The 2010s: National Recognition, National Expansion
As we celebrate our 125th Anniversary, the By the Decades series chronicles our company achievements. We conclude the year with a post adapted from Continuing the Journey, our history book published in 2016.
The most recent decade at Freese and Nichols began with an unparalleled recognition: In 2010, Freese and Nichols became the first architecture/engineering firm to receive the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. It was part of the Continuous Improvement journey that had begun in the 1990s and had continued with the Texas Award for Performance Excellence (TAPE) in 2007.
Whether it’s a local best-workplace recognition or a national performance excellence award, Freese and Nichols’ philosophy is that the value of pursuing an award lies not in the award itself but in the feedback. In some cases, that feedback is the result of a survey of employees; in others, it’s a report from a panel of experts. The TAPE and Baldrige, in particular, offered a great deal of feedback.
“In the beginning of your journey, there’s so much to work on,” Chief Financial Officer Cindy Milrany said. “But after you’ve been on that journey awhile, the next things aren’t as easy to identify. So we decided we needed to do these applications and get feedback reports to help us stay on the journey.”
As Freese and Nichols dug into the TAPE and Baldrige criteria, one of the first tasks was documenting processes. opportunities for efficiencies soon became apparent. For instance, after the Accounting Group documented and examined the billings process, they shortened the time it took to send out bills by six days. And as the technical groups started documenting their processes, an unexpected benefit emerged.
“When young engineers came on board, managers could give them a process, and those kids would immediately hit the ground running doing productive stuff,” said Bob Pence, President and CEO from 2002 to 2016. “Suddenly our engineering groups started seeing the value in this process documentation.”
The Baldrige examiners recognized Freese and Nichols for:
- Fiscal accountability and performance, including revenue growth, sustained profitability and minimal debt, all of which were better than the industry benchmarks
- Strong leadership, including president’s reviews and multiple levels of leadership development
- Strategic planning and the execution of those plans
- Constant focus on client service, demonstrated by long-term client relationships
- A culture of Continuous Improvement facilitated by a structure of teams, processes and data
- High employee satisfaction rooted in a supportive workplace atmosphere and a commitment to professional development
- Exemplary ethics and community service
This was not the culmination of the CI journey. “The congratulations and well wishes were gratifying, but the most significant benefit of receiving the Baldrige was the feedback itself,” Pence says. “That’s the reason we pursue corporate awards, to gain feedback.”
The 53-page Baldrige report was Freese and Nichols’ most tangible benefit, providing a specific blueprint for the CI process. The report identified ways for the firm to move to the next level by keeping core competencies competitive, leveraging a systems perspective, better managing suppliers and subconsultants, and driving innovation across the company. Freese and Nichols has since implemented many of these recommendations.
To the East, North and West
Perhaps Freese and Nichols’ biggest story of the 2010s was our transformation from a Texas-only firm to a regional firm serving the Southwest and Southeast United States.
In 2010, Freese and Nichols had 12 offices, all in Texas. Throughout the decade, we expanded into six more states, focusing on markets where our innovative solutions can help address growth-related challenges in water and infrastructure.
Now, we have 12 offices outside of Texas, where nearly 100 employees provide our clients with local service and national-level expertise.
Overall, Freese and Nichols is finishing the 2010s with 25 offices and nearly 900 employees.