Then & Now: Jackson leads Hight Jackson Associates into its 50th year

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 175 views 

Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in the June 17 issue of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. “Then & Now” is a profile of a past member of the Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class.

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Brian Jackson, president of Rogers architecture and engineering firm Hight Jackson Associates, started learning about effective leadership well before he assumed the firm’s top leadership role in 2011. He knew plenty as a U.S. Air Force Academy graduate with eight years of service as a C-130 navigator.

In a recent interview, Jackson, 51, highlighted the importance of understanding people in his leadership approach. His effectiveness stems from acknowledging individuality and fostering a family-like environment.

“Not everybody is the same, and not everything is a one-size-fits-all,” said Jackson, a retired lieutenant colonel, United States Air Force Reserve. “Over the past 13 years, that’s probably been the most challenging aspect of my job. We try to have a family-type atmosphere, and I think our employees appreciate that.”

During a milestone year in its history, Jackson is at the helm of one of the region’s most well-known design firms. Hight Jackson is observing its 50th anniversary in 2024, a benchmark that Jackson is deeply proud of and invested in as a link to the company’s origin.

His father, Gary Jackson, joined the architectural firm Charles W. Hight and Associates in Coffeyville, Kan., in 1971 and became a partner in 1974. That same year, he opened the branch office of Hight Jackson in Rogers as its sole practitioner.

Five decades later, as a regional leader in client-focused design, Hight Jackson offers architecture, engineering, planning and interior design services across Northwest Arkansas and the neighboring states of Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas.

Among the firm’s Northwest Arkansas clients are numerous municipalities, Northwest Arkansas National Airport (XNA) and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. The firm’s portfolio reflects experience with various project types and sizes, but Hight Jackson will always be closely associated with its work on public school facilities.

A sampling of projects in progress include:

  • A 30,000-square-foot adult recreation center near the downtown square in Bentonville.
  • Renovations and additions to Oakdale Junior High School in Rogers.
  • Terminal renovations and a new control tower at XNA.
  • Expansion of Crystal Bridges, working closely with world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie.

The company has 28 employees, and Jackson is one of four partners/owners, along with Larry Perkin, Gail Shepherd and Shayan Dehbozorgi.

“We think of ourselves as a mom-and-pop type business,” Jackson said. “Relationships with our clients and within the community make me the happiest. I grew up here, so it’s important.”

After completing high school, Jackson always had a clear vision of returning to Rogers to join the company his father founded. To secure his place at the firm, he pursued a major in civil engineering at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Following his graduation in 1995, he served as a C-130 navigator until 2003, an experience that laid the foundation for his future leadership at Hight Jackson.

Jackson then interned under an engineer at Rogers firm Freeland Kauffman & Fredeen for four years and passed his licensing exam in April 2007. That summer, he joined Hight Jackson as vice president of engineering. He was named partner in 2009, the same year the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal named him to the Forty Under 40 class.

In the fall of 2011, when his father transitioned from CEO to director, Jackson became the company’s president. He worked closely with Ron Shelby, who joined Gary Jackson at the Rogers office in 1976 and succeeded his business partner as CEO.

Jackson and Shelby retired in 2017, but they helped the business reflect on its history earlier this year.

“We got everybody together and brought [Shelby and Jackson] back for a roundtable-type discussion to talk about the history of the company and our core principles,” Brian Jackson said. “It’s such a different world here now because of the growth, but our studio and everybody here must understand where we came from. Those are the principles that still guide us today. We don’t venture far from [Northwest Arkansas], so our community and client focus are extremely important.”

A married father of two sons, Jackson is president of the Heritage High School Booster Club and the Rogers Mountaineer Athletic Hall of Fame board of directors.