BD+C's 2007 Best AEC Firms

Large, small or in between these firms go the extra mile for employees and customers.
August 11, 2010

Arup: Investing in employees for the long haul

When it comes to valuing employees, many firms offer flowery platitudes about attracting and retaining the best and brightest, but don't always back up those statements with benefits that achieve their aim. Arup's commitment to its employees actually does match its rhetoric.

Arup, with nearly 9,000 employees worldwide, has developed an impressive array of benefits at least in part to acquire staff that can successfully take on the most challenging, interesting projects it could find. Ove Arup, who was born of Danish parents in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, and founded the firm in 1946, recognized early that attracting top talent for that mission would always be a struggle.

In a famous meeting on July 9, 1970, Arup delivered what has come to be known in Arup lore as “The Key Speech,” which today is required reading for all new employees. In it, he asked his top managers why “really good” employees who could get jobs anywhere or start their own firms would choose to stay with Arup. “If there is a convincing and positive answer to that,” said the firm's founder, who was knighted in 1971 and died in 1988, “then we are on the right way.”

The firm's answer today includes top-notch benefits and multiple training and education programs. These are among the reasons Arup, the firm that engineered the Sydney Opera House and Paris's Pompidou Center, which has 82 offices in 34 countries and expects billings of $1 billion in 2007, is among Building Design+Construction's 2007 “Best AEC Firms To Work For.”

In the Americas region, with 10 offices throughout North America, Arup's ranks have risen 46% over the past four years to its current 700-employee total. This rapid growth is a vindication of its human resource efforts during a period of fierce competition for talent. Considering this staffing environment, the firm's 12% turnover in the Americas last year is enviable. About 20% of employees worldwide have been with the firm for 15 or more years.

Throughout their tenure, Arup engineers can take advantage of multiple training programs. The firm budgets about 2.5% of annual total salary for training and education. Employees average 24-32 hours a year of training, with up to 40 hours of continuing education allocated per employee. In this arena, the firm's privately held ownership structure, with no public shareholders to satisfy, offers an advantage. “It allows us to make decisions for the long term, not for the quarter-end, and allows us to invest in people,” says Elizabeth Mitchell, senior regional human resources manager.

Every year, the firm assesses its training programs and adjusts them to meet emerging company needs. In 2005, for instance, the Americas region focused on bolstering project management skills; by the end of 2006, 120 employees had attended intensive PM training.

Bonuses for career development

To encourage employees to beef up their qualifications, the firm offers a $2,000 bonus for earning professional engineering licensure. In 2006, in an effort to increase the firm's green credentials, Arup offered a bonus over a three-month period for those obtaining LEED certification. About 50 took advantage of this program, and the firm now has 100 LEED Accredited Professionals on staff. The firm also offers up to $5,250 per year for university tuition reimbursement.

Arup's Design School is targeted toward staff members with a few years of experience. Four times a year, promising young engineers from a variety of disciplines and different regions of the globe attend two- to three-day sessions. The program consists of collaborative projects that test creativity as well as communication and project management skills.

“It was a lot of fun, and a very creative process,” says Grace Yamamoto, a structural engineer based in Seattle, who attended last November's Design School in the Bay Area. Five groups of six employees, most of whom had never met before, were charged with designing a modular home that could be used by those displaced by Hurricane Katrina. The exercise not only brought together people with a variety of disciplines from different offices, it also highlighted diversity of backgrounds, personalities, and communication styles. “Some groups had very passionate arguments,” Yamamoto said.

Yamamoto says that Design School broadened her thinking about how teams collaborate. “I learned that everybody has something to offer, even if they don't talk a lot,” she says. The experience also allowed her to expand her internal network of contacts, which she believes will help her with future work. For instance, the Seattle office doesn't have an acoustician, but she could easily contact the one she met at Design School for help.

“The training is definitely amazing here,” Yamamoto says. Arup's extensive training opportunities made it easy for her to select the firm after she finished college. “I wanted to join a company that would understand that I didn't have experience, and would be willing to mentor me.”

Arup encourages employees to spend months or years at its offices throughout the world to work on specific projects—the firm may have 10,000 jobs in the works at any one time—or merely to broaden their horizons. It rewards mobility and fosters international transfer of skills. The firm provides assistance in handling immigration costs and paperwork for those who take on overseas assignments.

Brian Lake, a senior lighting consultant in San Francisco, relocated to London to gain a better perspective on Total Architecture. “The typical engineering approach is to spend ages in research trying to narrow the gap utilizing theoretical knowledge,” he says. “The Arup international assignment allowed me to quickly narrow the gap through first-hand design from a completely different perspective.”

Impressive benefits package

Arup's compensation plan includes the unusual practice of paying engineers for overtime work—straight time, not time-and-half—after working 40 hours in a week. “We feel that it's important that people log overtime and receive compensation for their efforts close to when they make them,” Mitchell says.

This policy benefits management, says Sarah Rosen, human resources business partner. At many firms, she says, engineers don't bother recording their actual hours, knowing that they will not be compensated for overtime. By creating an incentive for employees to record their hours, managers can more readily allocate staff resources for ongoing and future projects.

The firm also pays semi-annual profit-sharing bonuses to each employee based on length of tenure and offers a generous 401(k) plan that matches employee contributions dollar for dollar up to 10% of their salary.

Until recently, the firm's medical plan in the U.S. provided 100% coverage with no co-pays or deductibles. With skyrocketing healthcare costs, however, Arup's plan now requires a $20 co-pay for doctor visits and some services. The plan is still generous, though, with employees paying just 5-10% of premiums.

Arup's commitment to maintaining highly competitive benefits does not go unnoticed. In a recent employee survey, 92% of respondents said the organization's benefits plan is average or above average. Nevertheless, Arup continues to examine its offerings and look for ways to improve them. “We're performance-driven,” Mitchell says. “We're never satisfied.”

While compensation and benefits are very attractive, the wide breadth of interesting projects may be the number one motivator for most Arup employees. Among the firm's notable projects in 2006 were the U.S. Air Force Memorial, a stadium built for the 2006 Asian Games, the 2,000-foot-high Guangzhou New TV Tower in China, the CCTV tower in Beijing, and one of the largest private developments ever undertaken—Korea's Songdo City.

With its cutting-edge portfolio, the firm is constantly in search of new talent, hiring 50 new graduates a year, no matter the economic climate. This strategy still reflects Ove Arup's staffing approach that he outlined 37 years ago. The firm seems to be doing all that it can today to live up to that philosophy.

 

Keeping the Troops Happy at Arup
•Employees pay only 5-10% of healthcare premiums, with $20 physician-visit co-pays.

•Gym discounts and pre-tax transit costs.

•Transfer to one of 82 offices worldwide encouraged.

•$1 million allocated for training in the Americas in 2006.

•OvaGreen program encourages staff to focus on conservation of resources and environmental awareness.

•Arup Cause established in 2006 offers paid sabbaticals of three months for staff to help with natural or man-made disasters. Key focus: clean water and sanitation for Third World communities.

•83% of staff believe Arup makes a difference to the world; 86% say they are proud to work there.

•84% of employees believe the firm is run on strong principles; 80% think that profit is not the only factor driving the company.














Anshen+Allen: Nurturing a passion for healthcare

The description “large niche firm” may seem like an oxymoron, but 360-employee architecture firm Anshen+Allen certainly qualifies as such. Ninety percent of its work is in healthcare, the rest in higher education, including research facilities.

Listed as 16th among architecture “Giants” by Building Design+Constructionin 2006 (with $37.7 million in revenues for 2005), A+A now reports $50 million in fees for its U.S. operations and $26 million from international work out of its London office. Among its recent big wins: a multinational competition for the $1.3 billion hospital at Mission Bay for the University of California, San Francisco.

