In 2021, HMC Architects faced a dilemma. The uncertainties of the pandemic led to stalled projects and shelved plans. Revenue was down 15% from the previous year, and its balance sheets suggested the firm was carrying more staff than it should.

Still, Brian Staton, president and CEO of HMC, says he was certain that, if the firm could hold steady, hope was on the horizon.

“We knew the market was going to turn, we just weren’t certain when,” Staton recalls. “So we made the conscious decision to forego profits for 2021 and keep our staff.”

In December 2021, HMC’s plan paid off. The firm was selected as part of a design-build team with Hensel Phelps and CO Architects to deliver the $1.7-billion Harbor-UCLA Medical Center replacement project in Los Angeles County. Meanwhile, pent-up K-12 projects started moving forward as well.

“In January [2022], we saw the clouds of uncertainty start to break up,” Staton says. “We thought we could do about $95 million in revenue like [in 2020]. We were still a bit overstaffed, but we were continuing to chase things.”

Through early 2022, even more projects came online, and by March the firm was so busy, it was understaffed. At the end of 2022, revenue hit $124.7 million, blowing past its earlier estimates. Not only had the firm retained its talent, it added an additional 100 staff members to keep up with demand.

“We pride ourselves on the fact that we’re not a ‘hire-and-fire’ firm,” Staton says. “We see things start to dip and we figure out ways to make it work. The last thing we want to do is give up our people.”

Over the years, HMC has learned that it can do well by doing good. The employee-owned firm not only works to do right by its people, it also targets projects that benefit the communities it serves. Given the firm’s ability to find financial success while sticking to its core values, ENR California named HMC its Design Firm of the Year.

Del Oro High School

Del Oro High School in Bakersfield, Calif., aims to act as a beacon of hope in the community, keeping students engaged in positive activities and away from gangs.
Rendering courtesy of HMC Architects

Employee Focused

HMC’s employee focus has gained momentum over the past decade. Staton, who has been president and CEO since 2012, says the shift began about seven years ago. Previously, he says the firm’s goals aimed more toward design excellence than employee satisfaction. “It was primarily focused on the work and how to elevate our design caliber,” he says. “But when we thought about how we could differentiate ourselves from our competition, we realized that it’s our people that make us stand out. So we made a push to create the best environment where people can do their best work.”

In recent years, the firm has reimagined how people are treated, coached, mentored and supported. “We treat [employees] the best we possibly can and give them as many opportunities as we possibly can with the notion that once you have really happy, satisfied employees who are talented, the design caliber of your work will naturally rise with it,” Staton says.

HMC’s results validate those efforts. The firm’s annual employee turnover rate is roughly 5%—far below the industry average, which the American Institute of Architects estimates at between 10% and 20%.

Harbor-UCLA Medical Center

In December 2021, HMC was selected as part of a design-build team with Hensel Phelps and CO Architects to deliver the $1.7-billion Harbor-UCLA Medical Center replacement project in Los Angeles County.
Rendering courtesy of HMC Architects

Serving Communities

Meanwhile, the firm’s design capabilities have made it a strong candidate for public-sector work throughout California. In addition to the 1-million-sq-ft Harbor UCLA project, which broke ground in November 2022, the firm is also working on the $537-million, 950,000-sq-ft UC San Diego Ridge Walk North Living & Learning Neighborhood. Designed in partnership with EYRC, the new student housing neighborhood will add 5,700 beds to the campus when completed in fall 2025. It will also provide spaces for Thurgood Marshall College, the School of Global Policy and Strategy and the department of economics.

On both of those projects, HMC works under a design-build contract with Hensel Phelps. Damian Buessing, Hensel Phelps regional vice president for Southern California, says one of HMC’s strengths is its ability to not only drive great design, but also to understand how to excel in a budget-conscious environment.

“They develop a great look, but they’re willing to adjust it and use things like off-the-shelf products rather than custom ones to achieve that same world-class look,” he says. “They understand when our clients have very tight budgets, which has been especially important with the inflation that we have seen over the past few years.”

“We pride ourselves on the fact that we’re not a ‘hire-and-fire’ firm.”
— Brian Staton, President & CEO, HMC

On Del Oro High School in Bakersfield, HMC helped Kern High School District develop its first new school in over a decade. Built to serve economically challenged families, the 227,000-sq-ft school aims to be a “beacon of hope in the community,” keeping students engaged in positive activities and away from gangs.

