Multifamily design powerhouse Humphreys & Partners Architects began a new chapter in November when Megan Dimmer assumed the role of chief executive officer.
“This is a very exciting time for HPA as we continue to make significant changes to position our company for long-term success across major markets: multifamily, student housing, mixed-use, hospitality, commercial, masterplanning and many more,” said Mark Humphreys, chairman and owner of HPA for 27 years. “I’m thrilled to have Megan as our new CEO and executing our strategic plans for the future. In my new role as chairman, I look forward to assisting Megan and the team as we continue to revolutionize the industry with innovative, cost-effective designs—and solidifying our position as the premier multifamily firm in the world.”
Dimmer joined Dallas-based HPA in January 2015 and most recently served as chief strategy officer. Previously she held leadership positions with Lexmark International, where she consistently grew new business and drove revenue. With Dimmer at the helm of HPA, the main objective continues to be utilizing design to elevate the resident living experience while delivering the best efficiency and net operating income to clients. Also, HPA is assembling an advisory board that will be a source of insights and new perspectives as the firm continues to evolve. In an MHN exclusive interview, Dimmer shared HPA’s plans for the future.
How do you describe your role as CEO? What are you currently working on?
My role as CEO is multifaceted in that I am responsible for multiple lines of business. That includes the architectural business as well as interiors and our civil engineering firm. I’m driving the strategy in all the lines of business and aligning that strategy to our overarching vision. I’m currently identifying opportunities for improvement within all of the organization. Our team structure, our processes, our technology and our deliverables are all at the forefront of what I’m working on, and the biggest driver for me is ensuring a positive impact on our people and our clients. So, in a nutshell, as I work with each of the different lines of business, I’m ensuring that everything we do has the client experience in mind. One of my big goals relating to employees is that we’re shooting for recognition for best place to work as well as winning more design awards.
We do win a lot of awards. But, the focus going forward is to enable our designers to get even more creative and to collaborate in that creative space. We want them to have creativity and innovation in everything that they’re doing. We’re working through how to make sure that the way they’re thinking about the design is different than the way that they’ve been thinking about it in the past. We want people to step outside of the “norm.” Organizations like Apple and Google give people “off” time to be creative; it’s when the most creativity comes out.
You were at Lexmark 16 years. What did you learn there that helped shape the CEO you are today?
Lexmark was a very structured and fast-paced environment. The entire time I was there we were the underdog. So we were always competing with more established, larger organizations and that required us to work smarter. Every deliverable we had, every time we met a new client, every customer service experience, everything we did had to be better than the competition because they were the leaders. So we always had to find ways to stay ahead of our peers. And, because of the industry it was, we had to look for ways to be innovative and that’s the direct correlation that I would draw to Humphreys because, in the multifamily architectural world, we’re ranked No. 1 in terms of revenue aligned directly to multifamily.
But I’m always on my toes. Moving here to Humphreys and being No. 1 in terms of our rankings doesn’t change the fact that I’m looking for all of the opportunities that we need to be better. We need to do things better than anyone else in order for us to sustain our position and grow our position in the marketplace. The innovation part of what we do here is very similar [to Lexmark] and we know that in order for us to continue to lead the pack, we must continue to be innovative. We do have the market share, but it doesn’t mean everything we’re providing is going to keep us in that lead spot. So we always have to be thinking about ways to evolve and stay ahead.
You have been with Humphreys & Partners Architects since January 2015 and have held a variety of roles in the organization. How is this in-depth knowledge benefiting you as CEO?
Clearly, I’m not an architect, but I’m the CEO of an architectural firm. You don’t normally see that; also I came from technology—a completely different industry. I spent my first four years at Humphreys & Partners getting to know the team, getting to know the clients, getting to know the processes that were driving our business. I’ve always been passionate about interiors, but the architectural side is not something that I had been exposed to previously, so my curiosity and my interest to really understand all the aspects of the business—and identify areas for improvement so that we could grow our position—have helped me hit the ground running in my new role.
