Bill Hodge and Brandon Pinkerton believe a 30-second conversation in 2017 changed the growth trajectory of their firm, HP Engineering Inc., the Rogers-based firm they say is the largest mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) engineering company in Northwest Arkansas.
After 10 years as president, Hodge knew it was time to reverse roles and for Pinkerton, executive vice president at the time, to take his place.
“We had reached a point where Brandon’s vision and energy outgrew mine,” Hodge recalled. “I was the bottleneck. I was the lid on the organization. It was some self-awareness, and I’m like, ‘I’ve got the solution right here.’ This is easy. It was effortless.
“I look back on that, and I wish I’d done it five years earlier, because Brandon, his vision is like this [spreading his arms wide], and I’d grown shortsighted. I couldn’t get out of the weeds. Brandon’s up there flying around, soaring with the eagles.”
So, in a casual, short conversation while working on an organizational chart, Hodge told Pinkerton he needed to be at the top of the organization.
In discussions about Pinkerton’s role as president, Hodge tasked him with developing a vision for the leadership of the company.
“He said, ‘Brandon, it’s time for you take over the company, and I believe you can take us to the next level of where we want to be,’” Pinkerton said. “He told me, ‘I need you to tell me a reason to come into work every day and a reason for our company to come and do what we do every day.’”
With that direction, Pinkerton spent two or three months working on it and came up with the company’s mission: to provide world-class engineering services to the architectural and construction community.
Hodge and Pinkerton agree that has changed the attitude of their employees from one of “good enough” to “is it world-class? Is this the best it can be?” in how they treat people, how they handle product design and every facet of their business.
That new attitude was reflected in a new piece of accounting software the company purchased. The company realized that other “world-class organizations” were using an $80,000 piece of software and decided to purchase it.
“Aside from having a mission and vision that says we’re going to be world-class, we wouldn’t have made the decision to buy the world-class piece of software,” Pinkerton said.
“This guy [Pinkerton] has tremendous leadership and, of course, integrity and vision. Within the last year and half, under Brandon’s presidency, we have transformed our company and implemented a lot of awesome changes,” Hodge said.
After working together at an engineering firm in Fayetteville, the partners decided to open their own firm in Rogers in 2007. After seeing local engineering firms take a hit during the economic downturn, Hodge and Pinkerton decided their method of growing would be to open regionally-based, smaller offices. While Hodge stayed in Rogers, Pinkerton volunteered to move to Tulsa, Okla., to open an office there. He opened an Oklahoma City office two years later.
“At that point, Bill and I realized we were owners of the company, but we were acting more like office managers,” Pinkerton said.
It was agreed that Pinkerton would move back to Northwest Arkansas.
“That is what set us forward on our current path of growth. What happened during that time was an organizational transformation from two guys trying to run offices to two guys trying to run a business, and that meant hiring leadership and developing leadership,” Pinkerton said.
The partners had to let go of part of the business and empower their employees to handle it.
“That, I think, is the hardest piece of transition for business owners, going from a place where you can control everything, then recognizing you can’t, and then making the decision to move forward, knowing you’re not going to be able to control everything,” Pinkerton said.
Since being appointed president, Pinkerton has hired a business development officer, a chief marketing officer and a chief human resources officer, as the company’s overall employment has reached 65 workers. In Northwest Arkansas, the firm added nine employees in the past year and has 36 people working from its Rogers office at Village on the Creeks.
Hodge said revenue growth has also been steady, at 20% to 30% each year. Revenue reached $6.5 million in 2018.
“It [revenue growth] always surprises every year,” Pinkerton said. “We did better than we thought we were going to do. The main thing we attribute that to is following our mission and our vision.”
Future growth could be fueled by a new market. HP Engineering has recently established a fourth office, in Dallas. It’s an area ripe with potential, Hodge said.
“Within our three offices — Rogers, Tulsa and Oklahoma City — we have about 80 architects that we work for,” he said. “Dallas has a little over 300 architects in the metro area. Those are all potential clients, and we are so excited about that. [Opening a] Dallas office has been part of the vision, but it’s been a long time coming. What we have accomplished in the past couple of years has helped us be where we can do it and do it right. Without what’s happened over the past couple of years, we wouldn’t be ready to be in Dallas.”
As for long-term succession, Pinkerton said the firm can’t “live or die” by whether he and Hodge are still around.
“We want this business to live beyond what we are doing,” he said. “Ten years from now, I think you’ll see different people at this table. Hopefully, the next decade will be about building and mentoring those leaders to move this company forward.”