The firm was founded in 1940 by Modernists Robert Anshen and Steve Allen primarily to do residential work, but over the years it transformed itself into a world-class healthcare and academic design practice. Former CEO Derek Parker, FAIA, co-founded the Center for Health Design, known for its Pebble Projects, which laid the groundwork for “evidence-based design”—using design to create measurable improvements in patient outcomes.

For society's betterment

Anshen+Allen's stated mission is “to utilize our talent for the betterment of society—to contribute in positive and meaningful ways.” Its dedication to what it calls the “social impact” of its work in “healing, learning, and discovery” is a powerful magnet that draws socially aware professionals to the firm.

“Most people know about us when they come here,” says Roger Swanson, AIA, chairman and CEO. “Our experience says that, number one, they want to work on exciting problems. Our people are focused on raising the whole tide of healthcare design. It's important work that resonates with people.”

The firm cultivates creativity in many ways. The Patterson Travel Study Fellowship, given annually in memory of a late colleague, John M. Patterson, AIA, enables an employee to take two weeks' paid leave (and up to $3,150 in expenses) to travel and pursue self-directed professional study. Winners are selected on the basis of the importance of their subject to the design community, its potential lasting benefit to others, its relevance to the firm's needs, and—most importantly—the applicant's passion for and commitment to the project.

“[The award] gave me the opportunity to follow a passion for healing gardens and alternative methods of healing based in nature, gardens, and horticulture,” says Ian Lawlor, a 2004 recipient, who studied healing gardens throughout England. “This forced me to learn more, see more, and then bring it back to the office in order to present what I had experienced and influence others.” Lawlor says his experience encouraged him to push for a healing garden for Alzheimer's/dementia patients in one of his health center projects.

The 2005 winner, Karsten Bastien, traveled to Bolivia to work on several building projects with the people of a mountain village. He donated some of his expense money to purchase active solar panels for some families to have electricity in their homes.

Seeking a balanced lifestyle

The firm helps employees strike a healthy work/life balance. Officially, the firm has nine-hour workdays, with every other Friday off. A+A allows flexible work schedules, reduced hours, and telecommuting options so that working parents or other caregivers can attend to family matters.

This sensitivity to work/life balance can be traced in part to the large percentage of women in the firm, Swanson says. Anshen+Allen is 44% women-owned; its total workforce is 34% female, with 25% of upper management represented by women.

The practice's diversity extends as well to minorities, who comprise one-third of the workforce. As a recruitment tool, A+A hosts design lectures (given by its employees) at several historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs): Hampton, Howard, Morgan State, and Southern. For the last few years, 70% of its interns have been from minority groups.

The firm actively supports the National Organization of Minority Architects. Last year, it sponsored NOMA's national conference, as well as a student competition for minority designers, in which Anshen+Allen volunteers made presentations and served on the judging panel.

“Being a minority myself, one of the reasons that I was attracted to the firm was that it seemed to have little or no barriers,” says George Powell, principal in charge of human resources and risk management. “It has also allowed me to be involved in diversity and inclusiveness in the practice and in the community.”

Extending its 'social impact'

The firm offers strong support to community outreach and charitable programs. Employees can receive paid time off for civic activities. “Our office is located in one of the most troubled areas of San Francisco,” says Powell, referring to the Tenderloin neighborhood surrounding its 901 Market Street location, which is known for its history of drug use and prostitution. He says many employees volunteer with neighborhood organizations that assist the homeless, and some are involved with local youth organizations.

This year, some of the designers are participating in Pets Are Wonderful Support, a program that provides animal companions for AIDS patients and the elderly. PAWS raises money by auctioning off pet habitats designed by local architects. Young Anshen+Allen designers are participating this year, giving them the opportunity to design and lead their own projects while helping to raise money for the charity.

Motivating the troops

“People work for money, but it's not the main motivator,” Swanson says. “It's usually the fourth or fifth thing you see in surveys. But we want to make sure compensation is never an issue.” The firm studies industry surveys to stay current and adjusts its pay scales accordingly.

The firm has a generous bonus plan, with quarterly payouts. Nine percent of each project's profit is set aside for bonuses to those who worked on the project, based on the number of hours worked on the project. The firm also awards twice-yearly discretionary bonuses to employees for exceptional performance outside project work. More than half of Anshen+Allen's annual profits go to employees other than principals.

Powell also points to the many “boomerangs”—employees who return to the firm after stints elsewhere—as evidence of the firm's welcoming atmosphere. Firm CEO Swanson is himself a “triple boomerang.”

The Anshen+Allen formula is working. Over the past decade, the firm has doubled in size, from $25 million to $50 million domestically and $76 million globally. Employees seem to be attracted to this success and the firm's strategic vision.

“Trust, opportunity, and passion for creativity are what I see at Anshen+Allen, and that keeps me here,” says designer Andrew Fisher. “It is a rare talent to see the future and adapt without difficulty. The few people that I have known who possess this insight all are affiliated with Anshen+Allen in some way.”

Anshen+Allen at a Glance
•Family-oriented culture: options include flextime, telecommuting, and reduced work hours for parents and caregivers.

•Commitment to hiring and promoting women and minorities.

•Work schedule allows for every other Friday off.

•Paid time off for civic work.

•Environmentally and ergonomically sound work environment: natural light, 30% post-consumer recycled paper in copiers and printers, filters on all sinks.

•Employee suggestions led to use of fair-trade coffee in the firm's kitchens.

•In 2006, two A+A employees co-chaired the Bay Area's Sandcastle Classic and increased fundraising for the LEAP school arts program 57%, to $137,000, including $18,000 raised by A+A staff.

•As part of LEAP, employees work for several months with fourth graders in Belmont, Calif., to help the students learn about the design professions.

•Forty-four designers—29% of its workforce—have earned LEED accreditation, largely through in-house training.

•Sustainability Committee meets monthly to educate staff about environmental impacts of design and promote sustainable development practices on projects.

•First architecture firm to offer an online 24/7 Employee Assistance Program to provide confidential counseling to employees with personal or family problems.

•Created a spin-off technology company, Medergy, that uses steam to destroy waste pathogens and reduces medical waste volume sent to landfills by 85%.






















How Anshen+Allen LA Became CO Architects
In 1995, Anshen+Allen instituted a business model that established location-based ownership of offices with centralized corporate resources and coordinated marketing, leading to the possibility of local offices someday becoming independent. In 2005, the Los Angeles office took this route, forming CO Architects, with an emphasis on academic projects. A+A and CO continue to work together, most recently on the largest hospital job in Southern California, for Palomar Pomerado Health in Escondido.

Bovis Lend Lease: Small firm feel, big firm benefits

At $3.4 billion in revenues last year, Bovis Lend Lease is one of the largest construction management firms and general contractors in the hemisphere, with 2,800 employees in 21 offices in North America and Latin America. Bovis ranks #1 among CMs on Building Design+Construction's 2006 “Giants” list and #2 among construction firms. In 1999, the company, then known as Bovis Group plc, was acquired by Australia's Lend Lease Corporation Ltd. and later merged with Lend Lease Projects to form Bovis Lend Lease.

Despite its size, Bovis Lend Lease exhibits many of the desirable traits of a much smaller company. In a recent employee survey, Bovis workers praised the company's sense of camaraderie, the ability to take time off when necessary, and the visibility and accessibility of CEO Peter A. Marchetto and his management team.

“People here like what they do, and they like the people they work with,” says Greg Myers, senior vice president of human resources. Bovis's robust investment in training, career development support, and health and safety also contributes to employee satisfaction and a relatively low (10%) turnover rate.

Trust fund benefits employees

The company has several innovative programs to promote inter-office networking and team building. The Lend Lease Foundation, a trust fund established for the benefit of employees, provides $2 million annually for employee events and learning experiences.

