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HDR offices (Photo courtesy)

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Although you may not be familiar with HDR, the architectural, engineering, environmental and construction company, it’s a textbook example of a superbly managed organization that puts its human capital first. It was founded in 1917 by H.H. Henningson as an engineering company in Omaha Nebraska, where its headquarters remains today.

Its web site explains that Henningson’s focus “wasn’t on mega projects or global expansion. It was on helping rural Midwest towns adapt to a changing world. He brought power to the plains and water treatment systems where it was needed most.”

After a century of deftly managed growth, HDR has about 10,000 employees in 200 offices, primarily in the U.S., but also in Australia, Germany, China, the Middle East and Canada. An informative discussion with Suzanne Casagrande, Senior Marketing Coordinator, Benton Barby, Marketing and Business Analyst and Ed McConnell, Program Manager, provided convincing evidence of the company’s leadership acumen.

Indeed, successfully guiding growth in a company that last year celebrated its hundredth anniversary is a challenge that HDR has met through thoughtful leadership that fosters deep employee loyalty. It’s an employee-owned company that opened its Colorado Springs office in 1957 and has grown to 75 employees.

As McConnell explained, “We’re a full-service architectural, engineering, environmental, and construction company. We design and build the communities where we all love to work and live. We’re working for the city of Colorado Springs as one of their supporting contractors.” They also provide planning services for military installations, and work municipalities for infrastructure design. “In Colorado our work maintains the great environment we have and mitigates environmental damage.”

Benton passionately described how employee ownership “means we believe in being good corporate citizens. It’s how we respond to our communities, which includes sustainability and being environmental stewards. How we act affects how well we perform, so the little things our employees do add up to big things.”

Echoing that commitment, Casagrande said, “It changes the attitude of how you approach projects, being actual owners of our own company. In addition, because we have such a variety of projects, employees can find projects that can enhance their skill set so they can continue to grow professionally.”

Dovetailing that thinking McConnell explained, “We encourage employees to look at the website to see what we’re involved in around the world, so they know who to talk to about a given project, to see if it may be a good fit on that team.” That kind of self-directed work is a rare corporate culture that employees at HDR truly appreciate.

Casagrande is particularly excited about a local project. “I’m especially proud of our participation with the Rocky Mountain Field Institute, a nonprofit, that provides trail and fire restoration. We were able to award them $10,000, and it was dedicated to Waldo Canyon restoration and Pikes Peak, at the Summit House, where our employees planted thousands of Willow trees.”

In closing, McConnell returned to the sustaining value their employees bring to the company. “Our success is because of our employees. We take a hard look when we add staff, that it’s going to be a good fit for that individual, focusing on entrepreneurial spirit, because we’re an employee-owned company. They’re hired to do a job, but also to be a part of a large, diverse team, so we strongly promote the individual’s professional goals, which provides a return to the organization.”

It’s abundantly evident that HDR has found the optimal corporate formula to deliver strong financial returns while cultivating a culture that incentivizes employees to deliver their best possible performance.

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