I really enjoy data. I’ve been able to leverage all of the quantitative and qualitative information that I’ve gathered and analyzed throughout the time that I’ve been here. I’ve also forged relationships with the amazing people within the firm. I’m leveraging those two sides of what I’ve learned to assist me in my role.
What important lessons have you learned from Mark Humphreys over the years? Is there one particular thing that stands out?
I have a very, very deep amount of respect for Mark, especially around the fact that he’s always thinking ahead. He is always watching the market and how it’s trending and he has made predictions about what the future will be in the industry. We have leveraged that to establish our go-to-market strategy as well as to create our new signature products. I’ve watched, I’ve learned, I’ve listened. I’ve asked Mark questions and I strive to achieve a similar ability to be able to predict the future and drive our business based on that knowledge.
Humphreys & Partners has a global presence. Is there a standard process for opening an international office or does it vary based on the location?
That’s a great question. Our methodology starts with research to identify locations around the globe where there’s a demand for multifamily housing—where there’s a limited or no supply of new apartments. Once we identify a location that really needs that specific focus, then we uncover what is the opportunity and how many units do they need. Typically, when we go into those different geographies, before we make the decisions to set up shop, we have conversations about what’s driving the need for rental units. What are the fees for the for-sale product. Most of those locations have for-sale product.
Mexico City and London are two locations where I was recently involved in making decisions. They don’t have any apartment supply, but they have a huge demand. So if someone wants to rent, they are renting from an owner of an individual unit. If the fees make sense for us, then we partner with local firms that are typically focused on delivery because those local firms have the market knowledge. They know the local authorities, they know the regulations. We lead the design efforts, and we rely on them and their local knowledge to make sure that we are following best practices. That’s how we proceed.
As you mentioned earlier, HPA is known for staying ahead of the trends and predictions about the apartment of the future.
We strive to identify innovative product types, innovative amenities and still identify opportunities within that innovation to provide cost savings—and this is really Mark’s reason for his focus on innovation. So from amenities to the overall program of the project, we want to create something that people didn’t realize they needed but, once they have it, they can’t live without it.
When you sit in a room with decision makers from our industry—which we’re always doing—they’re making decisions about projects that aren’t going to be built in some cases for three years. And with how quickly technology is changing, three years from now things are going to be very different. So if you don’t think ahead about what people are going to need and include that in your project, you’re going to already be behind once it’s built.
One thing that’s definitely caught interest is the convertible parking space option. We’ve been saying you really should not commit so much real estate, at $25,000 a pop, to build a parking space. If you have parking that can be converted to units or retail or something else, you’re going to do yourself a favor when your residents don’t have two cars per apartment. We also were advising clients that they should put charging stations for electric cars in the project. When you do it after the fact, and we have to retrofit, it costs more.
Where do you as CEO see the firm headed in the next five years and how will you get there?
Having been chief strategy officer prior to the CEO role, I’ve been spending the last few years thinking about what that strategy needs to be and what the future will be for Humphreys & Partners. One of the things to note is, over the last seven years, we’ve grown over 95 percent in our full-time employees. That is rapid growth.
I am looking at all of our infrastructure and all of our processes to make sure that we can continue to expand people and locations and services, but that we can do so in a hyper-collaborative way. So that as we have opportunities around the world, everyone working on them can work on them seamlessly. In order to remain in the high performance phase, you have to make sure that you’re giving the team the tools they need but also delivering to the client the deliverables they need. So as we go into the future, we need to make sure that we stay ahead of that, the same way we stay ahead of innovation in our design.
We will continue on our trajectory. We targeted a growth rate of 30 percent year over year, which is aggressive but it very attainable as long as we continue to stay ahead of the things that I just described. What I won’t allow to happen is that our growth outweighs the deliverables and the experience that our clients are getting and the experience that our employees are having. I don’t want to risk any of those items in that growth; and if there’s ever a point where that is the case, we will make sure that we’re addressing it.