From UCR School of Business Alumnus to UC Regent
Darin Anderson ’89, MBA ’91 – UC Regent and CEO of the engineering firm Salas O’Brien – always knew he would go into business. Around age 13, he launched a lawnmowing service. His early tools: an old push mower and some entrepreneurial spirit.
“I charged $5 per lawn,” Anderson recalls. “One lady said, ‘Sure.’ I returned to get the lawnmower. Then I looked at the back yard. The grass was a foot high, and there was 2,000 or 3,000 square feet of it.”
The teen, with his mower, pushed ahead. A few hours later, blisters crept over his hands and half the grass still grazed his knees. He returned home, not sure he could continue. “My dad said, ‘Son, you’re going to finish the job. I don’t care how long it takes.’ ”
It took two days. He collected $5. The upside was insight: “I learned that before you take the job, scope out the project and price it appropriately. As the leader of a 550-person engineering company, those are lessons I don’t want to learn today.”
Over the years, Anderson rose from neighborhood entrepreneur to CPA, CEO and UC Regent – the peak of service to the 10-campus University of California – in part thanks to UCR, where he earned a BS in Business Administration and an MBA.
At UCR, he gained a deep grounding in business, lifelong friendships and the dynamic perspectives of professors, mentors and peers from around the planet. Anderson was named Most Outstanding Graduating Male at UCR in 1989.
“It inspired me and really laid the groundwork for me and my career success,” Anderson says of his time at the A. Gary Anderson School of Management. “I came out knowing I was prepared based on my rigorous academic background.”
It laid the groundwork for years of engagement with his alma mater, as well. He returned to UCR after graduation – a newly minted CPA at PriceWaterhouseCoopers– to teach part-time for several years and expand the school’s accounting curriculum.
Since then, Anderson, the Outstanding Young Alumni from UC Riverside in 1999, has served in leadership roles with the UCR Alumni Association, the School of Business Dean’s Advisory Council and the UC Riverside Foundation Board of Trustees. He also holds the prestigious post of UC Alumni Regent for one year through June 30, 2019.
Of his role as a Regent, Anderson says he appreciates the broad, state-level perspective, relishes the opportunity to champion the underserved, and enjoys fighting to keep UC schools accessible, affordable and second to none in academics.
“I feel extremely grateful,” he says. “It is an honor and a privilege to serve the state and particularly to represent UCR.”
And then there is his day job.
As Chairman and CEO of the Orange County-based Salas O’Brien, Anderson – an avid runner, cyclist and self-described exercise freak – oversees 550 employees, 20 offices and $100 million in annual revenue. The company provides mechanical, electrical and structural engineering, and construction management services in sectors ranging from data centers to heath care to government to hospitality.
His favorite part of the job? “Seeing the success of our team members … and creating an environment where people reach their goals and feel appreciated, with no limit to what they can do.”
The company is employee-owned and has a 95 percent team member retention rate, Anderson says. “Our relationships are relationships for life.”
Meanwhile, for UCR students, the CEO has this advice: “Embrace all that it has to offer … There’s no limit to what you can do coming out of UCR.”
Anderson, recruited out of UCR by the Big 6 accounting firms, says he initially wondered how his skills would compare with those of his new colleagues from top 20 business schools. “Without question my skills were as strong if not stronger than those of the others,” he says. “Not only the leadership and business skills we had learned, but also that quality of being gritty, hungry – and tireless from a work ethic standpoint – that you so often see in UCR students.”
For Anderson, that grit, hunger and work ethic date back to his days mowing lawns.