David Friedman marked December 31, 2020 as the date to transition from his 40- year career at Forell | Elsesser Engineers, and to focus more on his active leadership in the areas of civic engagement and social advocacy, while enjoying more time with his family – including the new addition, “RBG” the yellow Lab!
“Retirement” is hardly an appropriate word to describe David’s transition plans, as he seems to be more involved than ever in key roles with a multitude of professional and community organizations. He does say he wants to “slow down a bit”, as he continues to explore, learn, play golf, and travel
David started his career with Forell | Elsesser in 1980, working closely with both Nick Forell and Eric Elsesser, the firm’s founding Principals. He developed an appreciation for elegant architecture early in his career. While enjoying his career as a structural engineer, he became increasingly interested in Forell | Elsesser’s practice and what made it so successful. The founding Principals recognized David’s innate leadership attributes and financial acumen, which led to his growth as an Associate and a Principal / Shareholder of the firm, ultimately taking on the firm’s leadership as its CEO in 1998.
David’s leadership role at Forell | Elsesser has been transformative for the firm. During his tenure as the CEO, he cultivated a culture of collaboration and teamwork, both internally and with clients, always emphasizing the “we” and not the” I”. His inclusive leadership style, his quest for equity and diversity, his genuine caring for the staff, and his thoughtful and comprehensive approach to decision making have been inspirational, and have permeated the firm’s culture, leaving a long-lasting impression that is certain to endure for generations to come. His methodical transition planning has also left a framework for healthy leadership transitions to future generations.
In 2007, David stepped aside from his CEO role to focus more of his time and energy on his life-long passion for supporting not-for-profit professional and community organizations, and to create opportunities for the next generation to lead Forell | Elsesser, while he continued to be involved and engaged with the firm as Senior Principal and Chair of the Board for another decade. In more recent years, David has divided his time between his role with the firm, and his leadership roles on the boards of LS&Co., Jewish Home & Senior Living Foundation, SPUR, EERI, Geohazards International, as well as involvement with UC Berkeley Design Review Committee, UCB Chancellor’s Capital Strategies Committee, UCB CEE Advisory Council, UCB CEE Academy of Distinguished Alumni Board, and Stanford Seismic Advisory Committee; in addition to numerous others. David is a role model for giving back to his profession and to the society at large by generously supporting these organizations with his time and resources.
David has contributed to many of our firm’s notable projects. His approach to structural engineering reflects several factors: his respect for elegant architecture, his belief in the power of a great team, and his embodiment of three principles: a comprehensive view of the “problem” and what surrounds it, a drive to develop technically elegant yet buildable solutions, and great business sense. He leveraged the collective talent that existed in the firm to better serve our clients, by challenging his engineering teams, soliciting their best work and ideas, and assembling those ideas into a harmonious solution.
A strong advocate for seismic safety, he has been able to communicate seismic risk to clients in terms that are meaningful to them, guiding them towards a seismic risk mitigation strategy. The most prominent example of David’s engineering M.O. is his decade-long leadership of the seismic renovation of the UC Berkeley’s California Memorial Stadium, which presented unprecedented engineering challenges. David proactively engaged the interests of the owner to obtain a full understanding of their goals and the potential obstacles, assembled the most capable technical team, brainstormed and presented multiple solutions, and – in so doing – orchestrated the completion of perhaps the most innovative seismic design solution ever developed.
His other notable projects include Seismic Retrofit of San Francisco City Hall, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco Jewish Community Center, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the new Berkeley Art Museum, and Taube-Koret Campus for Jewish Life.
While David marked December 2020 as his “retirement”, he will continue to be a friend of the firm, as we value his leadership legacy, and cherish his friendship, mentorship, sense of humor, the seemingly endless supply of his good wine, and his contributions to our celebrations as the firm’s first “Poet Laureate”.
With best wishes for David in transitioning to the next chapter of his life,