Q&A: Mike Berryhill Discusses New Role as Swinerton’s San Diego Division Manager

By Catherine Sweeney 

With 25 years of construction industry experience, Mike Berryhill is stepping up to lead Swinerton’s San Diego division. Berryhill has been with the San Francisco-based contracting company since initially accepting a role as project executive and will now take over for Mark Payne, who is retiring from the role. Recently, The Registry had the chance to sit down with Berryhill and discuss the transition and how it will impact the company’s long term goals and San Diego projects moving forward. 

Can you tell me a little bit about Swinerton? Where is the company located and what types of projects does it specialize in? 

A: Swinerton builders has been in business for about 133 years now; it started in 1888…We have offices in 18 cities now, and we just opened an office in downtown Manhattan. It is a 100 percent employee-owned company…And when we say that, it means 100 percent of our employees are owners, so everyone from secretaries to the CEO, which is pretty rare in this market. 

We do a lot of high-rise multifamily residential projects, we do a lot of hospitality work..a lot of commercial office projects for special clients, we do a lot of healthcare and hospital work, we work for universities throughout the state and in San Diego…science and tech, which is really big in San Diego, and lastly, we also have a suite of corporate clients, predominantly tech clients…and we do work for them wherever they want us, mainly in those 18 offices…A big part of our business, which is kind of a sister company to us, is Swinerton Renewable Energy. We build solar farms across the country, and we are the largest solar contractor in the nation. 

What is your history in CRE, with Swinerton, and how will that help you in this new role moving forward? 

A: I went to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, majored in construction management, graduated about 25 years ago…Professionally, since day one, I was recruited out of college, so I’ve been in the industry for 25-plus years, and have worked my way up from entry level engineer to division manager of Swinerton San Diego. 

Really, what I love about Swinerton, what works well, being a 100 percent employee-owned company makes it a very collaborative company…I’ve always really believed in a collaborative environment like that. So, for Swinerton, it’s a perfect marriage that we really can leverage our employees’ knowledge and experience to perform well…the industry as a whole, the thing I love about construction and real estate is you’re working with new teams and you really get to collaborate to put a tangible product together. 

What is Swinerton’s history in San Diego? How long has the company been in the San Diego market? 

A: For about 100 years, we were primarily based in the state of California. San Diego has been an office since 1994, so about 26 years…Swinerton has been the largest contractor by volume, by revenue in the state of California for six years running consecutively and in San Diego, we’ve been the largest contractor for five out of the six years…To speak a little more about Swinerton and San Diego, similarly both as a company and in San Diego, we’re a very diverse company, generally focusing on the private market but we also do some public projects too. It’s a very diverse market. 

As one of the largest contractors in San Diego County, how does the division set itself apart from others in the market? 

A: Because we are so large in San Diego – and we see some of our peers that are about the same size with maybe less projects but with bigger projects – we do it with more diversity…We’ll have a certain client that we work with in San Diego, if they want a door moved in an executive’s office, we’ll do that for them. So, no project is too small for the right clients, and then we’ll do the big makeup projects as well. We recently completed a project that was about $200 million, so we’ll go from $2,000 to $2 million. We do a lot with diversity, not only with market types but with project sizes. Another thing to note is we self-perform. We do not subcontract out. Generally, we self-perform all the metal studs and drywall on our projects, all the structural concrete on our projects, all the doors, frames and hardware on our projects, and even other trades, like acoustic ceilings, or things like that that are kind of unique. Maybe 20 to 30 percent of the craftwork will be within Swinerton, and we think that really has an advantage.

How does Swinerton plan to grow its business in San Diego? Do you have any specific goals for the year? How do you plan to maintain the goals put in place by the San Diego division prior to your promotion into the role? 

A: One of the things that’s very exciting is we think the market is really expanding in the next couple years, we’ve sort of sling-shotted out of the pandemic. So, my role will be to really define what projects really align with Swinerton, because there’s a lot of projects that are out there. We need to be really selective and careful about what projects we go after, and managing our staffing with that too. We take our staffing very seriously, in the fact that we try not to have really big ebbs and flows in terms of staffing projections, we don’t try to get really big this year and shrink up next year. We try to keep a consistent hand on it. With that comes promotions within, new opportunities for people to really use those opportunities and growth to take a new step in their career as well as hiring new people to help fill some of the voids, and both of those options are great. New people can really bring in new ideas and existing employees can get ideas to push their career forward, too. 

That’s really one of my goals, is watching the market, and adapting to the market. We also want at Swinerton to stay diversified in the market types we go after. Those things can be cyclical as well, and we want to make sure we keep our eyes on other market types that maybe aren’t hot right now but might be in a couple of years. It’s part of my role to really understand the market, strategically go after projects that are a good fit for us, continue to build our backlog, build our staff and continue to be innovative. 

Why is San Diego an important market for Swinerton?

A: It’s an important market in that we’ve been in this market for a number of years. As we’re growing some of our markets in the southeast – we’re in Charlotte and Atlanta now, and like I said, we have a new office in New York – and so what we can do in San Diego to help that is we’ve been established. San Diego used to be a locals only market; there was a bunch of local companies that didn’t have offices anywhere but San Diego, and in the 90s and into the 2000s, because of the economic expansion at that time, a lot of bigger companies moved into the market and Swinerton was one of the first to do that, so we’re a very established company in town, and that really helps us because we can focus on some of the new offices knowing that San Diego is really steady.

Looking ahead, where do you see the commercial real estate industry in San Diego headed? 

A: The fact that we’re number three in life science is really incredible..It’s hard to avoid that. Also,  the multifamily residential market and affordable housing in San Diego, the demand- personally due to the high rise cost of single family homes right now is really pushing the demand for the apartment or maybe even condo market right now. I think that’s because of the cost but also the idea of the lifestyle. You can live downtown, you can walk around without much transportation…It’s a great time to be living downtown. More and more businesses are trying to transfer. Life science, which has traditionally been in a cluster in the Torrey Pines/La Jolla area, there’s a lot more life science downtown, so now more people can live downtown and walk to work which is really exciting.