Freese and Nichols’ Leaders and Legacies: Bob Herchert

By Cindy Milrany, CFO and Chief Strategy Officer

As part of our 125th Anniversary celebration, we’re recognizing past leaders whose vision continues to drive us forward. 

As Freese and Nichols’ first-ever President and CEO without engineering background, Bob Herchert approached his new role with a business mindset.

Bob was named the company’s top officer in 1991, two years after being invited to join the FNI board — and three years before our 100th anniversary. He had spent 16 years in city administration, including seven years as Fort Worth city manager. He also had been a bank executive. He understood the needs of the municipalities that make up our client base, and he led our adoption of practices that the most-successful companies were using to flourish.

With his experience in business and government, he brought a perspective that helped us increase our competitive edge in a fast-moving marketplace. For example, he set up the leadership team structure we currently have and better defined the board’s role.

During his tenure, we added performance-based compensation incentives such as our Team FN Bonus and 401(k) profit-sharing match. Bob also created an appreciation for the role that strong corporate departments play in the company’s success, and he stressed the benefits of having them led by specialists in their fields.

Another important legacy for Bob was starting us on the Baldrige and continuous improvement journey. The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award helps companies embrace quality management practices through standards for setting goals, measuring progress and making adjustments when needed. Client service and employee satisfaction are key values in the Baldrige framework.

When we received the Baldrige Award in 2010, it was a testament to the enduring strength that Bob led us to develop as a company. Running our business using the Baldrige model has helped us to stay disciplined in our strategic planning and operations, and when we’ve encountered business-cycle downturns, we’ve had the underlying structure to weather them.

Bob made sure that a continuous improvement mindset became ingrained in our culture. He helped start Freese and Nichols University after the annual employee survey identified professional/career development as most important to our staff. Bob wanted us to strive to become an employer of choice for our staff and recruits. By thinking in those terms, we continue to be able to attract top talent.

When Bob stepped down as CEO in 2002, the succession planning process required that his successor was committed to Baldrige and continuous improvement. That commitment sustains us and guides our future.

Bob was a wonderful mentor to me, both as an example of leadership and through his dedication to community service.

By introducing me to his network of city managers, which he developed during his government work, he helped me gain insights into our client base. He also recognized my skills and talents, leading to me taking a broader role in FNI’s corporate leadership.

One of my favorite memories is attending the ceremony when Bob was recognized with the 2010 Golden Deeds Award from the Fort Worth Exchange Club. The award honored Bob’s dedication to improving his community through numerous volunteer activities, from the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce to the North Texas Commission to United Way of Tarrant County and many more. Bob’s focus on community service illustrates that he considers it as significant as professional excellence.

The values and practices Bob embraced and emphasized have shaped who we are today and who we will be for the next 125 years.