COO at Baird, Hampton and Brown, Inc. (Fort Worth, TX), a firm that is passionate about improving the landscape of its community with the utmost quality and integrity.
By Liisa Andreassen
Randall is also a solutions-oriented electrical engineer which has enabled him to evaluate and design some of the most sophisticated commercial and industrial electrical engineering systems in North Texas. His projects range from small remodels to new 1 million-square-foot buildings.
As COO, Randall oversees the daily operations of BHB’s three office locations and also serves as the electrical team leader. His approach to projects and client service is to continually strive to meet the owner’s vision and to design with new concepts and technologies with better buildings in mind.
“We are fortunate that 25 percent of our staff has been with BHB for 10 years or more,” Randall says. “We attribute this to our mentorship program and to providing paths for growth within the company.”
A conversation with Ken Randall.
The Zweig Letter: I see on your bio that you were a Court Appointed Special Advocate of Tarrant County, and nominated as Rookie of the Year for the organization in 2014. Please tell me a little about that overall experience, why you got involved and what do you feel led to the nomination?
Ken Randall: The Texas Society of Professional Engineers Fort Worth Chapter has a charitable or community involvement presentation annually during our December meeting. I was introduced to CASA of Tarrant County during our meeting in 2013 and the idea of being able to help children in the Child Protective Services system struck a chord with me. These children are displaced from their homes, often through no fault of their own, and then placed in foster care. My first case was a young man, who despite living for many years in the foster care system, maintained a positive attitude. He earned good grades in school and we enjoyed meeting and having lunch together to talk about his future. He was very excited to learn of his eligibility to attend college with tuition paid by the state. Being named one of the 2014 rookies of the year was due to this young man being so receptive to the opportunities the CASA program could offer him. I was simply the messenger.
TZL: How far into the future are you able to reliably predict your workload and cashflow?
KR: I think we do a good job of predicting our workload reliably for one year and reasonably accurately for two years. We enjoy working on projects where the design period can last nine to 12 months. Cashflow is harder to predict because we don’t get to see our client’s crystal ball. But we are still pretty accurate six to 12 months out.
TZL: How much time do you spend working “in the business” rather than “on the business?”
KR: I still enjoy about one-half of my time each week working on engineering and in quality control of our projects’ design. The other half of my time is spent on administrative tasks, but I must admit the larger we grow the more attention these tasks need.
TZL: What was your greatest challenge going from electrical lead to COO?
KR: Serving as COO has required learning a different skill set from those I use as an engineering lead. The most difficult of these, and one I am constantly trying to improve, is personal relations. Keeping 100 folks happy is much harder than the 20 in our electrical department.
TZL: What role does your family play in your career? Are work and family separate, or is there overlap?
KR: My wife and kids have been very supportive of my career. I started as a draftsman in an engineering firm and went back to college to get my electrical engineering degree while continuing to work full-time. It took several years to complete the degree plan and pass the licensure exams, but it ultimately worked out very well for all of us. I am very proud that our son is studying to be a civil engineer and has worked as an intern for several engineering firms including BHB.
TZL: What, if anything, are you doing to protect your firm from a potential economic slowdown in the future?
KR: BHB’s best defense against economic slowdowns is our client diversity. We offer engineering services for a wide range of client types including retail, office buildings, municipal, industrial, healthcare, education, and developer.
TZL: BHB Goes Beyond – tell me a little about that. Does the company choose a charity? Does staff suggest places to volunteer or give back? What’s been one of your most memorable “giving back” experiences?
KR: BHB gives back to our community in several ways. We just completed our toy drive for Cook Children’s Hospital and had a back to school supplies drive earlier this year which benefited students at Fort Worth ISD. Our employees have volunteered to serve meals at Union Gospel and helped to build a house for Habitat for Humanity. One of my passions is theatre arts, so I am very proud that we were able to provide the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems design, at no cost, for Casa Mañana’s Reid Cabaret renovation.
TZL: Are you using the R&D tax credit? If so, how is it working for your firm? If not, why not?
KR: BHB does use the R&D tax credit and it is lowering our tax burden allowing us to explore new technologies. In the past two years we have started to implement power over ethernet lighting solutions and alternate battery solutions as the emergency power standby source in lieu of generators.
TZL: Does your firm work closely with any higher education institutions to gain access to the latest technology, experience, and innovation and/or recruiting to find qualified resources?
KR: We enjoy close relationships with Texas Christian University and the University of Texas at Arlington. We have participated for years in their career fairs and have employed their engineering students as summer interns in our civil, mechanical, and electrical departments. While we are not always able to hire them full-time, we at least get to introduce them to our industry which is good for our profession overall.
TZL: In addition to being COO, you’re also known as a “solutions-oriented” electrical engineer. Can you give me a specific example of what that means by illustrating with a scenario?
KR: BHB’s “solutions oriented” approach to projects starts with user meetings to completely understand their goal or problem. This often involves working within budget constraints in addition to offering a remedy. For example, a school district client wanted to add new classrooms to an existing building but was told by another engineer the load added would require replacement of their main switchboard at significant cost. I met on-site with the switchboard manufacturer and an electrician to review the existing equipment. We deenergized the equipment and removed all dead front covers to expose the interior components. This allowed us to identify a means to add mounting hardware for a new circuit breaker needed for the proposed addition at a much lower cost and significantly reduced downtime to the school.
TZL: Research shows that PMs are overworked, understaffed, and that many firms do not have formal training programs for PMs. What is your firm doing to support its PMs?
KR: We recognize the need for training our PMs and we encourage them to enroll in the TSPE Professional Engineer Leadership Institute. Our eight graduates from this program have each remarked on how much they learned and the skills they acquired during the four weekend sessions. We are also developing an expanded in-house program offering a wider range of project management and technical skills. Our company leadership maintains active participation in projects and in guiding our younger staff’s career progress.
TZL: A firm’s longevity is valuable. What are you doing to encourage your staff to stick around?
KR: We are fortunate that 25 percent of our staff has been with BHB for 10 years or more. We attribute this to our mentorship program and to providing paths for growth within the company.