Many of these activities bring together staff from different regions, departments, and job levels. One of these is Springboard, a four-day team-building and personal development program held six times a year in the U.S. and at various locations throughout the globe, including Australia, Scotland, Italy, and Thailand. The program uses the 1914-1916 Shackleton expedition to the Antarctic as a metaphor to encourage team building. Just as Shackleton's crew were pushed to the limit of endurance, Springboarders discover their limits and how to push past them to achieve their life goals.

Myers says his own recent Springboard experience in upstate New York was a great opportunity to get to know employees from around the world, and at all levels. “You could be sitting next to an administrative assistant from Australia or a director from the UK,” he says.

Another Lend Lease Foundation program, Developing U, provides training that employees can apply to both their personal and professional lives, such as presentation skills, negotiation skills, dealing with difficult people, Spanish language for the job site, and business writing. There's even a course on “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”

A rich career development program

In the area of professional development, the company offers a two-week executive training program that it developed with Columbia University. The program aims to bolster executives' skills in leadership, collaboration, strategy, and partnering. Participants develop ways to improve leadership and management within the company. Bovis's Safety Academy, a safety training program, originated from an idea developed by participants in this program.

Last year, Bovis extended its training program to mid-level managers in a course called Emerging Leaders. About 100 project engineers and project managers participate in the three-day program, which focuses on communications skills, employee discipline, effective performance appraisals, and coaching.

Another program, Bovis Works, is available to all employees, but is geared primarily toward employees with two to five years' experience. Its purpose is to provide a knowledge base of the disciplines that support basic operations, such as technical services, insurance, contracts, information technology, financial reporting, project controls, and marketing and business development. Participants learn directly from Bovis's subject matter experts.

The newest career development program involves technical training and will launch this June. Recognizing that it can be difficult for employees to figure out what type of training will enable them to get that next promotion, this program will provide “Training Roadmaps” to help participants understand what they need to study and learn and what technical skills and training will help them take the next step up the career ladder.

Bovis's career development programs have proven impact. Of the 20 offices in the Americas, principals-in-charge at 15 of these have been promoted from within. CEO Marchetto himself started in the firm at an entry-level position.

The company's college recruiting strategy for most of its larger offices includes an ambitious two-day program in which candidates are divided into teams, assigned a project, and present the results. The real-world project tests candidates' knowledge, presentation skills, and ability to work in teams. The program also includes meetings with recently hired college graduates and Bovis managers in which candidates can learn what it's like to work for the company.

Keeping safety top of mind

“Working incident and injury free is a choice and a basic human right” is Bovis's credo. The company's global awards program honors employees who display initiative and have a notable impact on safety. With the honor comes a weeklong stay in Sydney, Australia, the parent company's home town. Last year, 180 employees from around the world won.

Bovis spells out an impressive list of guarantees on safety policy to its employees:

“If you stop the job for a safety reason, we will back you up.”

“If you bring up a safety concern, we will address it promptly.”

“If there is an injury, we will conduct an incident investigation in such a way that the person is not blamed.”

“We will remove the barriers to your being successful in safety and support supervisors and crews in taking time to do it safely.”

These concepts are reinforced at annual workshops. Additional workshops are held regularly on project sites, with hourly and union laborers as well as subcontractors.

Promoting good health

At Bovis's yearly health fairs, employees can get free tests for cholesterol levels, diabetes, bone density, prostate enzymes, blood pressure, body mass index, and heart health. Bovis also provides a generous health insurance benefit, with employees paying approximately 10-15% of total premium costs.

The Lend Lease Foundation subsidizes smoking cessation programs for employees, spouses, domestic partners, and dependent children, paying 80% of the costs up to $500 per person. The foundation also pays 50-80% of the cost of Weight Watchers, aerobics, Pilates, yoga, or league sports for groups of four or more employees participating together.

Pressing the big-firm advantage

Although many employees appreciate Bovis's small-firm traits, the company's size provides significant career benefits. “Given the fact that there is always a backlog of work, there are many opportunities fueled by different types of projects,” Myers says. Both newer and more experienced mid-level employees are not held back by a lack of challenging work on which to build their skills.

Bovis encourages employees to take advantage of career-building resources by paying for memberships in professional organizations, including the AIA, the ASCE, ASME, the Society for Human Resource Management, the Construction Management Association of America, and Professional Women in Construction.

The firm also fosters global information sharing to provide advice on project challenges when needed. A program called ikonnect has an employee dedicated to tracking down the best Bovis professional to provide answers to urgent questions. Sharing such resources worldwide is one of the advantages of a company of Bovis's scale.

Bovis Lend Lease Facts and Figures
• Employee referral program made $600,000 in awards August 2005 to August 2006, resulting in 200 hires.

• Each office has an annual Employee Recognition Day to celebrate team and individual accomplishments. Awards include Best Internal Customer Service and Most Inspiring Team Player.

• More than 80 community service grants have been made, ranging from $340 to $800 per person and $5,000 per team, on behalf of organizations that employees are involved with.

• In 2006, employees volunteered 3,750 hours of service on 92 community service projects in the U.S., at food pantries, Habitat for Humanity, animal shelters, and neighborhood cleanups.

• Bowling tournament, eight years in the running, pits offices across the U.S. and Latin America against each other for prizes. More than 1,600 employees and family members bowled in the 2007 tourney.

• The Jerry Edwards Award, honoring Bovis's late safety director, recognizes an outstanding individual who contributes to the “true meaning of Incident and Injury Free.”

• Company goal is to make 160 employees LEED-accredited by June 30.

• Former employees who left on a positive note and re-up may, in some cases, be granted credit for prior service for certain benefits.














Cannon Design: Investing in professional education

Since its founding in 1945 by John D. and Will A. Cannon, Cannon Design (originally known as Cannon Corporation) has evolved into a leading architecture and engineering firm in the areas of healthcare (which accounts for nearly half its revenues), public buildings (such as the $95 million Lloyd D. George Federal Building and Courthouse in Las Vegas), higher education (notably Turkey’s Sabanci University), academic research facilities (such as Saint Louis University’s Edward A. Doisy Research Center), and sports complexes (including the $150 million City of Richmond Speed Skating Oval for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver).

Ranked #10 among architecture/engineering “Giants” by Building Design+Construction last year (with 2005 revenues of $102.4 million) and #6 among healthcare design firms, Cannon Design has gained a solid reputation for design excellence and project execution with the firm’s 150 or so active clients. Among many honors the firm has received is the Presidential Award for Design Excellence.

In recent years, the firm has grown both organically and through targeted mergers and acquisitions—in 2000, the Los Angeles firm of Dworsky Associates, and in 2002, Johnston Sport Architecture of Victoria, B.C. Two years ago, Moffat Kinoshita Architects of Toronto joined the Cannon Design team.

Today, in addition to the founding office in Grand Island (Buffalo), N.Y., Cannon Design has offices in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, St. Louis, San Francisco, New York, and Washington, D.C., as well as in Canada (Calgary, Toronto, Vancouver, and Victoria) and China (Shanghai).

Passion for learning

The key to Cannon Design’s success—and what separates it from many other A/E firms of equal or greater size—is the firm’s almost manic passion for professional education. Under CEO Gary R. Miller, Cannon Design has developed and executed an elaborate continuing education program, in the form of the Cannon Design Academy, which provides in-house and online training and education to the firm’s more than 700 employees.

Coupled with the continuing education program is an intensive mentoring program, which includes a month-long program (in May) to call attention to the firm’s emphasis on this career development practice. The firm achieves 60% participation in its mentoring program.

Performance results for education, service, program, and licensure compliance include:

• More than 30 seminars and forums offered firm-wide, many of which are specifically targeted as tutorials for the Architecture Registration Examination.

• More than 6,000 AIA learning units were provided.

