2009 Architecture Firm of the Year: RTA Architects Colorado Springs design firm thrives on its diversity and client service
Randy Thorne, president of RTA Architects, Colorado Springs, fondly remembers original firm-founder Leland B. Roberts. “He taught me that service is number one,” Thorne says. “It will make you successful if you make it a priority.”
Thorne is a quick study. Since 1996, RTA has swelled from four people to its current 46. It is ranked as the largest architectural firm in southern Colorado by the Colorado Springs Business Journal and the eighth largest in the state by Colorado Construction magazine.
The multifaceted firm, which designs facilities for health care, education, retail, recreation and commerce, has survived several recessions, thanks in part to its diversity. Recent notable projects include the St. Francis Medical Center (in conjunction with Earl Swensson Associates Inc. of Nashville) in Colorado Springs, the YMCA of Pueblo Family Center, University Village Colorado Shopping Center in Colorado Springs, and Aurora Public Schools’ new high school (with MOA Architecture of Denver).
Thorne, a self-described “generalist,” has surrounded himself with top-level specialists, including principals/owners John Hoelscher (health care) and Perry Lewis (retail), and a handpicked staff. “These guys are the real experts,” Thorne says of Hoelscher and Lewis. “We have a passion for bringing in younger folks in general, then developing their specific niche.”
Hoelscher says, “RTA is not just the three of us. It transcends the three of us.”
A cornerstone of RTA is the belief that talented people are its greatest asset. Eschewing the model of bringing on staff for a big push, then letting them go during leaner times, the firm has grown steadily, boasting an average employee tenure of five years.
Employees are supported in the workplace by an open-door policy, mentoring and plentiful opportunities for growth and advancement. They also benefit from a corporate awareness of life-work balance and support for volunteerism rooted in what Hoelscher calls “an awareness of our debt to the community and the world.”
Lewis adds, “It’s part of our calling as we are successful to make time for staff to give back.”
The staff agrees. “The environment here gives me—gives everybody—energy,” says Ken Gregg, a project architect. “As long as the work’s getting done, there is no pressure. It’s guilt free.”
Associate Stuart Coppedge, current president of AIA Colorado, adds: “They provide an opportunity for everybody to pursue their passions.”
RTA’s demonstrated belief that employees can balance work with other commitments has led to widespread staff participation and leadership in industry organizations. Charitable involvement for RTA and its employees entails financial contributions; holiday toy and clothing drives; backpack drives for schoolchildren; and fundraising walks, runs and golf tournaments.
Genuine Energy for Clients
RTA’s success at retaining quality people enables staff to be at the top of their game and to enjoy work. “It’s fun to come to work,” Lewis says. “There are different ideas and different teams. There is real energy associated with that: discussions, ideas, storyboards on the wall.”
Coppedge agrees. “You don’t have to learn it all on your own.” Lisa Carpenter, an architectural intern, adds, “The ...