Alumni Spotlight: Ted Gurnee ’68

A 2011 inquiry from one of the world’s richest businessmen, Carlos Slim Helû, led to Ted Gurneé’s latest venture, OxyHeal Tunneling Group, Inc.  One of Sr. Slim’s companies, Carso Infraestructura y Construccion S. A de C.V., was contracted to drill three of the six nine (9) meter diameter tunnels for the 62 km long Emisor Oriente Wastewater Tunnel project under Mexico City.  The geology of the project requires operators of the Tunnel Boring Machines (TBMs) to change cutting tools between sections of soft ground and basalt rock.  Earth Balance Pressure (EPB) TBMs developed by The Robbins Company had to be modified for the high water pressures of this area.  Ted Gurnee’s OxyHeal Health Group has extensive experience in man-lock design, saturation diving operations and pressure vessel manufacturing design solutions to assist Carso in conducting Hyperbaric Interventions to replace their TBM’s worn cutting tools.   OxyHeal proposed to Carso Grupo diving, Hyperbaric chambers, supervision and medical expertise for one of Carso’s TBMs  by OxyHeal’s Hyperbaric Intervention Services.  Articulated forward and tail bulkheads, with man-locks provided by Robbins would allow OxyHeal divers to enter the cutting chamber to change cutting tools or to perform repairs while maintaining balance pressure on the face of the tunnel.

Ted Gurneé has over 44 years experience in diving operations and hyperbaric equipment design and construction.  Based on his experience in the US Navy, Ted started his first private diving services company, SubSeaSurveyors, Inc., on the East Coast.  Initially focused on inspection of underwater facilities for power companies, SubSeaSurveyors, Inc. branched out to conduct diving inspections in nuclear fuel pools, which previously had used only very-expensive robotic equipment. One of the first firms to use underwater cameras, SubSeaSurveyors, Inc. grew to over 150 employees in only three years.  As Ted was transferred by the Navy from the East Coast to San Diego, Ted transferred SubSeaSurveyors, Inc. to the West Coast, starting another division.  Eventually this company became OxyHeal Health Group, which today has subsidiaries that design and construct hyperbaric equipment, medical specialists for wound care, divers for deep-pressure operations, and university-level training and certifications for hyperbaric operations.  OxyHeal is headquartered in the San Diego, CA area, but has customers and operations world-wide.

Ted graduated from the US Naval Academy (USNA) in 1961 with a Bachelor of Science including the start of a Nuclear Physics specialty. Ted was among the first seeking a specialty at USNA.  Following service at sea aboard destroyers, Ted was assigned to the Webb Postgraduate Program, receiving his MSc of Naval Architecture and Bachelor of Science in Marine Engineering from Webb in 1968.  His education at Webb led to a three year USN assignment as the Shipbuilding Advisor to the Greek Navy at a private shipyard, Scaramonga, owned by Stavros Niarchos, the famed Greek supertanker rival of Aristotle Onassis.  He also was visiting Professor at the Piraeus Naval Architecture College, and through these contacts began consulting for Mark Scufalos, a Greek-American owner of Union Commercial Steamship Company, plus other shipowners.

Working with Scufalos and other Greek shipowners, Ted learned the entrepreneurial spirit of the bold and innovative Greek shipping community.  He learned his business skills on the job.  According to Ted, “Starting in Greece was a fortuitous event.”  He learned to take on challenges he didn’t previously know he could meet.  Single ownership with “autonomy to make decisions but the ability to take advice” and extensive use of a network of trusted business associates and friends became guiding principles for Ted. He also learned from his Greek associates that you could have fun while doing business, which combined well with his appetite for hard work, learned from his early teen years selling newspapers and racing results in Miami, supporting his terminally ill Mother.

Later, while the Planning Officer SUPSHIP San Diego, Ted learned of a contract opportunity to build and operate Hawaii inter-island ferries.  He found that a Federal law that subsidized trains could be applied to ferries.  Using his Greek knowledge of shipping and shipbuilding, he started Hawaii Ocean Transit Systems. Then working with a converted crew boat from Walter Minn, he further branched out to start Sea Jet Cruise Lines, operating from San Diego to Ensenada.  Expansion of these operations to New York, plus contracts in Chicago and Memphis led to his ownership of the largest, privately owned fast ferry system in the US, which included innovative vessels such as hard-sided, 400 passenger, 50 knot surface-effect ships and 40 knot catamarans.  However, failure of local transit authorities to make timely reports of actual traffic made DOT payment of subsidies a continuing problem and Ted eventually sold the ferries.

While Ted says that he was probably never a pure engineer using the technical training from Webb, he credits his Webb education with his attaining a position as a USN Engineering Duty Officer (EDO) and his assignment to Greece.  Ted has guided many design projects and his technical training forms his business leadership.  He believes strongly that “Sending someone out with technical skills without leadership/business skills is a mistake” and therefore wants to ensure that like him, Webb students and grads are exposed to business ownership challenges that help them discover what they can do.  Ted Gurneé, a great innovator and entrepreneur, an alumnus of Webb Institute!