• Over 75% of AIA learning units offered qualified for health, safety, and welfare credit.

• 90% of employees participated in at least one Academy offering.

• The firm is also a Practicing Institute of Engineering (PIE) provider.

Among the courses offered are technical sessions on ADA requirements, building codes, telemetry in healthcare, seismic design for architects, fast tracking projects, and the basics of lighting design. Also available are professional and personal development courses, such as one on Myers-Briggs team building concepts.

Cannon Design has also been a leader in online education, offering many courses as webinars, so that employees can learn from them no matter what their location. A cost-benefit analysis showed that the firm could produce online training content for $20 per participant per program, a considerable savings compared to using outside sources.

Cannon Design’s devotion to continuing education and career development has not gone unnoticed by the AEC industry. Last year, the American Institute of Architects singled out the firm for two prestigious awards: the National AIA Internship Development Program Outstanding Firm Award and the AIA/CES Award for Excellence in continuing education (for large firms).

Even with these accolades, Cannon Design continues to innovate in providing learning opportunities for its employees. Two years ago, Michael Pukszta, AIA, and Elizabeth Rack, AIA, both principals in the St. Louis office, launched the Healthcare Planning Fellowship to put the careers of selected young healthcare architects on a fast track. The first two graduates of this program, Natalie R. Petzoldt, AIA, and Lori Epler, studied 2,000 pages of technical materials on healthcare design and had to complete a comprehensive set of training modules over an 18-month period. Each worked on projects in multiple offices as part of Cannon’s “Single Firm, Multi Office” (SFMO) concept.

Upon completion of the program, Petzoldt and Epler were presented Waterford Crystal Stars at a meeting of the firm’s board of directors. Petzoldt, an associate vice president and one of Cannon Design’s youngest officers, also was named to the inaugural class of BD+C’s “40 Under 40” rising stars of the AEC profession in 2006.

Looking to the future

As successful as the Cannon Design Academy has been, the firm’s management continues to press for more ways to enhance its education programs. The firm’s 2006-2010 Business Plan sets out a whole new set of education needs to be addressed, notably:

• Overseeing international expansion with enhancements in language, culture, customs, currency, and codes.

• Developing programs to enhance skill sets for new technology models, managing change, and working in a more synergistic way.

• Working with a new organizational structure that focuses on new leadership, interpersonal communication, and teaming skills.

• As is usually the case at Cannon Design, implementing these action items surely will be a learning experience for everyone.

Cannon in the Community
Cannon Design professionals take an active role in professional organizations such as the Society for College and University Planning, the International Facilities Management Association, Labs 21, the Outpatient Care Institute, the Association of College and University Housing Officials, and the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics.

Last year, employees raised $10,000 for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. The firm matched the employee donation.

Staff at the Grand Island, N.Y., office have worked with Buffalo’s City Honors High School on the BEAM (“Buffalo Area Engineering Awareness for Minorities”) program, which offers minority-group high schoolers the opportunity for one-on-one interaction with design professionals.

Also in Buffalo, Mark R. Mendell, FAIA, MRAIC, the firm’s president of international practice, has spearheaded an effort to preserve Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House. The restoration will include a new Visitors’ Center.






Cannon U.
• Senior leaders participate in formal training—called Train-the-Trainer—to learn how to mentor effectively.

• More than 200 employees have participated in formal presentation skills training.

• CEO Gary Miller, HR director Kathleen Cartus, and local-office leaders hold half-day sessions on “Leadership/Vision and Core Values” to get employee feedback on long-range goals and new learning initiatives.

• Management holds a two-day Client Leadership Forum, with participation of key client “partners,” to enhance employees’ client relations’ skills.

• Senior leaders participate in formal training to assist junior employees in obtaining professional registration through the Intern Development Program.

• Three-day Design Forums bring together 30-40 employees from among the firm’s 14 offices to work in teams on new design challenges. These are held once a year at a school of architecture, in a nonhierarchical environment.

• Three-day Project Leadership Forum for project staff (conducted by the CEO, COO, HR director, and senior leadership) focuses on project management, leadership, team building, and interpersonal skills, as well as providing input on training needs.

• “SFMO” concept—Single Firm, Multi Office—reflects Cannon Design’s belief in architecture as a team-based profession. Regional offices are not treated as standalone profit centers; staff are encouraged to work on projects irrespective of geographic location, thus creating opportunities for professional growth and self-actualization.














Jones Lang LaSalle: where the emphasis is on quality

Jones Lang LaSalle was formed in 1999 by the merger of LaSalle Partners Inc. and Jones Lang Wootton. The company provides integrated real estate and investment management expertise on a local, regional, and global level to owner, tenant, and investor clients. JLL is a leading property and corporate facility management services firm, with a portfolio of more than 1.0 billion sf worldwide. In 2006, the firm completed capital markets sales and acquisitions, debt financings, and equity placements on assets and portfolios valued at $70.9 billion. It has 25,500 employees in 150 offices worldwide and operates in 450 cities in more than 50 countries.

Over the past three years, Jones Lang LaSalle has doubled its annual revenue, to $2.0 billion in 2006. Last year, it added 363 people (200 of them project managers) in the U.S., bringing its U.S. workforce to 4,100, including 900 PMs. Growth has come in part from five recent acquisitions, notably that of Spaulding & Slye, which strengthened JLL’s hand in the Boston and Washington, D.C., corporate and investor real estate markets. Just last month, the firm announced that it will acquire one of the leading independent property advisors in the Netherlands, Troostwijk Makelaars. All told, JLL now manages some $40.6 billion worth of property.

In the past year, the firm was named to Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” and Forbes’s “400 Best Big Companies” lists.

One reason for the firm’s success is its G5 program, which focuses on five strategies: strengthening local and regional operations, building a global corporate solutions service line, developing a global capital markets service line, maximizing the value of LaSalle Investment Management, and creating a world standard infrastructure.

But the company has also flourished thanks to the successful application of management methods not common to the real estate management industry. JLL has been using Six Sigma, the quality management system developed by Motorola, since 2003. This has allowed the firm to communicate better with its clients, many of whom have used Six Sigma for decades, while also helping the firm standardize its processes, save time and money, and make more fact-based decisions.

Since implementing Six Sigma, Jones Lang LaSalle has improved its project cycle times by 30%, boosted call center productivity by 40%, and enhanced management labor requirements by 25-30%.

What makes Jones Lang LaSalle even more unusual is that the firm holds itself to a performance-based reward system. JLL teams work with their clients to develop Critical Performance Indicators (such as asset reliability, corporate risk management, and community relations management) and Key Performance Indicators (e.g., customer satisfaction, optimizing the workplace, best-in-class operational quality). JLL is compensated for its services in part on how well its teams meet these goals.

One year after winning the assignment to manage Procter & Gamble’s worldwide office and research facilities, for example, JLL achieved 78% of its KPIs and 100% of its CPIs. Spending on real estate operations came in $1 million under budget, and JLL’s sourcing relationships resulted in $800,000 in savings for P&G—a portion of which was returned to JLL as part of its contract with P&G.

Improvement plus empowerment

Throughout its recent growth period, JLL has been diligent in meeting the needs of its people. The firm recognizes that employees should set improvement goals for themselves, but that the company has an obligation to help employees meet those goals by providing training and benefits.

A key aspect of the firm’s culture is the Individual Performance Management Plan, which carries the philosophy inherent in JLL’s performance-based contract system over to the individual employee. The IPMP program combines individual, employee-designed performance metrics with a system that ties the completion of these goals to the employee’s yearly bonus rate. Bonuses can range from 5-20%, depending on performance.

To empower employees to meet their professional goals, JLL offers more than 100 education and training options. Professional staff members average about 35 hours a year in supplemental training, while engineering and operations staff log up to 80 hours each per year. This time is spent in an employee-directed program that combines training manuals, self-study, and lunchtime webcast training sessions. The topics for these webcasts usually come from employee suggestions.

