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Developing the talent pipeline: a story of two progressive firms

How many A/E/C firms do you know that employ staff with titles such as “Director of First Impressions,” “Talent Scout,” and “Chief Human Potential Officer”? The past few years of economic Maalox moments have yielded numerous stories about staff cuts, reduced salaries and scaling back employee benefits. Yet a number of firms have quietly stuck to their strategic hiring plan by recruiting the best and brightest from colleges, struggling competitors and even thriving competitors.

These firms view tough times as an opportunity to strengthen their pipeline of future leaders and “swap out” old-school naysayers with can-do, out-of-the-box thinkers with non-traditional skill sets. Here are two:

Luckett & Farley: A Commitment to Key Talent Development

One such firm is Luckett & Farley, an 85-person A/E firm based in Louisville, Kentucky.

How important is it to be recruiting and searching for future leaders? President Ed Jerdonek says this: “It’s at the very marrow of what we believe. If we commit to creating the best work environment, culture, and rewards structure, we will attract the best people. Attracting the best people should attract the best clients, who will pay well — enabling us to maximize our profits and reinvest in enhancing our culture and the company. I believe that formula is working.”

Unlike most architecture / A/E firms, Luckett & Farley has not found it necessary to lay anyone off due to the economy or any workload slow-down. Even more impressive, the firm has added over a dozen new hires and even enhanced employee benefits during this period.

The firm has walked the talk of developing its talent pipeline by adding an internal recruiter. Talent Scout Ericka Holbert works closely with the firm’s HR Manager, Marketing Manager, and Leadership Team. (In contacting Ericka for this article, Nicole Dorion, Director of First Impressions, gave me a warm greeting before connecting me to Ericka.) “It’s during these tough times that you show your true colors as a company,” says Holbert. “Our leaders, and the entire firm, have banded together the past few years and demonstrated that we are committed to growth. Some organizations say that, but don’t mean it.”

For Holbert, the process of building Luckett & Farley’s pipeline of talent never stops.

“I’m meeting with candidates whether or not they’re looking to join the firm. I’m always reaching out and giving them a way to contact me. It’s vital to maintain these connections through whatever avenues possible (Holbert is a big proponent of LinkedIn).”

Attracting professionals to Louisville is not an easy task. How has the firm managed to hire architects and engineers from far-flung locales and competitive markets such as Alaska, Austin, Oklahoma, New York City and California? With the promise of unlimited mint juleps on race day? “Our primary strategy is to sell each candidate on both Louisville and Luckett & Farley. We talk about our rich history at Luckett & Farley (the firm dates back to 1853 and is one of the oldest continuing architectural firms in the country), and the same is true for Louisville,” says Holbert. “We’re also selling the firm’s family-like culture and environment. When someone retires here, the entire office comes together. And when we recently lost an employee due to illness, again, we all came together. It’s the sense of not being a number and that there’s an opportunity to be a leader and an owner.” (Luckett & Farley has an ESOP, which owns 60% of the company.)

Haley & Aldrich: Economic Upheaval Creates Opportunity

Larry Smith, CEO of 500-person geotechnical, environmental and sustainability consulting firm Haley & Aldrich, says, “We’ve viewed the recession as a time of challenge, but also a great time of opportunity — to do new things and grow and expand. This is the greatest opportunity I’ve seen in my career, dating back to the 1970s.”

“One of our realizations is that we don’t know what we don’t know,” adds Smith. So Haley & Aldrich decided that they needed to have people with expertise outside of their core disciplines. That has led to the firm seeking different skills sets and backgrounds — including softer facilitative and consultative skills, as well as an ability to connect the dots across the organization.

One such hire is the firm’s new Chief Human Potential Officer. “Traditional HR functions focused on benefits and legal compliance, and what I realized is that we needed to focus on the development of our people in order to take advantage of the opportunities in front of us,” says Smith. The firm has also created a Director of Strategy Analytics position to add rigor to the firm’s business analysis, especially in the context of evaluating market potential. Haley & Aldrich’s unique and aggressive outlook toward talent acquisition appears to be paying off, as the firm anticipates above industry average revenue growth in 2011.

How would you characterize your firm’s talent strategy during these past few years? Have you accomplished what you set out to do? I’d like to hear — call or e-mail me (508-276-1101;

By |2017-07-12T14:44:56+00:00November 2011|Case Studies, Recruiting & Retaining Talent|

About the Author:

Rich Friedman, President of Friedman & Partners, has worked in and consulted for the A/E/C and environmental consulting industries for more than 25 years. Starting out in the trenches as an environmental consultant and business developer for Stone & Webster Engineering in Boston, Rich expanded his reach as the partner in charge of marketing and business development research, consulting and training for ZweigWhite. He also managed a variety of other projects involving strategic planning, mergers and acquisitions, and executive search. Since launching Friedman & Partners, he has worked with firms at all levels, from small niche consultants to large ENR 500 organizations. He’s also conducted hundreds of seminars and workshops for firms, design and environmental industry professional associations and venues, including AIA, SMPS, ACEC, AGC, NSPE, Build Boston/ArchitectureBoston Expo (ABX), WTS and Chief Executive Network.