A passionate and prolific engineer, a skilled expert in disputes, and beloved by those he worked with and for, Michael Burgess will be missed.
By Liisa Andreassen
San Diego-based Xpera Group (#77 Hot Firm for 2015), a construction consulting company, recently mourned the loss of Michael Burgess, the lovable and prolific engineer who had fought, and ultimately lost, a courageous battle against cancer. He was 56.
Burgess majored in mechanical engineering at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo. Prior to joining Xpera, he held positions at Natkin Company in Indiana, University Mechanical in Arizona and California, Western Air in California, and for 20 years as an employee and owner with Burgess Group Inc., a firm founded by his father, Milton.
Known for his infectious passion, Burgess served as the dedicated expert in 200 cases, and was experienced in construction management, LEED building commissioning, forensic engineering, and design.
“Mike was not just a colleague, but someone I had known for 18 years,” says Xpera president Ted Bumgardner. “Mike won’t ever be replaced. In fact, it would likely take two or three professionals to even come close to meeting his output.”
Mike’s practice largely fell into two distinct categories: engineering/design, with Burgess Group, and new/active projects with Xpera; and forensic engineering associated with existing projects for the purpose of resolving challenges and conflicts.
He first joined Xpera in 2011 as vice president. At the time, the entire AEC industry was still very much immersed in the Great Recession.
“While not a lot of new construction was happening at the time, there was still plenty of litigation from the boom times that required the substantial expertise that someone like Mike possessed,” Bumgardner says.
As the economy turned around and projects started moving forward once again, there was a huge need in the industry for proactive risk management – especially helping project teams understand new building codes and other regulations.
“Mike’s thought leadership, combined with the incredible hindsight afforded through participation as a designated expert on more than 200 disputes, proved invaluable to our clients,” Bumgardner says. “By combining energy efficiency and sustainability consulting with practical risk management, Mike’s practice was definitely in growth mode as his illness took hold.”
Colleagues and clients share memories. Burgess worked with attorney Ann Rankin on the team representing the plaintiff on the landmark case of Beacon Residential Community Association vs. Catellus Third and King, et. al., which they took over in 2011. The biggest challenge in the case, which would end up changing California law and the standard of care for design professionals, was the existence of solar heat gain that caused some units to experience elevated temperatures as much as 30 degrees higher than the outside air. Previous legal teams had engaged a number of mechanical engineering firms, none of which could suggest a solution.
“When we brought on Mike, he established a team that included electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, structural engineers, cost estimators and more.
“They quickly analyzed the problem and found a solution,” Rankin says. “Mike was always passionate about his work, and could explain complicated technical concepts to lay people in an interesting and understandable way. Although he had been a mechanical engineer for over 30 years, he was still very excited about the field and about solving real problems for real people.”
“Excitement,” “enthusiasm” and “passion” are words that came up repeatedly when talking about Burgess and his work.
Steve Amundson of the law offices of White Amundson Kish & Sweeney worked with Burgess for more than 10 years on a number of cases involving cast iron pipes.
“We worked together on issues with a very narrow focus,” Amundson says. “Mike conveyed an interest, even an excitement, in these cast iron pipes that had to be genuine. You can’t fake that. He loved what he did and he demonstrated that. I really enjoyed working with him every day I had the opportunity.”
Burgess’ passion for the industry was contagious and he put it to good use through his involvement with ASHRAE, the trade association focused on building systems, energy efficiency, indoor air quality, refrigeration and sustainability. For more than 20 years, he served in a variety of roles within the organization, including its board of directors and various councils and committees.
Mark Bender of Bender Dean Engineering says, “Mike convinced me to become more involved in ASHRAE. He was good at getting people to volunteer. Really, Mike just loved ASHRAE, helping our local chapter and being involved.”
“Mike’s energy and smile was contagious within ASHRAE,” added Karine Leblanc, the organization’s director and regional chair. Bay Area attorney Tyler Berding worked with Michael on a number of client projects over the years, including one that he described as their most difficult, which was resolved earlier this year.
“He was creative, inventive and very easy to work with,” Berding says. “He was a fine expert and a wonderful colleague. Everyone at Berding & Weil will miss him.”
What happens next? Xpera is looking for additional experts and thought leaders to move forward with the tremendous momentum that Burgess had established though his prolific output as an engineer.
“Mike was clearly a well-loved individual whose outsized personality, love of life and sheer brilliance left an indelible mark on all those that knew him. His memorial service was so packed, they were running out of chairs to fit everyone,” Bumgardner says. “We can rest assured that any issues that God has with plumbing and HVAC in heaven will soon be resolved.
“Seeing the impact that Michael had on so many people, it makes us realize how special and important business relationships are to each of us personally. It’s what makes what we do worth doing. We are all very fortunate indeed when we can do what we love to do for people we love doing it for.”