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.

October 04, 2012

Getting to the roots of organizational change

One of the first actions taken under the strategic plan was to change HMC’s structure from office-based to practice-based, especially for healthcare and education work. “Being able to put together teams across the firm to deliver projects for our clients has helped pull the firm together,” says Peterson. “Working collaboratively firmwide has helped us weather the storm of the economic downturn.” While there were some layoffs early in the downturn, staffing levels have recovered, and HMC remained profitable throughout the recession.

Benefits aplenty at HMC Architects

HMC offers a full menu of benefits to its 375 employees:

  • Participation in HMC Employee Stock Ownership Plan, which was formed last January; all eligible employees earn a yearly allocation of stock in the ESOP
  • “9/8/80 alternative work schedule”: one eight-hour day and four nine-hour days in week one, four nine-hour days with one day off in week two (80 total hours over two weeks)
  • Two mandatory 10-minute breaks per day
  • Up to 128 hours/year of paid time off, increasing with years of service
  • Employees may transfer PTO days to fellow employees in critical need; one beneficiary received 564 hours of paid leave from colleagues
  • Group medical, dental, and vision insurance; 100% employer-paid short- and long-term disability coverage
  • Flexible spending accounts (medical/dental, dependent care, transit)
  • Gym facilities and fitness classes at Ontario and San Francisco offices
  • Cash bonus for a successful new employee referral: $1,500 for non-exempt position, $2,500 for exempt position
  • Scholarships to employees and their children (through in-house charitable foundation)
  • $5,000 cash award (in two installments) to newly licensed architects
  • Travel fellowships (two winners/year): one week paid time off + $4,000 in expenses
  • President’s Awards: Up to 20 employees (nominated by peers) honored at the firm’s annual Leadership Conference; includes two extra days of paid time off and $1,500 travel stipend

Education accounts for nearly half of HMC’s total revenues: 29% for K-12 ($25.4 million in 2011), 18% in university work ($15.9 million), according to BD+C’s 2012 Giants 300 Report.

In the schools market, HMC has a rock-solid reputation in providing service to Southern California school districts. “When we get into a client relationship, we strive to meet all their needs,” says John S. Nichols, AIA, REFP, LEED AP BD+C, Principal/Pre-K–12 Practice Leader.

HMC’s School Advisors, a subsidiary of HMC, provides clients an information pipeline from the state capital in Sacramento on issues of concern to school districts: asset management, master planning, budget cuts, consolidation, and the hot new topic, portfolio management, says Alex Parslow, Senior Vice President of Pre-K–12  Education. A mother of six and former PTA and school board member, Parslow was originally recruited by HMC to join School Advisors.

Another HMC innovation: hiring ex-school officials as consultants or staff. These ex-superintendents help HMC designers “extract” project goals from faculty and staff so that the architects can define the scope of work; once that’s in place, they reverse the procedure to help school officials get a firmer grasp of the architectural process and project deliverables.

Nichols says California school districts have to compete for students with what he calls the “rapid emergence” of charter schools. A new law also gives students greater choice in where to go to school, so school districts are fighting to recruit students.

In higher education, four years ago HMC brought Deborah Shepley, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, on board to strengthen its hand in campus master planning. Shepley has worked with more than 40 community colleges in the state. Her presence has led to recent commissions for Palomar College and San Jose Community College.

HMC sees community colleges as a logical extension of its Pre-K–12 practice. “In California, the plan check process for community colleges is the same as it is for Pre-K–12 ,” says Kate Diamond, FAIA, LEED AP, Principal, who was hired last year to lead the firm’s university and education-focused design teams.

Moreover, the community colleges have been able to shift their funding toward local bond initiatives, rather than relying on the state. “With the crisis in state funding, the community colleges have budgets that are as good or better than the Cal State schools and even the University of California,” says Diamond.

Not that HMC intends to ignore the Cal State or UC systems. The firm recently won a competition for a super-green academic building at CSU Monterey Bay. For the UC system, says Diamond, “We want to take our healthcare experience and apply it to the university laboratory market.”


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