Creating tomorrow’s leaders today

Dec 03, 2023

Prioritizing diversity, evolving leadership structures, nurturing emerging leaders, and fostering a sense of ownership drives innovation and collaboration.

Diversity of voice and perspective is vital for our future. As Hanbury has grown, we’ve recognized the need to enhance and augment our traditional approach, ensuring a more diverse range of voices in the management and strategic direction of the firm.

Established in 1978, Hanbury has consistently prioritized an environment where each member can influence the firm’s culture, policies, and procedures. Anchored by values of collaboration, curiosity, nourishment, integrity, and fiscal, social and environmental responsibility, our Norfolk, Virginia-based firm has broadened its scope. We’ve taken the lead in higher education and life science projects, all while making a significant impact in the communities where we live and work. Over the last five years, we’ve tripled in size and expanded our footprint, adding offices in Raleigh, Richmond, and Baltimore to meet the growth of our core markets. Our expansion has been both strategic and organic, intentionally bringing onboard individuals to reinforce our market leadership capabilities, attract complimentary talent, and ensure well-rounded teams across all our locations. This approach has amplified our reach, enabling us to onboard complementary talent both within and beyond our existing locations. Our future is bright, and our organization has adapted to reflect our future.

Our chairwoman, and previous CEO, Jane Rathbone, consistently emphasizes that our firm is perpetually in a “state of becoming.” A pivotal transformation we’ve undergone, as we’ve grown, is in our approach to firm-wide leadership. For two decades, our firm was steered by four named partners under the banner “Hanbury Evans Wright Vlattas.” As some of these leaders stepped into retirement, a new structure emerged, focusing on day-to-day “leadership” and broader “strategy.” The Leadership Team consists of professionals who’ve been instrumental in shaping specific facets of our firm, including operations, finance, market leadership, design, and culture. Meanwhile, the Strategic Team predominantly includes market and design leaders who concentrate on thought leadership, market strategies, and refining design processes. Both teams are dedicated to executing the strategic vision of the firm in design, profit, and culture.

This leadership structure has proven effective over the past five years. One of its main goals is to plan for the future leadership of the firm. To this end, we’ve created a training ground for our future leaders, ensuring their ideas and perspectives are included in our day-to-day management. Each member of the Strategic and Leadership Teams (five to six members each) was involved in selecting a group of emerging leaders, who now form our “Strategic and Leadership Councils.” In just two years, these individuals have had a hand in every decision we make and have brought new insights that have enriched our direction. Furthermore, their involvement has strengthened communication and collaboration across the firm.

These emerging leaders have spearheaded key initiatives across the firm. Some have concentrated on developing our Holistic Design Approach, integrating design excellence, thought leadership, professional development, sustainability, and resiliency into every project. Others have optimized our performance planning and on-boarding processes, ensuring each of our team members has a tailored plan for professional growth. Some have focused on improving project staffing and operations by optimizing communication between teams and offices, determining the best fit for each project, and ensuring well-prepared project teams for every phase. Additionally, there are those emphasizing effective communication about our firm’s strengths and culture, both internally and externally. In short, they’re playing a central role in leading the firm. Our hope is to nurture their growth, envisioning them as the next wave of firmwide leaders. To support this, next year we’re introducing a comprehensive nine-month leadership training program for these council members, allowing them to learn about and apply leadership principles concurrently.

Perhaps the biggest impact for us is that each employee now has a pathway to leadership and can contribute to the success of the firm. As a newly formed ESOP, it has created a sense of ownership in every sense of the word.

Hanbury’s commitment to embracing diverse voices and fostering growth resonates at its core. As we’ve expanded, both in scope and mindset, we’ve ensured that each voice, old and new, is heard and valued. Our evolution, from our foundational values in 1978 to our innovative leadership strategies today, demonstrates our dedication to adaptability and progress. With every member feeling a profound sense of ownership and direction, we hope to shape a future rich in collaboration, innovation, and lasting impact. As we move forward, we not only celebrate where we’ve been, but more importantly, where we are headed, continuously embodying the essence of “becoming.” 

David Keith, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C, is CEO and design principal at Hanbury. Contact him at

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.