James H. “Jim” Kleinfelder, P.E., passed away suddenly on March 5, 2017; he was 82 years old. However, according to friends and family, “old” is not an apt word to associate with Jim because his outlook was perpetually youthful. He was always interested in how things worked and continually developed means to make them work better, especially when it came to business.
Jim began his career shortly after graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, working for the city of Stockton, Calif., as a resident engineer. A few years later, in 1961, Jim invested his $1,500 life savings in a construction materials engineering and testing firm — Stockton Testing and Controls, Inc. — which he operated from his garage. That didn’t last long. As word of Jim’s capabilities spread, his list of clients and projects lengthened, so much so that he had to hire staff and open additional offices, starting in Merced, Fresno, and Sacramento. Since “Stockton” was no longer an accurate descriptor of Jim’s firm, he changed its name to J. H. Kleinfelder and Associates, and it continued to grow.
While business success increased demands on his time, he made time to serve his profession, especially through the Geoprofessional Business Association (which he served as president) and ACEC’s Hazardous Waste Action Coalition (which he also served as president).
Jim also found the time to mentor many of his firm’s younger staff members, and continued to develop the leadership skills of his able lieutenants, believing — correctly — that investing his time that way would bring great dividends. It did because it gave him the ability to delegate with confidence and so create more time to expand his company, through acquisitions and new office openings in North America and the Middle East, and through diversification of the services his firm offered. In fact, Kleinfelder, under Jim’s leadership, was among the first major engineering firms to delve into the then-new area of environmental services. It was a step which, at the time, took a great deal of courage, given the tremendous liabilities involved.
The company had grown to more than $50 million in annual revenue when Jim retired in 1993. Today, Kleinfelder is a highly respected and diversified company that ranks in the top 50 of the Engineering News-Record (ENR) Top 500 companies with nearly $400 million in annual revenues, employing about 2,000 people in 70 offices in the United States, Canada, and Australia.
In 2012, Jim was recognized for his accomplishments and contributions to the profession with his inclusion in the inaugural class of the Academy of Distinguished Alumni at the University of California Berkley.
Jim is survived by his beloved wife Carole, three children — Brad, Don, and Brenda — six grandchildren, two great grandchildren, and literally hundreds of friends and admirers.
Contributed by John Bachner, president, Bachner Communications; and Gerry Salontai, former CEO, Kleinfelder.