A mutually beneficial acquisition

Feb 17, 2020

Through solid communication, planning, and leadership support from both organizations, a smooth transition is under way.

Established in 1994, Dave Johnson created studio951 with the vision to provide innovative architectural design while focusing on the client experience. Talented design professionals joined the firm where they thrive within the collaborative, open, and professional environment. Together, they honed their craft and built a portfolio that includes clients across the commercial, retail, restaurant, multi-family, and healthcare markets. Twenty-five years later, the Lincoln, Nebraska-based design firm has a significant presence in Omaha, is doing work in eight states, has 18 designers, and continues to grow.

Not one to shy away from creating his own path and opportunities, studio951 was born out of Dave’s strong entrepreneurial spirit.

  • Based in Lincoln, studio951 also had a substantial presence in Omaha. With some of the largest design firms in the country headquartered there, studio951 was at a competitive disadvantage.
  • With more opportunity than resources the time was right to explore a merger or acquisition to improve the firm’s position in the marketplace, become more competitive, and protect the value of the firm.
  • A merger or acquisition would provide additional resources and new opportunities to benefit the firm, its designers, and clients.

In October 2019, studio951 joined Shive-Hattery and began doing business as studio951, a Division of Shive-Hattery. While any type of significant change such as an acquisition can be very disruptive to a business, by utilizing a fully developed integration plan spanning several months, the impact on both businesses has been manageable and beneficial. Through the continuity of Dave’s leadership combined with Shive-Hattery’s support and resources, full integration is ensured and will lead to new and expanded opportunities.

Here’s a look at what helped studio951 and Shive-Hattery determine the acquisition was a fit for sustainable growth:

  • Realistic valuation. Once it was determined that a merger or acquisition would be the best path, it was critical to start the process with a realistic sense of studio951’s valuation. Valuation is both art and science and is based upon past financial performance and projected future performance. Overvaluation would turn away prospective buyers and undervaluation would negatively impact the seller. A realistic valuation would attract the best firms who were willing to engage in meaningful conversations that would result in identifying and creating realistic and attainable synergies.
  • Cultural fit. Building a united company culture is a process that takes time. The timeframe can be compressed by starting on common ground by identifying a cultural fit. A great and defined culture ensures team, trust, and camaraderie develop quickly across offices leading to operational synergies. This strongly aligns with Shive-Hattery’s One-Firm philosophy: Instilling a strong culture of collaboration, knowledge sharing, innovation, and connection. By creating this connected culture across the organization, Shive-Hattery aspires to provide more exciting opportunities for its employees, provide its clients the best value, and develop the most creative design solutions.
  • Market opportunities. Sustainable growth is key to remaining competitive in the marketplace and can be achieved by strategically expanding into new markets and/or adding new services. By joining Shive-Hattery, studio951’s pool of design talent and expertise immediately grew from 18 to 425 people and strengthened Dave’s original vision to deliver great client experiences. Clients keep their trusted relationships while having access to a full suite of architectural, engineering, interior design, and landscape architecture services which can be provided and supported by the best team, regardless of location. By expanding into Nebraska, Shive-Hattery improves its geographical reach and ability to serve more nationwide clients.
  • Recruitment and retention. The war for talent rages on and providing professional development opportunities is a differentiator. The benefits of investing in the talent pipeline are countless. Engaged employees are the firm’s best advocates who care about their clients and their career. Shive-Hattery provides and supports continued learning through several internal programs including Communities of Practice, Market Sector Teams, the Shive-Hattery Leadership Development Program, Business Development University, various task forces and management teams, and swarming events. Through these connections employees can explore various career paths, grow, and develop into new roles, services, and market sectors.
  • Complementary portfolios. Both organizations have design capabilities in commercial, retail, multi-family, and healthcare markets. Shive-Hattery strengthens studio951’s reach into additional markets, such as education, senior living, government, and industry. Enhancing existing portfolios will grow work and attract new clients and new talent for sustainable growth.
  • Leadership support and continuity. studio951 is well-managed and well-led, which was key to Shive-Hattery’s interest in the acquisition. By joining forces, the two organizations are stronger than they were. With continuity in studio951 leadership, they will integrate into and collaborate with Shive-Hattery, as they work together to develop strategies for the future direction of the company.

studio951 will also benefit from Shive-Hattery’s Corporate Shared Services in the areas of accounting, IT, human resources, marketing, and project delivery. These operational efficiencies will allow more time and space for designers to design and focus on client relationships to provide the best experiences.

Through solid communication, planning, and leadership support from both organizations, a smooth transition is under way.

James Lee is president at Shive-Hattery. He can be reached at jlee@shive-hattery.com. Dave Johnson is the director of the Lincoln office for Shive-Hattery (studio951, A Division of Shive-Hattery). He can be reached at davejohnson@studio951.net.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.