The Early Years
In 1919, William Bernhard founded Bernhard Plumbing and Sheet Metal Works in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. What began as a small, family-owned company is now one of the country’s largest mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineering, construction and service firms that provides Energy-as-a-Service solutions.
Born to German immigrant parents in New Orleans, William Bernhard was a self-made man. With an initial vision of helping his family and community, he ultimately started a legacy that would prosper into a new century.
In the early years, the company focused on plumbing and custom sheet metal fabrication. In 1932, Bernhard was awarded the Louisiana Capitol building. This was the first of many iconic projects the firm would help construct in the State and solidified Bernhard as a leader in the mechanical and plumbing construction industry.
In 1945, Ernest P. Breaux, Bernhard’s electrical construction division, was founded in New Iberia, Louisiana. Since the inception of the company over 70 years ago, the original motto of “Most Dependable” still rings true today.
Strengthening Our Foundation
The second generation of leadership included William Bernhard’s sons: William Jr., Charlie, and Jimmy. According to Jimmy, the company was founded with the three core beliefs: hard work ethic, passion, and problem solving. The mission of the company was not only to see how things were, but also how things could be. Because of these principles, the company grew through hard times.
In 1958, 60 miles to the southeast of Baton Rouge in Metairie, Louisiana, a similar company operating as Mechanical Construction Company (MCC) of New Orleans formed. Established by Fred Estopinal, MCC provided engineered mechanical and plumbing construction services. This innovative type of project delivery is what the industry now calls Design-Build.
MCC’s innovative approach aligned with Fred’s vision of “not necessarily being the biggest, but being the best.”
Over the next 25 years, Bernhard Plumbing and Sheet Metal Works, E.P. Breaux, and MCC helped to grow Louisiana: building the Louisiana Governor’s Mansion in 1963, opening an office in Lafayette in 1965, and constructing Lafayette General Hospital that same year. Other notable projects included the Louisiana Superdome, the Sheraton New Orleans Hotel, Louisiana’s State Capitol, Hilton New Orleans Riverside, and many high rise office buildings on Poydras Street, including 800 and 400 Poydras. The firms grew and expanded as the needs of Louisiana grew and expanded. In 1965, Bernhard Plumbing and Sheet Metal Works added air conditioning to their service offerings and changed their name to Bernhard Mechanical.
Growth and Expansion
In the early 1980’s, New Orleans saw a spike in construction activity centered around the World’s Fair. But when the World’s Fair ended, much of Louisiana went through difficult times. As the region was experiencing an economic downturn, the company sought new opportunities for growth. MCC mobilized and began to expand outside of the state to serve clients across the Gulf South. The firm completed their first project in North Carolina in 1985, worked on a large-scale gaming expansion in Mississippi in 1990, and constructed the Orlando Airport in 1991. Mobility remains a distinct advantage of our firm today.
In 1984, Bernhard Brothers Mechanical Contractors was established in Baton Rouge, Louisiana by William Bernhard Jr.’s sons: Bill, Barry, and Jude. At a time when there were limited opportunities in Louisiana, the brothers took a leap of faith to open a mechanical and plumbing business. Their solid relationships and dedication to their customers helped the firm grow quickly. They built their first milestone project, the Louisiana National Bank Tower, in downtown Baton Rouge. Bernhard Brothers had a continuous, client-focused mission to “make sure when you finished a project the customer had nothing bad to say about you.”
Continuing it’s expansion, MCC opened mechanical construction offices in Raleigh and Charlotte, North Carolina. The firm also expanded fabrication capacity by opening a new fabrication facility in south Mississippi. Today, fabrication and manufacturing remain a critical component of Bernhard’s mechanical and plumbing construction solutions.
In 1995, Ed Tinsley and Rusty Mullen formed Tinsley-Mullen Engineers (TME) in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Founded as a traditional MEP consulting engineering company, the firm quickly added energy service offerings focused on helping clients reduce costs and conserve energy.
Working primarily with healthcare and higher education clients, TME became the most prominent MEP consulting firm in the State of Arkansas.
In the early 2000’s, Bernhard Mechanical, under the leadership of Kenny Bernhard, E.P. Breaux, and TME came together to work on what would be the firm’s first Energy-as-a-Service project: the Louisiana State University Cogeneration Plant. The project was designed to greatly reduce operating energy costs and provide LSU an opportunity to upgrade its infrastructure. In a time of need, the project provided LSU a location to serve the community and operate as a triage center during Hurricane Katrina. Overall, the project was a success and significantly reduced the LSU’s energy footprint.
Jim Bernhard, the grandson of William Bernhard, and his business partner Jeff Jenkins took this Energy-as-a-Service concept and created a new business opportunity. Between 2014 and 2015, Jim Bernhard and Bernhard Capital Partners strategically purchased Bernhard Mechanical, TME, E.P. Breaux, Bernhard Brothers, and MCC. Each company brought an expertise and culture that complemented one another.
Together, they formed Bernhard, bringing the Energy-as-a-Service vision to light for clients across the nation.
Leveraging this newly combined expertise, the firm quickly began to implement its Energy-as-a-Service vision with projects at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans; AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Texas; the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock; and beyond. In 2018, Bernhard’s innovative work saved clients more than $14 million in energy costs.
In 2019, Bernhard achieved a major milestone with the passing of its 100th year in the engineering and contracting business. The centennial celebration offered an avenue to reflect on the principles and values that have enabled the firm’s success: hard work, passion, and client-focused solutions.
In the same year, Bernhard opened the first of its integrated offices in Nashville, Tennessee. By bringing all members of the Bernhard family under one roof, this model enabled the company to enhance service to its clients and provided a foundation for future growth.
Building Our Future
2020 and beyond
With the successful combination of engineering, construction, service, and finance, Bernhard continues to create opportunities to serve our clients with the hard work, quality service, and innovative solutions they have come to expect.
Today, Bernhard’s mission is to deliver innovative engineering, construction, and energy solutions that empower our clients and promote a sustainable future. It is through this work that we will achieve our vision and become the leading Energy-as-a-Service provider in North America.
We serve customers across the nation, offering in-house expertise and a proven approach backed by more than 100 years of experience. Our teams continue to design and create hospitals, classrooms, offices, hotels, and more. Though buildings, communities, and cities change around us, one thing remains constant: Bernhard is a trusted partner, working together to build our future.