Employees’ voices are also heard through the firm’s use of 360-degree reviews, in which managers undergo a yearly performance review that includes confidential feedback from their direct reports. This is done through a survey conducted by an outside third-party firm, which collects and collates information provided anonymously by the manager’s subordinates. This process ensures that a manager’s skill sets and possible problem areas that might be missed or overlooked in a review by a superior may still be identified.

The firm also makes extensive use of surveys and focus groups. More importantly, management actually implements many of the ideas it picks up from these sessions. For example, the results of a 2006 survey prompted the firm to switch healthcare providers. Another survey convinced managers in the Chicago office to renew the lease on its current location in the Aon Building—near ample public transportation, with a view of Lake Michigan—rather than moving to a building in the West Loop.

Employee input also led to a major redesign of the Chicago workspace. Six-foot-high cubicle walls were lowered so that employees could interact more easily with each other. More to the point, private offices were moved to the inner core, so that more employees could have access to natural light and views of the outdoors.

Finally, JLL is dedicated to making sure that its employees receive ample recognition for their contributions to the firm. The company offers several in-house honors, including the Jones Lang LaSalle Club and the Da Vinci Award, that honor employee creativity and commitment. Any staff member can nominate another for a Very Impressive Performance award, which acknowledges individual exemplary work performance or contribution to the company’s spirit and culture. More than 500 VIP awards are given every year, with each recipient earning a gift card.

JLL’s Quality Work Environment
• Named to Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” in January and to CRO magazine’s “100 Best Corporate Citizens” in 2006.

• International Staff Exchange program gives junior professionals the opportunity to work for a year in another country.

• Reimbursement for pre-approved tuition, books, and fees up to $5,000 a year.

• 15% employee-owned, with 54% of eligible employees participating.

• Minorities constitute more than 18% of total workforce.

• Flexible relocation policy permits employees, in most cases, to retain their jobs after a move—even to a city with no JLL office.

• “Warm bench” recruitment technique: Instead of waiting 30-45 days to hire staff after winning a major assignment, JLL starts the recruiting process during the pursuit of the contract, saving weeks to get an awarded project staffed and rolling.

• Provides adoption assistance grants of up to $4,000.

• Tenure Awards feature gifts from Tiffany & Co.; extraordinary performance rewarded with luxury getaways.

• Offices feature open space and light-filled workstations for most employees.

• Newer offices outfitted with rec rooms featuring foosball, plasma TV, table tennis, and video games.




















Decoding JLL’s Da Vinci Award
The Da Vinci Award for Innovation honors employees whose innovations benefit the firm and its clients. The honor comes with a handsome award, cash, and a trip to Chicago to be feted by JLL Americas CEO Peter Roberts. Recent winners:

• Lindsay Johnson, Neal Smyth, David Roberts, Brent Styles, and Vivian Colon developed the “Multi-site Program Manager Tracker Toolkit,” which extends the functionality of the company’s proprietary PM tracking technology to up to 100,000 sites.

• Theresa Reis and Frank Thayer developed a risk assessment tool for one of JLL’s global clients that enables the client to evaluate selected risk factors using critical performance indicators for building projects and ongoing facility operations.

• Diane Vrkic and Lenny Beaudoin created a Workplace Scenario Modeling Tool, which gives clients an analysis of the effects of implementing workplace solutions across their property portfolios.






Perkins+Will: the greening of an architecture firm

It's been more than 70 years since Larry Perkins and Philip Will founded Perkins & Will in Chicago. The ampersand in the logo has been replaced by a plus sign, but the Perkins+Will of today remains dedicated to the founders' early concern for sustainability, energy efficiency, and community involvement.

Today's Perkins+Will employs more LEED Accredited Professionals than any other design firm in North America—753, or more than 60% of its total workforce of some 1,200 employees. Since last July, the firm, ranked #3 among architecture “Giants” by Building Design+Construction (2005 revenues: $110 million), has seen a 66% increase in the number of LEED APs on staff.

Perkins+Will's interest in the environment extends to its own operations. The firm's Green Operations Plan for its offices—16 in the U.S., two in Canada, and one in Shanghai—encompasses transportation, water use, energy, consumables, indoor air quality, and renovation/construction.

One of the more tangible results of Green Ops is the company's public transportation incentive package. Employees can obtain a $50 monthly stipend to put toward bus, train, or other public transit. In the Atlanta and Minneapolis offices, so many employees take advantage of this opportunity (as many as 50% in both cities) that the firm was honored for its role in providing some of the best public transportation options in town. In addition, P+W encourages employees to consider foot-powered commutes by offering on-site bicycle storage and, in new offices, shower facilities that make cycling to work a more practical option.

Through its Green Ops Plan, the firm has been able to make good on its commitment to preserving natural resources. In Atlanta, recycling saved 200,000 gallons of water in 2006 compared to 2005. The Chicago office is using 100% post-consumer recycled paper, which keeps 12,000 pounds of waste out of landfills and saves 200 trees a year. The firm at large purchases 100% green power from wind-generated sources. Indoor air quality in the Washington, D.C., office is being improved via a centralized green space filled with toxin-removing plants.

The touchstone for the Green Ops Plan is the Seattle office, which earned the first LEED-CI Platinum rating for commercial interiors in Washington state. The office uses half the energy of a typical space, saves 40% on water usage, and recycled 98% of its construction waste.

Growth through acquisition

The firm has been experiencing a period of significant growth, thanks largely to several major acquisitions. In 2002, it acquired the award-winning Chicago firm Eva Maddox Branded Environments, headed by Eva Maddox, FIIDA, Associate AIA, LEED AP. In 2004, it brought Vancouver's Busby & Associates into the fold—an addition that added even more experience in sustainable design and planning with the addition of Canadian green building pioneer Peter Busby, C.M., AIA, FRAIC, LEED AP. More recent acquisitions include Ai, MBT, Fuller & Associates, and CNI Design.

“Our progress this year is particularly remarkable because our success is not about just a few of us, one market sector, or one office,” says president and CEO Phil Harrison, AIA, LEED AP, who works out of the Atlanta office. “Our success and growth, more than ever before, is about all of us across the firm.”

Growing staff, growing needs

Over the past five years, acquisitions have helped expand staff by 37%. Fifteen percent of new hires also come from a heavily promoted employee referral program.

Perkins+Will uses an innovative process by which potential employees are identified from their publishing histories. The HR team keeps regular tabs on professional journals, publications, periodicals, and white papers to find top candidates who are active in their professional fields. The firm maintains relationships with former employees and even with those who have turned down job offers, thus keeping the Perkins+Will name in the mind of future hires or rehires.

Once new hires are inside the door, the firm works hard to help them stay at the top of their game. The Associates Program identifies individuals with a passion for design, innovative consideration for the needs of clients, a strong concern with environmental stewardship, and skill at working collaboratively, moving them into positions of leadership. The Perkins+Will Learning and Development initiative provides a continuing education program based on an analysis of the specific needs of employees. Topics range from in-depth tutorials on software tools, to the firm's history, to sustainable design.

Mentoring is also a major part of the Perkins+Will workplace. Mentorships are crafted on a case-by-case basis and may include peers or even clients in addition to senior staff. This program involves shadowing, on-the-job training, and participation in firmwide task forces. In recent years, the mentoring program helped prepare successors for three major management positions, including Harrison's succession to president and CEO from his predecessor, Henry A. Mann, AIA.

The Chicago office offers another form of mentoring through the Champion Program, which pairs each new employee with a champion from the firm's Associates Program. Ideally, the champion should come from a discipline other than the new hire's, so as to encourage cross-disciplinary dialogue and learning. Champions meet with their assigned charges throughout the year and into the annual review process.

