Rising Runner Derek Abbott helping build up - and preserve - Tejon's historic lands

Derek Abbott

Derek Abbott is Vice President of Community Development & Resource Planning at Tejon Ranch.

Derek Abbott is one of four 2018 Rising Runners, CSUB alumni of the last 10 years being recognized for their exceptional work post-graduation. He was chosen by School of Business and Public Administration.

Over the years Tejon Ranch has been transforming southern Kern County into a center of commerce and laying the groundwork for a mini city there with thousands of homes.

And Derek Abbott has helped realize that vision.

He’s Vice President of Community Development & Resource Planning, having risen up Tejon’s ranks since late 2004. He’s had a hand in all its major residential and commercial developments near I-5 south of Bakersfield.

The biggest is Grapevine, an 8,000-acre master planned community of 12,000 homes and 5 million square feet of commercial space.  Abbott led Grapevine through conception, permitting, planning and design; litigation is holding up construction.

“I’d love to be building,” he said.

Derek grew up in Salinas, one of four kids in a family that owned five Fosters Freezes. He worked for the family business from about age 10 through college, filling “every role under the sun.”

Money was tight when he graduated from high school, so Derek stayed home and studied business at Hartnell Community College from 2000 to 2002. He initially thought of working for the family long-term, but eventually sought other opportunities.

“Working 60 hours a week in fast food is not as glamorous as it seems,” Derek joked.

By the skin of his teeth he got into Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and in 2004, earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration. A short stint with Google as an “adwords rep” followed. The job wasn’t for him and he wanted to make a life with his girlfriend, so he joined her in her hometown of Bakersfield.

Derek got a list of the top 40 corporations in Bakersfield and sent each a “Derek in a nutshell” letter – a cover letter with a nutshell taped to it. Tejon Ranch bit and hired him as a special projects assistant, “one step above getting coffee.”

At the time, Tejon Ranch was transitioning from an agricultural to a real estate development company. The scope and variety of its ambitions were enormous.

“With a large landscape comes a lot of room for diversity,” he said.

Derek earned increasing levels of responsibility over time. He became a director in 2011 and a vice president in 2013.

He’s been involved in all of Tejon Ranch’s real estate development projects, which also includes Tejon Mountain Village, a resort community to be built in the westernmost high country of Tejon Ranch. 

The planned communities will help support the conservation of Tejon Ranch, part of a landmark agreement between Tejon and several environmental groups to preserve 90 percent of the company’s ranchland and allow development on the rest. Derek helped strike the deal.

In 2010 Derek earned his MBA in management and finance from CSUB. He not only wanted to take his business skills to the next level but develop the community relationships he felt he needed to advance his career at Tejon.

“At a certain level it’s who you know, not just what you know,” Derek said.  

He said he had great professors and classmates who elevated his strategic thinking and strengthened his community bonds.

And Derek wants a safe, vibrant community in which to raise his sons, 5-year-old Nolan and 1-year-old Wesley, with his wife, business owner and fellow CSUB grad Heather. To that end he serves on the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce board and the CSUB School of Business and Public Administration Dean’s Executive Advisory Council.

Derek says he wants Bakersfield to be the kind of place where he can parent his boys the way he was parented in Salinas – with “a long leash.”



WHAT IS A RISING RUNNER?

Now in its fourth year, the Rising Runner program recognizes CSUB alumni of the last 10 years excelling in their work and giving back to their community.

In consultation with faculty, the dean from each of the university’s four academic schools selects a Rising Runner. Rising Runners come back to campus to participate in an awards ceremony and panel discussion where current students can ask them questions about how they got where they are today.

This year's event will be held from noon to 1 p.m. Feb. 23 in the CSUB Stockdale Room.