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HOK + CHASM Presentation Offers Insights for Minority Design Firms

CHASM Architecture Founder Nathaniel O. Clark recently joined HOK’s Kimberly Dowdell and Engineering Practice Leader Matt Breidenthal for a conversation on how minority-owned businesses can grow and expand, including through partnerships with firms like HOK.

In 2015, Nathaniel O. Clark attended an informational meeting for a major modernization of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. At the time, he wasn’t sure his 10-year-old firm was ready for such a large project. On his way out of the meeting, he met Ripley Rasmus, a now retired HOK architect. The two got to talking and the conversation eventually led to HOK, CHASM and Stanley Love-Stanley (a MBE founded in Atlanta in 1978) creating a joint venture that would win the airport design contract.

Now completed, the modernization includes an iconic pair of steel and ETFE canopies (above) that shield the passenger drop-off and pick-up lanes of the domestic terminal. The project’s success has elevated CHASM’s brand and helped the firm win new work.

On April 19, Nathaniel joined HOK’s Kimberly Dowdell and Matt Breidenthal for a LinkedIn Live discussion that covered lessons learned from the Atlanta airport joint venture, tips for growing a business as a minority-owned enterprise and how HOK is seeking to partner with more firms like CHASM through its new HOK Tapestry platform. Watch the entire LinkedIn Live below or skip down to four takeaways from the talk.

Uncomfortable Is OK, But Pull Your Weight – Nathaniel shared that CHASM had the opportunity to serve as a consultant on the Atlanta airport project, but he saw being part of the design joint-venture as a greater opportunity, though one that also carried greater risk. “The only way to grow your business and grow professionally is to take on challenges that make you uncomfortable.”… “To be a joint-venture partner would mean growing in capacity and in knowledge. We’d have a seat at the table and commit, win, lose or draw. We could say we were involved in the design. We could produce and execute. But you’ve got to be able to produce and execute.” … “For any small firm or DBE listening, you’ve got to execute the work. You can’t just sit back and talk about collaborating with big multinational firms and then have them pull the weight because you’re not doing it.”

Run Toward Trouble – Matt discussed the importance of partner firms being open, proactive and willing to ask for help when needed. “I’m not expecting that everything is going to go perfectly. I want partners who see themselves as part of the team and open to conversations that develop trust. … If something starts going sideways on a project, put your hand up. The strongest partner relationships I’ve experienced are not with the ones where everything went great. They’re the ones where we were in the foxhole together, working out a problem.”

Success is Good, Significance is Better – Nathaniel talked about how being involved in significant projects can lead to more opportunities than just being involved in successful projects. “Success is important, but significance is more important. The significance of a project like the airport canopies for our firm, which came to Atlanta in 2005 without a single contract, has been incredible. The opportunity to work on a project like that, and then see it completed and win multiple design awards, has been a phenomenal ride. It has brought additional validity to us as a design firm. When we go and present to other municipalities or other clients in Atlanta, they have a high level of respect for our firm when we say we want to do something similar.”

Pay It Forward – Nathaniel and Matt both spoke about the importance of providing others a leg up, just as others have done before. In Atlanta, former Mayor Maynard Jackson established minority participation covenants that have created a legacy of inclusivity and opportunity for MBEs. “We lean on those voices, we lean on those folks that put into play programs that allow someone like me to be successful and significant,” said Nathaniel. “And we need to set an example for the next architectural firm, interior design firm or engineering contracting firm that comes after us.”

“For any small, XBE firms out there looking to team with us, we want to hear from you,” said Matt. “HOK Tapestry is a great way to do that. I’ve gained so much personally and professionally from working with people from smaller firms and look forward to more.”

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