Finally, Perkins+Will's concern for its people's well-being doesn't end as employees age. The firm has no mandatory retirement policy. Instead, employees are empowered to sculpt their later years with the firm as they see fit. Many transition into temporary or part-time roles, enabling them to use their expertise to mentor younger staff and, in many cases, even train their own replacements. This benefit keeps Perkins+Will functioning at a high level of quality and service, even as the generations change.

Last June, Perkins+Will recognized the contributions of staff with a supplemental paycheck, handing out approximately $2.7 million companywide. The supplemental payout was a well-received thank you for the hard work Perkins+Will employees had put in during the previous year, one of the firm's most successful.

What It's Like to Work at Perkins+Will
• 40% of staff comes from minority backgrounds; of those, 78% are Asian, 20% Hispanic, 2% African American.

• 35% of all promotions are made from within.

• New leadership development program will take selected junior staff through a year-long program to prep them for leadership roles.

• Budgets an average $1,000 per employee for Learning + Development.

• Excellence in Design Initiative encourages innovative design ideas; winners get cash, airline tickets, and publication of their work.

• After Hours Committee coordinates company-sponsored sports teams, chili cook-offs, boat cruises, and Friday afternoon social hours.

• Fitness Subsidy Program pays out almost $100,000 annually for gym memberships, exercise classes, and equipment purchases (e.g., bicycles). Firmwide, 30% of employees take advantage of this benefit.

• Annual flu shot program for employees and dependents; wellness program, includes subsidy to join Weight Watchers.

• Paid Time Off Donation Program allows employees to donate vacation time to colleagues with unexpected emergencies or family illnesses.

• Community involvement enables 15,000 hours of work per year to pro bono projects, largely for nonprofits. Recent beneficiaries: Boston's Animal Rescue League (interior design work) and the Boston-based Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (design planning).

• Annual participation in We Care program with furniture maker Herman Miller, to unite youngsters from the Boys & Girls Clubs of America with leading interior design and architecture firms.




















SmithGroup: a proud history and a vibrant future

SmithGroup has a rightful claim to the title of the country's oldest architecture/engineering firm. Sheldon Smith founded the firm in Ohio in 1853 and moved to the emerging town of Detroit, Mich., in 1855. Upon his death in 1868, he was followed by his son and grandson. The firm was incorporated in 1903 as Field, Hinchman & Smith and renamed Smith, Hinchman & Grylls in 1907. In 2000, it became SmithGroup.

While justifiably proud of its history, today's SmithGroup has its sights set clearly on the future. The 800-plus-employee firm was ranked seventh in 2006 among A/E firms nationally by Building Design+Construction, with 2005 revenues of $119.9 million. In recent years, SmithGroup has ramped up its sustainable design credentials, snatching green guru Russell Perry, AIA, from William McDonough & Partners, in 2005, to lead its sustainability effort.

With a staff that is inspired by the ability of design to make a difference in some of the most pressing issues facing society, SmithGroup nurtures a vibrant workplace where architects and engineers seek to expand the boundaries of the profession.

The firm concentrates its work in four major areas it calls “national practices”: healthcare, learning (higher education), science & technology, and workplace. It further structures itself into 30 or so design studios. At each of the firm's 10 locations—Ann Arbor and Detroit, Mich.; Chicago; Los Angeles; Madison, Wis.; Minneapolis; Phoenix; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; San Francisco; and Washington, D.C.—one of the design studios makes a presentation on a current project. This multidisciplinary critique provides those who are not working on the project the opportunity to offer input and learn from their colleagues—benefits that are good for morale. “We appreciate competing values,” says Carl Roehling, FAIA, SmithGroup president and CEO since 2002. “We synthesize different points of view into something better.”

Under Roehling, who is based in Detroit, and the firm's chair and design director, David R.H. King, FAIA, LEED AP, who works out of the Washington office, SmithGroup has shown a willingness to give the unconventional a try. By scheduling its standard workday at eight and a half hours, employees can earn the opportunity to take 15 Fridays a year off. According to a companywide survey, the work schedule policy ranks as one of the firm's top benefits among employees.

Roehling maintains that productivity has not suffered under the new schedule, and the numbers bear him out: 37 weeks at 42.5 hours per week plus 15 weeks at 34 hours comes to 2082.5 hours a year—two and a half hours more than if employees worked a conventional 40-hour week. If a client needs attention, then employees are expected to work all or part of what would have been an off-Friday, says Roehling.

Making sustainability a priority

SmithGroup is credited with designing the first LEED Platinum building, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Philip Merrill Environmental Center in Annapolis, Md., and recently earned Platinum for the Science & Technology Facility at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, Colo. Currently, the firm has 60 projects that have either achieved LEED certification, are registered with the USGBC, or were designed using LEED as a guide. SmithGroup is starting to evaluate its green projects on a post-occupancy basis in order to assess the effectiveness of various designs and materials in achieving sustainability goals.

Last year was a watershed, as the firm made an organization-wide commitment to boost its green credentials. In 2006, under Perry's tutelage, the number of LEED Accredited Professionals at SmithGroup jumped 179%, from 87 to 243, meaning that more than 30% of the firm's 800 employees now have that designation.

In order to make that dramatic leap, dozens of employees made a personal commitment to study for the LEED accreditation exam. Coordinators in each business unit spearheaded the ongoing green education effort. This group takes part in monthly videoconferences to coordinate activities. The firm created an Intranet site, “The GreenHouse,” with a searchable database for research, project information, articles, product literature, events, a discussion board, and related information on sustainable design.

Roehling sees the green movement gaining momentum among the firm's clients every year. “It's becoming a mainstream value system,” he says. Recalling the OPEC oil embargo and ensuing energy crisis of the 1970s, he notes that many of today's corporate leaders are the same people who took up the energy conservation mantra back then, “but they're now in a position to put those ideas into practice.” Boosting the firm's sustainability credentials not only makes good business sense, he says, but also helps employees further their careers.

Developing the next generation

SmithGroup's successful internship program is a strong recruiting resource. Each office employs between two and 32 interns each year. Nearly half of all interns eventually join the firm. Interns get exposure to the full gamut of project tasks, including the ability to contribute their own designs.

In 2004, the Detroit and Chicago offices introduced a lunchtime learning program that puts interns together with some of the firm's top managers and studio leaders to hear firsthand about executives' specific roles, how they got started in the industry, and what they feel are the keys to success.

“I had complete submersion and exposure to the various components that make a team, and ultimately the project, a success,” says Lisa Pallo, a former intern who became a full-time employee in Washington. “The generous mentoring and promotion of such a positive team dynamic is the reason I decided to work at SmithGroup full time.”

The firm is open to creative incentives for recruiting. For instance, an employee referral program offered a trip to Paris, France, rather than the usual cash bonus (which usually starts at $1,000 and can go higher).

Serving the community

SmithGroup has a strong commitment to charitable work. Three years ago, every office was encouraged to adopt a nonprofit organization. “We want every office to be involved in their community,” Roehling says. “You can give money, but the gift of time is even more valuable.”

For example, the Phoenix office helped raise over $90,000 last year for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Employees in the San Francisco office have been regular participants in the annual Sand Castle Competition for LEAP, a nonprofit organization that integrates art into Bay Area schools.

For the past six years, SmithGroup's Washington office has participated in the national CANstruction program, an annual event in which design firms compete to build the most creative structure entirely from cans of food, cardboard, tape, rubber bands, and wire. All the food and proceeds from a raffle are donated to the Capital Area Food Bank.

The Detroit staff has adopted Children's Center, an organization that provides medical and counseling services to at-risk children and their parents. SmithGroup employees helped the organization develop a long-term vision and provided master planning services for the center's proposed expansion. “This was a perfect opportunity for the firm to offer help doing what it does best,” says Roehling. “Our challenge was to show how architecture can help with the mission of educating children.”