Jenny Brown, director of the Kern High School District Facilities Planning Dept., says the $173-million project, which completed in 2022, created facilities with a college campus feel, providing spaces that support students as well as the community.

“They worked intensely with our school district staff to create a new vision for what our schools can be,” Brown says. “The project ended up being so successful because HMC helped us work through those questions and those issues so that we could really change gears as a district.”

Current work on the boards includes the Honeybee Discovery Center, a 15,000-sq-ft facility in Orland that aims to educate school groups and the community about honeybees in an environment that complements the local agricultural context. The project features an elevated pollinator garden, observation hive and a multifunctional classroom that houses lectures, hands-on labs, culinary classes, honey-tastings and other events. The center is designed to produce 120% of its energy needs, making it a net positive facility.

“HMC brings a lot of creativity and outside-the-box thinking,” says Carolina Burreson, CEO of Honeybee Discovery Center. “They really dreamt up what we could not, and it’s very inspiring.”

Clovis Community Medical Center

The $300-million Clovis Community Medical Center expansion, completed in May 2022, is rooted in providing a healing environment for the community.
Rendering courtesy of HMC Architects

Design for Good

Importantly, HMC’s projects also align with the firm’s mission: Design for Good. With its focus on health care, education, community and cultural spaces, HMC exclusively works on projects that have a positive impact on the communities that its projects serve.

“When I came here [in 2001], our chairman would say that the facilities we design bring people into this world, care for them while they’re here, educate them and then help them gracefully exit this world,” recalls James Krueger, HMC’s director of design.

It’s a message that he says also resonates with many interns and recent graduates entering the job market. “We try to find folks that align with our mission and values,” Krueger says. “We talk about designing for good and how we give back. We talk about how we design projects and the process we go through. We find a lot of people who are really excited about those things.”

A big component of its efforts to retain employees is encouraging regular communication between staff and management, says Alan Lamonica, senior vice president of human resources. Some of that comes through formal channels, including robust engagement surveys that collect data to measure people’s sentiments and what they would like to see from the firm. Senior leadership also offers quarterly town halls at each of the firm’s six offices. More recently, the firm has started regular “listening tours,” where members of the HR staff offer one-on-one chat sessions with employees.

The Malibu High School Administration

The Malibu High School Administration, Library and Classroom Building, completed in spring 2022, offers modern, flexible spaces with sea breezes and views of the surrounding mountains.
Rendering courtesy of HMC Architects

“We try to perpetuate a culture of listening to our teams and bringing that feedback to the person who can make change regarding whatever it is that you’re hearing,” Lamonica says.

As an employee-owned company under an employee stock ownership program (ESOP), Lamonica says staff feels a deep connection to the firm and its success. “Initially, we were under the impression that what’s really important to people in an ESOP is wealth generation,” he says. “And while that’s important, it’s not what’s top of mind for folks. It’s not so much that we’re going to create wealth for them. It’s the fact that we operate with the intent that they’re part of the solution.”

“They really dreamt up what we could not, and it’s very inspiring.”
— Carolina Burreson, CEO, Honeybee Discovery Center

HMC also looks to foster growth of talent through “mentorship circles,” which bring senior and junior talent together in group meetings to talk about their development. The firm recently partnered with DesignIntelligence to create a year-long firmwide leadership development program aimed at developing future firm leaders.

Equity and diversity have been long-standing values for the firm. HMC’s staff has 54% minority representation with near equal gender representation. “We do benefit from being in California, which is a bit of a melting pot, but we’ve been very deliberate in our focus on making sure that our representation in the firm matches the representation of our communities,” Lamonica says.

To aid in those efforts, HMC has partnered with historically Black colleges and universities to offer paid internships. The firm also conducts annual pay equity reviews to ensure fair pay across all demographics.

Looking ahead, Staton says HMC is on pace to match or exceed 2022 revenue this year, trending 10% above estimate. Although its strong portfolio and recent string of major wins helps position HMC in its business pursuits, he says the strength of the firm’s workforce ultimately drives its success.

“It’s not just one thing that brought us to this place,” Staton says. “It’s taken years of effort to build what we have now.”