Morrison Hershfield (MH) has been in the business of providing multidisciplinary engineering and consultation services since 1946. Scott R. Steiding, vice president of global marketing, explains, “We are really proud to be celebrating our 65th year of business and even prouder knowing that about 80 percent of our projects come from clients we have worked with previously.” The employee-owned firm maintains this impressive repeat clientele track record by consistently delivering personalized, cost-effective and technically sophisticated infrastructure solutions to balance clients’ economic, social and environmental goals.
MH provides a single point of contact for engineering solutions across seven fields: energy and industrial, buildings, technology and telecom, transportation, environment, water and wastewater, as well as land development. In total, the firm offers close to 100 services.
MH prides itself on being accessible to the customer in order to offer engineering with a high return and low environmental impact. Clients find that their needs are understood and that projects are competently delivered on time and within budget. “Throughout the process we maintain very open lines of communication, and it’s fundamental to our business that we not only answer clients’ questions, but that we work really hard to be responsive and develop solutions that accomplish their specific goals and make them look good,” says Stéphane Hoffman, senior building science specialist. “We are personally motivated to see clients and their projects succeed.”
Hiring For Success
The firm was founded in Toronto and now has over 800 employees located across North America. Being employee-owned, the company’s largess contributes a flexibility that attracts potential employees in ways a smaller company could not. “We have 16 offices across the U.S. and Canada and a number of project offices as well, so with a wide variety of challenging projects continually underway, we are able to attract talent and retain them,” says Steiding.
MH’s success and expansion over the past 65 years can be attributed to the combination of recruitment and expertise. “We try to hire the best of the best straight out of university along with those established experts already in the field. Many stay here for the remainder of their career,” says Steiding. The firm has recently been recognized with two awards for workplace excellence.
“One of the many benefits to hiring really smart and talented people is that it enables us to be much more flexible and resilient as a company,” adds Steiding, who has truly seen the capabilities of his employees during the current recession. “When the residential market fell we were able to shift our focus internally to other areas of the business that were growing, including more public sector, infrastructure and data center work. Our uniquely mixed multi-disciplinary engineering staff supports nearly every area of the economy. We can refocus as necessary.”
“Morrison Hershfield has been very fortunate to find growth during the recession,” reasserts Hoffman. “We went into the recession with a really full backlog of work, which helped us get through the worst of it as things started slowing down. Not only were we focusing on the right areas at the right time, but also we are fortunate enough to have attracted a client base of companies that were able to still move forward with some of their largest projects. The clients who stick with a consulting practice like ours typically have a long-term view.”
A True Multi-faceted Operation
The firm has always focused on various markets. Recently MH’s building envelope practice has been more active in institutional and public infrastructure projects, while its data center business has found growth in the private and commercial markets. Such flexibility and willingness to adapt to new markets has been a hallmark of the firm since its inception.
“One of the biggest projects of the last three years for our building envelope practice has been the construction of the City Center Complex in Salt Lake City, Utah. It is a mixed-use development, incorporating high-rise residential with office space, and possibly the biggest construction project in Salt Lake City of the last three years,” reveals Hoffman.
“We’re also involved in the construction of the new VA Hospital being built in New Orleans to replace the one destroyed by Hurricane Katrina,” says Hoffman. “We are often contracted primarily as the envelope consultants to the architectural firm, but then the projects develop and we are able to provide other engineering solutions. In Seattle, we worked on the new headquarters for the recently opened Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.” The new headquarters is estimated to have cost almost $500 million. It provides two six-story buildings and a visitor center to support the organization’s administration.
“It is definitely a selling point in this market to not just be an air or water barrier firm. We consult on air, water and thermal aspects. Our Canadian operation has been doing this kind of work since the ’80s, which is when Canada began instituting air barrier policies and codes, so we’re very familiar with the testing, design and construction of these systems,” says Hoffman.
Along with identifying problems, a central tenant to the business is the ability to effectively communicate to customers why the barrier is failing and how MH can fix it, followed up by explaining the means customers can prevent further issues. “For each project, we try to give the client a menu of solutions to choose from, and often collaborate with an independent testing agency so that the client has the assurance that the solutions have been tailored to their specific needs,” says Hoffman.
In addition to envelope consulting, a large part of the firm’s business is related to the full design of data centers and other mission critical facilities. The firm has seen an increase in its data center practice as many companies embrace collocated or cloud solutions for their most critical IT needs. “The firm recently had an opportunity to design the first privately owned, Green Globes-certified data center in the U.S.,” says Steiding. “It was exciting to provide not only the full design solution for a complex, fully redundant facility, but also to do it in a way that reduces our client’s operational costs and gives them a marketing edge.”
“We always have an interesting mix of projects going on,” asserts Hoffman.
In the next few years the company will be gearing up to expand these services across the board, and it will make some major infrastructural investments as well. “Our stated goal is to expand all of our services to every location in which we operate during the next five years,” asserts Steiding. “We don’t have a crystal ball, but it seems like a very attainable goal.”
MH is not resting on its laurels and merely hoping 65 years in operation will allow it to coast through the recession. The firm aims high and plans significant growth. “In the last three years we have invested a lot into training and our internal knowledge management systems. We know that in order to grow our company rapidly and successfully, we can’t compromise our quality,” adds Hoffman. “We have also invested a lot into our information technology systems to make it easier for staff to communicate with our clients as seamlessly as possible, no matter the project location. We’ll continue to focus on client satisfaction and maintaining our standards overall because we know that our success stems from the consistency of our advice and our expertise.”
While aiming to increase its already diverse palette of services, MH will be making sure that the firm’s vision and approach remains the same. Central to that is MH’s commitment to understanding the client’s perspective, and to developing a project specific solution that improves our client’s situation, advantages and return on investment. Fun for MH’s employees derives from making the customer happy, creating a quality product through the integration of multidisciplinary engineering expertise. As a result, Morrison Hershfield has been having a blast for 65 years and counting.
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