished, and as a consequence the employee population in San Francisco diminished because the customers moved to other locations,” Bechtel Chief Operating Officer Jack Futcher said Thursday. “We’re closing that chapter in the history of our company, but we’re opening a new chapter.”
The move is part of a broader consolidation effort to put the firm’s corporate management in one place. About 150 managers and employees are being asked to relocate to Reston from Houston and San Francisco. The company plans to maintain a presence in California to manage construction projects there, but its executives are considering whether to move those operations elsewhere within the city.
Executives are hoping that the transition to Reston will enable more streamlined decision-making.
“This consolidation we believe will enable us to have more instantaneous communication by the senior leaders of the company,” Futcher said. “We think putting them all in one place will enable better communication, more rapid decision-making, and better vetting of options.”
Bechtel’s business operations started in 1898, when founder Warren Bechtel built a sizable business constructing railroads in Oklahoma. The company relocated to San Francisco soon after. It worked on iconic projects across the Western United States, including the Hoover Dam and San Francisco’s Bay Bridge.
The company has remained privately held by five generations of the Bechtel family. The most recent member, Brendan Bechtel, was appointed chief executive in 2016 and chairman last year.
Government work has long been important to the company’s business.
The company was involved in major construction efforts during and after World War II. It was tasked with extinguishing burning oil fields in Kuwait after the Gulf War, an eight-month project that employed more than 10,000 firefighters. And it has been a major recipient of U.S. military contract dollars marked for reconstruction following the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 2012 the company moved its D.C.-area operations to Reston from Frederick, Md., and set up the new office as a “global operational headquarters” there while the firm remained officially headquartered in San Francisco. The Reston office became the core of Bechtel’s government business, and also houses the firm’s nuclear security and environmental business unit.
Today a large portion of Bechtel’s revenue comes from government contracts for major infrastructure projects. It was the eighth-largest recipient of federal contract dollars last year, taking in $5.5 billion from the U.S. government, most of it from the Defense Department and the Energy Department.