Many of the office employees in Detroit also give up their lunchtimes on Mondays to volunteer at the city's St. Aloysius Outreach Center, which serves the homeless, the working poor, and the elderly poor. The volunteers make sandwiches, stock shelves, sort clothes, work in the pantry, and prepare hygiene kits.

With a tradition that goes back more than 150 years, SmithGroup still has its eye on the future.

 

More Employee Benefits at SmithGroup
• Employees have 23 days off a year, not including vacation days.

• Employee Activities Teams organize social events such as bowling, ice cream socials, and an engineering version of TV's “Jeopardy!”

• The firm is seeking socially responsible funds for its 401(k) investments and is implementing sustainable practices in day-to-day activities.

• Each office does pro bono work to benefit nonprofit organizations.






Learning for Life
Since 1980, SmithGroup's Detroit office has sponsored the “Learning for Life” initiative for a local Explorer post, a division of the Boy Scouts of America. The program introduces as many as 40 Detroit-area high school students per year to exciting career options. Since 1980, SmithGroup volunteers have worked with more than 700 students.

In the photo, Kizzie Stevenson, a senior at Detroit's Cass Technical High School, gets some helpful advice from SmithGroup architect André Sharon, himself an alumnus of Cass High, the Explorer program, and Lawrence Technological University, in Troy, Mich., which Stevenson will attend in the fall as an early-admission student.

Sharon says his Learning for Life training, under SmithGroup architect Bob Smith, gave him a sense of the day-to-day life of designers, because “we didn't really know what architects and engineers did.” The program also helped him learn how to make presentations. “In college, I was already used to being critiqued, so it was no big deal to defend my projects,” he says. After grad school and a stint at another firm, Sharon joined SmithGroup in 2000 and immediately “enlisted” as a mentor.

“The program has evolved quite a bit since my day,” he says. “We expose the students more to the allied disciplines—structural, lighting, M/E—and it's much more comprehensive. We bring in guest speakers, and we help them with soft skills—working well with others, time management, and so on.” At the end of the two-year program, SmithGroup hosts an awards ceremony for successful participants.

SSOE, Inc.: Balancing lifestyle with growth

All too often, architects, designers, and construction professionals find themselves working for a company whose philosophy can be best described as “work first, live … well, later ” Bucking that trend is Toledo-based SSOE, Inc., where the key word is “balance,” and the business trend is “growth.”

Founded in 1948, the Ohio firm specializes in the design of industrial and commercial facilities and processes. Recent projects include the Toyota Tundra assembly plant in San Antonio; an 18,000-sf, $7 million expansion of the Herrick Medical Center, Tecumseh, Mich.; and Freedom Fuels, a 30 million gallon per year biodiesel facility in Mason City, Iowa—one of 10 biofuel projects currently under way. Projects like these have spurred SSOE to achieve three consecutive years with greater than 15% revenue growth; in 2006, the firm actually grew by 30%.

This trend has led to growth within the company as well. Since 2004, SSOE has added seven new offices, including one in Shanghai that's poised to take advantage of the burgeoning Asian manufacturing market. Already under way in China are a 20,000-sf plant for Owens Corning, a 180,000-sf facility for the International Textile Group, and phase one of a 2.1 million-sf Ford Research and Engineering facility in Nanjing.

Over the last three years, SSOE has expanded its staff by 50% and entered eight new geographic markets. It was ranked #14 among E/A “Giants” in 2006 by Building Design+Construction, with $65 million in revenues. Total revenues for 2006: $90 million.

Retention, retention, retention!

Over the course of 2006, SSOE maintained a 94% voluntary retention rate. One of the key tenets of SSOE's philosophy is the Total Employment Value Proposition—the idea that money isn't the only way an employee should be compensated for hard work, and that training and development need to be an integral part of every employee's experience.

Several years ago, SSOE surveyed employees to find out what they wanted and needed that the firm wasn't already giving them. As a result of survey feedback, within a year SSOE added vision coverage to its health plan and expanded 401(k) investment options from two to seven. In the 401(k) plan, the firm matches 50% of employee contribution up to 6% of eligible salary earnings.

The big employee-suggested change was the flexible benefits program. It works like this: Instead of getting a pre-planned, one-size-fits-all benefits package, SSOE employees get an account of flexible credits that can be applied to three different health insurance plans, long-term care insurance, increased life insurance coverage, or other benefits.

That way, employees who are already covered by their spouses' insurance can use their credits toward other benefits. By the way, the third-party survey that originally led to flexible benefits is now conducted on an annual basis, so that SSOE can stay up-to-date on the changing needs of its staff.

Health awareness at SSOE is managed through a company-sponsored program called Working Well. This innovative system takes a holistic approach to health management, beginning with an initial employee health assessment that identifies each individual's health needs, risk factors, and areas where they might need health and lifestyle coaching—for smoking cessation, weight loss, cholesterol control, or management of chronic conditions like diabetes, asthma, or kidney disease.

The firm provides flu shots at no cost, while an unusual lunchtime program helps employees better understand complicated topics like picking the right healthcare plan, how to save money on healthcare, even how to find the right medical specialist. During the fourth quarter of 2006, 55% of the employees enrolled in Working Well were able to eliminate at least one of their lifestyle-based health risk factors.

Winning the talent war

Like most E/A firms, SSOE is keenly interested in finding new talent and developing the talent they already have. To fill the more than 100 open positions it has each year, SSOE offers employees up to $1,250 for referring potential hires. Starting last year, the firm ran an additional promotion, whereby any employee who referred a candidate—regardless of whether the individual ended up being hired—was entered in a raffle, with prizes ranging from an HDTV to a new laptop.

The firm's participation in Ohio's Third Frontier Program has been productive, too. This co-op program reimburses a portion of the wages paid to technical students to try to encourage them to work in the state. SSOE is one of the leading participants in the program, with 73 internships in high-tech areas. Last year, then-Governor Bob Taft visited SSOE to thank the company for its commitment to Third Frontier.

Once hired, SSOE employees can expect a high standard of continuing education. The firm spends an average of $1,156 a year per staff member on training, which according to management consultant ZweigWhite is 15% higher than the national average for A/E firms. Tuition reimbursement up to 75% is available.

The firm also features a well-organized mentoring system, pairing new hires with trained “buddies” who help integrate the new employees into their jobs and the firm's culture. Executives benefit from 360-degree reviews and regular coaching sessions, acknowledging that even those at the top still have something to learn.

SSOE also makes room for nontraditional career paths. For instance, SSOE knows that there's really no such thing as a retired engineer, so they give older employees plenty of options to stay involved with the firm. One retiree was even able to move to another state, while consulting on special projects and helping out during peak workload periods from his new home. A dozen retirees have taken advantage of this program.

Another program, called Tech Path, is designed to retain talented architects and engineers who are not interested in managerial work to still advance their careers. Tech Path employees are eligible for promotion to master status (with compensation equivalent to department manager); they are also eligible to become principals of the firm.

SSOE is also deeply committed to making sure that its employees aren't consumed by their jobs. The firm extends the creative staffing arrangements already popular with retirement-age employees to those whose family commitments make full-time work impossible. In several cases, this has enabled employees whose spouses or significant others were transferred to another city to make the move while still working remotely for SSOE. Working mothers have also benefited from this program. One employee currently works nine-hour days and one half-day a week in order to spend longer weekends with her child.

Under CEO Tony Damon, SSOE's growth is definitely looking up, creating a positive work environment that seems to be just right for its more than 800 employees.
Working Right, Living Right at SSOE
• 16 locations worldwide: Toledo (HQ), Cincinnati, and Lima, Ohio; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Chicago; Durham, N.C.; Irvine, Calif.; Kalamazoo, Midland, and Troy, Mich.; Nashville; Phoenix; St. Paul, Minn.; Seattle; and Washington, D.C.

