Engberg Anderson: Engages leadership transition

Contact: Jean Casey
Director of Business Development

Ph. (414) 944-9000
[email protected]

When Chuck Engberg and Keith Anderson were planning the management transition of their Milwaukee-based architecture firm, Engberg Anderson, Inc., they didn’t envision the construction industry being mired in a deep recession when the plan would unfold.

They did, however, envision a strong company based on collaboration and a wide range of expertise and client types. It is a business model that proved it could withstand such challenges.

Those strengths, with additional offices in Madison and Tucson, Ariz., and a growing national clientele base, gave it confidence to carry out a transition plan that gives new leadership roles to five partners.

Mark Ernst, Joe Huberty and Bill Robison in the Milwaukee office, Paul Cuta in the Madison office and Bill Williams in the Tucson office have assumed administration of the firm. Founding partners Anderson and Engberg will remain active in client service and business development.

“Keith and I started planning this transition when we founded the firm in 1988,” Engberg said. “We recognized the need to balance the expertise and interests of people who would become additional partners of the firm. We knew we had to look beyond ourselves.”

Founders to Remain Active

While the plan calls for Anderson and Engberg to eventually ease out of the firm, that’s not happening yet. Both remain very involved in the markets they serve, Anderson particularly with hospitals, clinics and medical buildings, and Engberg with a strong focus on historic preservation (now known as heritage conservation). The transition will allow each to devote more time to their markets and to new business development.

“Neither of us are the retiring type,” Anderson said. “But at some point, it makes sense that we step aside to allow a newer generation of dynamic people to have a greater role here. It’s time for their visions to have a greater impact on the firm.”

Don’t expect to see big changes in Engberg Anderson’s business culture.

“Clients shouldn’t see any changes,” Huberty said. “The hands-on relationships we’ve had will remain, and the firm’s collaborative approach to management will remain.”

Cuta, who heads up the Madison office, said the collective culture envelopes the entire staff.

“Chuck and Keith created a firm based on empowering everyone at the firm, not just the partners,” he said. “That approach remains after the partner transition; I don’t envision any change in who we are as a firm or how we operate.”

Robison agreed, saying, “We have a strong core of very talented designers and we give them opportunities for growth; we don’t pigeon-hole people.”

The Engberg Anderson staff is not segmented in market-focused studios. The Engberg Anderson model is more complex, Huberty said, but it benefits the firm because projects these days more often require a multi-disciplinary approach.

Growing National Scope

They all expect changes in the stature of the firm as Engberg Anderson extends its national presence, particularly in markets the firm has served well here and regionally. Those include aviation, housing, medical buildings and libraries, which are more frequently being built as community centers.

“We’ve handled just about every building type at General Mitchell International Airport,” Ernst said. With that and experience from other aviation projects, the firm sees good growth opportunity. The same holds true for its work on medical buildings, which already has a national scale. “When you have expertise in a building type, you can carry that expertise nationwide.”

Ernst sees growth in housing which, despite the recession, continues to be stable in apartments and supportive housing, he said. “Developers still want to take on projects, unlike in some earlier downturns, although financing remains a challenge.”

Those growth opportunities include the Southwest, which despite being hit hard during the recession, has the demographics and factors to support renewed growth, said Williams, who moved to Tucson to launch the Engberg Anderson office there in 2007.

“Everybody is relatively confident in the future growth of the Southwest,” he added. “The demographics suggest that, especially if you look at higher education trends. We believe we’re well positioned in that market, offering the close attention of a boutique office with full support and resources of the Milwaukee and Madison offices.”

The partners also see a growing demand for adaptive re-use of existing structures, including building heritage conservation work, which ties into the firm’s expertise in green building. Cost savings have become a key driver in sustainability, Engberg said, noting that, “over the long term, green building features pay for themselves.”

Partners Have Varied Focuses

Williams opened the Tucson office in 2007 after working in the Milwaukee office since 1990. He was named a partner in 1992. He specializes in a variety of building types of private and public use.

Cuta, a Madison native, was named a partner in 2007. With experience designing a variety of building types, Cuta’s main focus areas are higher education, libraries, cultural/recreational, corporate, and housing/mixed-use projects.

Ernst, of Grafton, joined the firm in 1994 and was named a partner in 1996. He specializes in urban housing, sustainable/green design, performing arts, corporate aviation, historic preservation and museums.

Huberty, also of Grafton, joined the firm in 1988 and was named a partner in 2000. He is a recognized expert in the design of public libraries and has been involved in a majority of the firm’s 85 library projects and is the author of several published articles on library design.

Robison, of Wauwatosa, joined the firm in 1990 and was named a partner in 2009. His experience is wide-ranging and includes, libraries, corporate and retail clients, religious, design for aging, and community buildings.

All are active in their communities and in business and professional circles, including service on boards and in committees.

Engberg Anderson won more design awards in 2010 than any previous year, including being named Architect of the Year by Wisconsin Builder magazine.

Cuta, Ernst, Huberty, Robison and Williams each say the transition process they’ve been part of will continue and that new partners will emerge.