Tom Brisbin’s Eulogy for Frank

Mark Risco and I are here to talk about Frank’s second career with Willdan.  Of course, he was well known amongst the California cities and when I met him, he was either the longest serving city manager or the second.   

Frank joined Willdan in 2002 as the President of Willdan’s subsidiary, MuniFinancial.  He knew Will Stookey and Dan Heil very well.  Will and Dan started the firm in 1964.  It was a creative evening when they named it Willdan.  I am sure alcohol may have been involved.  

I did not meet Frank until 2007.  Willdan’s founder, Dan Heil, had passed away. They had just gone public, there were many unhappy partners, and the country was at the beginning of the subprime loan crisis, or the great recession.  Willdan was about to lose 65% of our business.  Frank was a major player at the company and we were faced with major adversity.  The welcome mat for the new guy (me) was unfriendly at best.  I’m sure they were thinking, “Who is this guy that didn’t grow up in Willdan and knows almost nothing about our business?”  

Who could know what Frank knew about our client cities?  No one.  Over the next few years, I had several trips to the principal’s office. Of course, the principal was Frank.  We had a rough start to a 15-year relationship.  I learned that everyone should listen when the principal is speaking.  Frank was direct (maybe even blunt), not shy about his thoughts, and often quick to point out the mistakes I was going to make.  Now, here is the odd part…through this rocky start, I respected Frank because his advice was based on his experience and genuine care and concern for people.  The delivery took a little getting used to, but the content was solid.  The King, the Mafia Boss, el Jefe, the bigger-than-life Frank really cared about the company, the impact of his contributions, and the people he worked with.  This was clear and it made getting to know Frank worth the journey.  After a few years, Frank calmed down a little about all the changes and problems we were facing and made that very hard transition to fixing the entire company.  Being in charge didn’t matter.  He could still accomplish his goals by being the trusted advisor to everyone.  Especially to me.  There were so many times that the answer was always the same, “You better call Frank”.  The company stock had gone from $10.00 a share to $1.00. The partners had lost a lot, and many employees had lost their jobs. This recession was the worst, and Frank was at his best.  He poured his heart and efforts into keeping the company solvent.  Though these were tough times, I started to admire, appreciate, and trust Frank Tripepi.  The number of visits to the principal’s office was going down and we were building a better relationship.  In practice, Frank’s efforts were saving the company. A challenge like this really motivated Frank.  The worst thing one could do was tell Frank, “That’s not possible”. 

Well, the company survived the recession and Frank became the trusted advisor to everyone.  This role continued through the pandemic as our business was reduced now by 40%, this time due to Covid.  We are now coming out of Covid.  Frank never paused, he never stayed home, he never let the phone rest.  I am curious with everyone here; did anyone ever have a WebEx, Teams, Zoom, or a virtual meeting with Frank? He remained “old-school” with telephone and in-person meetings with people! 

When Frank was diagnosed, he called me and gave me the news.  He had one request.  He wanted to keep working.  Is anyone surprised?  During this time, I got to see Frank more.  Not for business, but as friends.  We talked about the world, his life, work, and family.  Frank was a patriot; he loved this country.  And we all thank him for his service. He did everything he could for his family, his coworkers, and his friends.  Willdan will always remember Frank as the man that got us through some very tough times.  His efforts to teach us all about the cities we live in was invaluable.  Frank always said to me, “Brisbin, all problems are solved at the city, remember that”.  

We will remember Frank.  He helped all of us at Willdan.  We will remember how he made that transition from running a subsidiary to being the trusted advisor for the entire company.  He made a much bigger impact in this role. We grew to 60 offices nationwide and we are becoming a leader in climate change.  Frank embraced all the change and brought it to the cities.  

I would close with “Rest in Peace, Frank”, but wherever he is, he does not know the word “rest”.  On behalf of Willdan, thank you Frank and thank you for the relationship that turned into a friendship.