• Will add 150 positions in Phoenix office over the next three years.

• Projects in 32 countries and 48 states.

• Privately owned; 15% of employees have ownership rights.

• Contributes pro-bono civil and site work for qualifying nonprofit organizations.

• IT goal: 100% BIM on design work by 2009.

• Flex-benefits system allows employees to buy and sell up to 40 hours of vacation time.

• Provides annual profit-sharing; 2007 budget: 8% of base compensation plus bonus, based on company performance and board approval (six-year vesting).

• In-house training and development, from “arc flash hazard awareness” to “employment law” to “time management.”

• Tech Path provides a separate career ladder for employees who choose not to pursue a management role.

• Sponsors a scholarship and a Distinguished Lecture Series at the University of Toledo, in the name of founder Al Samborn.

• Uses 15 different recruitment methods, including direct mail.























Timothy Haahs and Associates: Doing well by doing good

Fourteen years ago, Timothy H. Haahs, P.E., spent six months in a hospital waiting for a heart transplant. Only in his 30s and in the midst of a successful engineering career, Haahs spent much of that time reflecting on his life. With his future very much in doubt, regrets over people he had hurt and things he had said came to the fore.

“All my achievements didn't mean much,” Haahs recalls. “I realized that life was about serving others.”

After recovering from the surgery, Haahs's new outlook on life led him to leave his corporate employer and establish a firm that would encompass his new sense of purpose. Today, Timothy Haahs & Associates, Inc., now a 50-person firm, puts the founder's values squarely in the center of its existence. According to the firm's mission statement, “We exist to help those in need. We emphasize assisting those medical, religious, and charitable organizations (as well as individuals) directly involved with helping the less fortunate.”

This translates not only into the firm and employees donating money and volunteering time to charities, but also in providing design services that “are not merely adequate, but distinguished.” The firm's mission, Haahs believes, makes it a more desirable place to work.

“When people sense that there is a greater purpose to what they do, it gives them the extra desire to work harder and more efficiently,” says Haahs. “People just enjoy being here.” (Haahs himself can certainly appreciate “being here,” after his first heart transplant failed and he had to undergo a second transplant seven years later.)

Haahs attributes the firm's sense of purpose as the main reason turnover is remarkably low. While some employees have been let go for poor performance, and some have left the industry, in the last 12 years, only two employees have left the firm for a position at another design firm, he says.

The firm's culture of helping others is evident inside the office as well as outside of it, says vice president Todd Helmer. “When you need help professionally or personally, people are there for you,” he says.

This spirit is best exemplified by a story Haahs tells concerning his efforts to assist a struggling employee. The employee's performance had deteriorated to the point where most firms would have fired him, Haahs says. Rather than take that step, Haahs, who believed personal issues were the employee's chief problem, offered him a two-month paid leave. Seeing great potential in the individual, Haahs says he wanted to give him a chance to turn things around.

Haahs had one stipulation: The employee had to visit him for a couple of hours a week in the evening to chat. This informal counseling did a world of good. “Today, he is one of our stars,” Haahs says. Although Haahs's solution was a gamble, he points out that it also made good business sense in the end. A new hire would have taken at least six months to get up to speed, costing more money than a paid two-month leave.

Developing human potential

For a firm of its size, TimHaahs has impressive career development programs. Five percent of the firm's 2006 budget was spent on internal and external training.

A new program, called TimHaahs University, uses the resources of the firm's employees to teach a variety of industry-related topics. The curriculum includes required courses and electives, with an emphasis on ongoing training in key areas. The program not only raises the ability of staff members, it also cements closer bonds between them.

The firm aims to help employees, particularly younger ones, navigate the best career path for themselves. “There's nothing worse than having employees not know where they're headed,” says Helmer.

The Pathway to Principal program focuses on the nontechnical qualities of leadership. This mentoring initiative helps ambitious young employees understand what it takes to become a principal at TimHaahs, including outlining the keys to this goal in a formal document. Executives discuss issues such as embracing the firm's core values, influencing others, and taking ownership of all responsibilities. These qualities require conscientiousness in day-to-day activities, such as returning client phone calls promptly and going the extra mile for clients.

“It's about character building, how to handle pressures in life, and how to approach challenges,” Haahs says. Employees that aspire to take on the responsibilities of leadership are assigned a mentor who addresses these issues.

More informal mentoring is also commonplace. “Even if a person is not quite ready to handle a particular task, we like to get them exposed to things as much as we can,” Helmer says. That could mean taking a junior-level staffer to client meetings to observe how the business really works. To make it easier to keep track of who can benefit from this type of attention, managers have a spreadsheet database of employees' skills and expertise. This document helps guide the firm's informal mentoring, Helmer says.

The firm embraces the “servant leadership” model that makes everyone, even top executives, accountable to everyone else in the firm. “Nobody is better than anybody else,” Helmer says. “Tim could be reporting [on a project or initiative] to someone two levels below me.”

The firm's headquarters in Blue Bell, Pa., outside Philadelphia, is co-located with the Calvary Vision Community Center, which houses the Calvary Vision Church, a nonprofit daycare facility, and an auditorium/conference center. The firm built the community center, which is available to nonprofit and charitable organizations at no cost for special events, fundraisers, and meetings. The firm intends to develop similar facilities in conjunction with its new offices.

TimHaahs employees can send their children to the daycare facility at a reduced rate. This offers peace of mind for the employees who take advantage of this benefit, Helmer says.

In recent years, firm leaders have put increasing emphasis on growth largely for the benefit of the staff. “As we grew, the board felt obligated to grow for them,” Helmer says. “We didn't want to put a ceiling over anybody's head.”

Two years ago, the firm opened its first satellite office in Miami. Six months ago, it opened an Atlanta office. It will take time for these offices to build up a thriving practice, Helmer says, but as this happens, opportunities for advancement will multiply. TimHaahs has enjoyed rapid growth over the past several years, with staff increasing from 21 in 2003 to over 50 today.

With an expertise in parking garages and mixed-use structures, the firm is expanding its breadth of services to include mixed-use development and master planning. The firm's clients are primarily in the medical, educational, corporate, and government sectors. The client base mixes well with the firm's overall mission. “When clients have a mission statement like ours, it helps us develop a rapport with them,” says Helmer.

Timothy Haahs & Associates' mission, reflected throughout the company's personnel policies, culture, and work, is a winning formula for business success and employee morale. It proves doing good work can pay off financially and in personal fulfillment.
'Servant leadership': key to advancement
At Timothy Haahs & Associates, Inc., the path to principal can only come through these “servant leadership” principles:

• Putting other people's needs before your own.

• Understanding that life is about what you give, rather than what you get.

• Servant leadership is a question of the heart.

• People with humility don't think less of themselves; they just think less about themselves.

• People with humility don't deny their power; they just recognize that it passes through them, not from them.










More Highlights at Tim Haahs
• Tuition reimbursement is available for courses relevant to an employee's job responsibilities.

• The Tier Above Award is given annually to an employee who “has gone above and beyond” what is asked of him or her.

• Company-sponsored lunches are provided every Monday and Friday.

• Company retreat and family outing is an annual event with a group activity and meal.

• TimHaahs Improvement Memo (known as T.I.M.) is a vehicle to channel employee suggestions directly to the president for faster resolution and implementation.

• The firm is a major sponsor of the American Heart Association's “Heartwalk” in Philadelphia and supports AHA's “Go Red for Women” campaign.

• Employees give time and donations to more than 30 organizations, notably Toys for Tots, a winter coat campaign, and Philadelphia's food drive.














































































































         
 

Comments on: "BD+C's 2007 Best AEC Firms "