World wide web
For HLW, a global network ties a strategic growth plan together
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 11/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
Call HLW the ultimate entrepreneur. For the 118-year-old firm, new business means more than a lengthening roster of architecture and design projects. Growth entails devising strategies and expanding services not only to acquire clients but also to function as a buffer against fluctuations in the economy.
HLW implemented a two-prong business plan following the last recession. According to John Mack, senior partner and director of interior design worldwide, that's the most important factor in propelling the firm to number 17 on Interior Design's Giants list—and racking up 2.1 million square feet of work and $35 million in fees for 2002.
The first phase of the business plan focused on geographic expansion. In 1995, Michael White, managing partner, set up the Los Angeles office. Seven years later, L.A. reported its best results ever, with an anticipated $6.5 million in billing by year's end and a 20 percent increase in staff. Shanghai opened in 1997, Seoul, South Korea, in 1998, San Francisco in 1999, and London and Chicago in 2000. "With multiple offices, we're not beholden to a single marketplace," Mack explains.
International outposts create a 24-hour operation, and technology encourages team formation across hemispheres. With no downtime, these partnerships—such as the New York–Los Angeles–Shanghai collaboration on the Food Network headquarters in New York—respond to increasingly tight deadlines and prevent individual burnout. "This necklace around the world truly allows us to act locally and think globally," says senior managing partner Theodore Hammer.
The business plan's second component, expanded services, renders the firm akin to management-consulting and development operations. HLW Strategies—with its staff of industrial psychologists, MBAs, and real-estate experts—functions "like McKinsey & Company" in the type of work HLW does for clients such as General Motors, says Mack. Design Build creates turnkey projects: Topping the list are David Yurman's jewelry studio and offices and SAP's global marketing center, all in New York. HLW Resources provides outsourcing when, at a project's completion, clients such as Primedia require continuing design and facilities-management services.
HLW's process model is another claim to fame. "We'll pull in experts, making them part of the in-house team. It's not just partnering," Mack says, citing the initial inclusion of structural and mechanical engineers, contractors, and lighting consultants.
With office design at a lull in New York, HLW has taken up the slack in other categories by tapping into a history of expertise in technology, research, and development. Amgen, with 1 million square feet spread over four sites, is one of the firm's largest biotech clients. Office and lab clients include Avon Products, Schering-Plough, and the University of California at Davis and Irvine.
What makes HLW a player in L.A., a town where media projects account for a third of the work, both in dollar volume and area? First, it's the firm's proficiency in technological applications, which have won over the likes of HBO, Fox, and Warner Bros. Second, explains White, "Our low-ego standpoint allows us to navigate a lot of opinions and personalities."