President of Line Scale Form (Birmingham, AL), a firm with a goal of providing clients with designs that are exceptional and practical – visually, fiscally, and functionally.
By Liisa Andreassen
When he founded Herrington Architects in 1995, Herrington was setting out to showcase his architectural talent by serving Birmingham and the southeastern United States. What began as a one-man shop focused on multifamily projects has morphed into a studio of nearly 10, pursuing multifamily, commercial, and mission critical work. Today, the firm has a new name – Line Scale Form.
“What I’ve learned so far is that I understand that none of the people being brought on will be exactly like me,” Herrington says. “We all have different interests and abilities and that’s a good thing. It’s good to have more than one person at the helm. Give them a chance to learn now with an opportunity to do tasks with oversight and the ability to adjust.”
A conversation with Bruce Herrington.
The Zweig Letter: You founded Herrington Architects in 1995. When did you change the name to Line Scale Form and what was the reason for the name change/rebrand?
Bruce Herrington: Well, I’m not getting any younger and I decided it was time to start thinking about some retirement planning options. So, after 25 years of business, I formally expanded the firm’s leadership and ownership to some of my employees. Now, with a broader range of experience and talent, the firm is stronger for it – more diverse. While, I’m not planning to retire anytime soon, we’re better prepared now. In addition to myself, there are three other partners and with that change came the need for a name change too. A branding firm helped us choose the name and we liked it because it was all encompassing. It communicated design, youth, and energy.
TZL: How much time do you spend working “in the business” rather than “on the business?”
BH: I spend about 30 percent of my time working in the business and 70 percent on the business. I’m a managing partner and handle mostly the financial aspects. All three partners are vice presidents and have different focuses. One is the director of marketing and business development. One is the director of studio and the other is director of operations.
TZL: Trust is essential. How do you earn the trust of your clients?
BH: Trust has to be earned. Trust can also be lost. At the beginning of a project, we have a long conversation with the client. I want to know all about their business – processes, enhancements, changes, etc. I want to know how they need to operate and what will help them to do and work better. I want to know – for them – what will define project success. I want to know what concerns keep them up at night. And then, we figure out – together – how we can resolve those concerns. During the job, it’s important to stay on task, communicate, be consistent, and accurate. It needs to be a fluid and ongoing process throughout the duration of the job.
TZL: Are you using the R&D tax credit? If so, how is it working for your firm? If not, why not?
BH: For a number of years, we did not take advantage of this. We were a C-corp at the time and it didn’t work too well. About five years ago, we transitioned to an S-corp which has a flow-through function. We can now use that tax credit more efficiently.
TZL: Does your firm work closely with any higher education institutions to gain access to the latest technology, experience, and innovation and/or recruiting to find qualified resources?
BH: We’re not currently connected to a university, but we do have connections for recruiting personnel. Four years ago, we decided we wanted connections with a university, but there’s no architecture school in Birmingham. So, as a graduate of Mississippi State, I created a design award competition for the school’s students. The award provides a financial reward and it’s also something students can put on their resume. It’s the “Line Scale Form Design Award” and the firm’s partners are the jurors. From this, we hired one individual two years ago and another student approached us and wanted to come in and talk. It helps to get our name out there.
TZL: How often do you valuate your firm and what key metrics do you use in the process? Do you valuate using in-house staff or is it outsourced?
BH: We valuate the firm to understand the value of stock. If we ever want to sell to another group, we want to ensure we have accurate numbers. We determine the net service revenue and divide by two. For the past three years, it’s been very fluid. We do everything in-house; nothing is outsourced.
TZL: Ownership transition can be tricky, to say the least. What’s the key to ensuring a smooth passing of the baton? What’s the biggest pitfall to avoid?
BH: We haven’t fully transitioned. What I’ve learned so far is that I understand that none of the people being brought on will be exactly like me. We all have different interests and abilities and that’s a good thing. It’s good to have more than one person at the helm. Give them a chance to learn now with an opportunity to do tasks with oversight and the ability to adjust.
TZL: Your website states: “Inspiration and implementation give a structure lasting appeal.” Tell me a little more about what that means.
BH: It ties into our mission of balancing concept, cost, and craft. We inspire the concept and implement the craft.
TZL: How many years of experience – or large enough book of business – is enough to become a principal in your firm? Are you naming principals in their 20s or 30s?
BH: As it turns out, everyone has had at least 10 years’ experience, but I did not look at that when I set out to find partners. We have no one in their 20s, but we do have some in their 30s. It’s more about skill set and leadership. These people have proved that in their management style and have shown good communication at all times.
TZL: A firm’s longevity is valuable. What are you doing to encourage your staff to stick around?
BH: We give respect to each other and provide opportunities to grow and learn. After that comes more responsibility and authority. We also have a great benefits’ package and compensation. At the onset of the pandemic, we worked at home for 10 weeks and then went to a 50/50 arrangement. Half of the office came in on Monday and Tuesday; the other half came in on Wednesday and Thursday. Friday was open to anyone who wanted to get out of their house. This experience has made us more open to working virtually and staff appreciates the flexibility that provides.