HMC Architects ‘changing the world through design’
HMC Architects has enjoyed seven decades of success in education and healthcare projects in Southern California. Now, the employee-owned firm is branching out, to Northern California and beyond, in search of new opportunities.
For much of its 72-year existence, HMC Architects, a 375-employee firm headquartered in Ontario, Calif., was known chiefly for its deep roots in Southern California’s K-12 education sector, which represented almost two-thirds of its revenues, and the region’s healthcare market.
HMC was founded in 1940 by J. Dewey Harnish, FAIA, who was joined in 1952 by Mel Morgan, AIA, and in 1955 by Jack Causey, AIA. In 1960 the firm became known as Harnish, Morgan and Causey. When Harnish retired in 1978, it was renamed HMC Architects.
For the next quarter century, HMC lived quite nicely off its reputation for impeccable service to loyal clients like Kaiser Permanente and dozens of school districts in Southern California. Business was good, and from all appearances, HMC looked to be in the catbird seat.
With the appointment, in 2004, of Randal L. (Randy) Peterson, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C, NCARB, REFP, to President/CEO, that rosy perspective was called into question. Then 44 years old, Peterson, who brought a solid reputation in education program planning and design to the top job, feared that the firm’s concentrated client mix made HMC vulnerable.
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“In healthcare, we had our eggs pretty much in one basket,” says Peterson, an honors graduate in architecture and design from Kansas State who joined HMC in 1994. “Kaiser Permanente has always been a great client, but we needed to diversify to other healthcare providers.” A similar worry applied to the K-12 business: How often could HMC keep going back to the same school districts for work?
HMC’s lack of geographic diversity also weighed heavily on Peterson. “We’d always been strong in Southern California, but not so in the North,” he says. In fact, HMC was practically unknown north of the LA County line. Nor did it have much of a presence in potentially lucrative markets like civic and justice buildings.
One other shortcoming gnawed at Peterson: HMC’s lack of recognition nationally for its design capabilities. “We were always known as a service firm, and we wanted to keep those qualities, but we wanted to add a high level of design,” he says. This problem was compounded by the firm’s organizational structure. Each of its 10 offices operated largely on its own, with no unifying management standards or design ethos.
Upon assuming the leadership eight years ago, Peterson engaged the firm’s management team in the development of a five-year strategic plan. The outcome: a commitment to be “One firm. One team. Working together to change the world through design.”
That may seem like an impossible goal to try to reach. Based on HMC’s experience over the last eight years, however, it’s fair to say that this vision has been instrumental in guiding the firm through a remarkable transfiguration, turning it into the third-largest design firm in California, with plans for even greater growth in the future.