Working together: Michael Hall

Mar 30, 2020

Principal at GH2 Architects (Tulsa, OK), an international architecture and design firm founded in 1973 that’s flexible, engaging, and fun.

By Liisa Andreassen Correspondent

Hall directs the operation of the firm and is responsible for design, production, and management of architectural services provided on many of the company’s projects. He believes that great design and cost control go hand in hand.

“The safety of our team members is our number one priority,” Hall says. “We are on a remote work protocol, and actively practicing social distancing recommendations. We are limiting in-person meetings and setting limitations on site visits. We have put a halt to all travel unless it’s related to critical or essential projects identified by our government clients.”

A conversation with Michael Hall.

The Zweig Letter: How has COVID-19 impacted your firm’s policy on telecommuting/working remotely?

Michael Hall: We have been on a work from home protocol for almost two weeks, and overall, it seems to be working well. I think our experience with this situation is going to make everyone more productive and agile in the future. We’ll be able to give our team members more flexibility when things return to “normal” after this crisis.

We’re already asking ourselves bigger questions about what we really need in terms of traditional office space moving forward. Our clients need us to be responsive and do good work – with good people on your team that can happen from the North Pole if it has to! They also need our active presence at their offices and jobsites, and sometimes a place to meet. Our teams need a place to collaborate and meet in person. Everything else is on the table for discussion moving forward.

TZL: How far into the future are you able to reliably predict your workload and cashflow?

MH: We are typically pretty comfortable looking at six to eight months out. Over the last 20-plus years, the only time that this has not been the case was 2008, when things seemed to turn negative overnight. Our challenge is that we seem to be facing a lot of situations where we have three or four proposals out for major projects – all of which could be successful. We could also lose all of them. That is when forecasting and planning are most difficult.

TZL: How much time do you spend working “in the business” rather than “on the business?”

MH: It’s about 35 percent “in” and 65 percent “on.”

TZL: What role does your family play in your career? Are work and family separate, or is there overlap?

MH: It is huge for me. I am very lucky that my wife is also a principal at GH2, and we have worked to grow the firm together – with the other principals and firm leadership. Working together each day has been a blessing for us and has allowed us to have flexibility when needed for our family.

TZL: What measures are you taking to protect your employees during the COVID-19 crisis?

MH: The safety of our team members is our number one priority. We are on a remote work protocol, and actively practicing social distancing recommendations. We are limiting in-person meetings and setting limitations on site visits. We have put a halt to all travel unless it’s related to critical or essential projects identified by our government clients.

TZL: Are you using the R&D tax credit? If so, how is it working for your firm? If not, why not?

MH: We are and it has been fantastic. The time we invest is minimal compared to the return which is really a bonus that goes straight to the bottom line. We will continue to use this and try to maximize it as long as it is available to us.

TZL: What novel approaches are you bringing to recruitment, and how are your brand and differentiators performing in the talent wars?

MH: We are trying to broaden our recruiting base by getting in front of prospective employees as soon as possible, even years before they might enter the profession. If high school or middle school students want to visit or hang out at the GH2 office, the answer is an emphatic “yes!” Any time our team members can participate in special programs at local schools (many of which are our clients), the answer is “yes!” We have an excellent retention rate from our summer internship program. It truly puts students in the middle of fast-paced project teams and real firm situations. One summer I realized that when our interns were about to return to school that we never did any orientation meeting; they were engaged from the minute they walked in the door. They all wanted to return to GH2 as soon as possible.

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?

MH: This is definitely the case with recruiting. We try to maintain connections to the design schools in our region by participating as guest lecturers, serving on advisory boards, and participating in project critiques.

TZL: What financial metrics do you monitor to gauge the health of your firm?

MH: We try to keep this simple (and these aren’t complex metrics with acronyms). We look at overall profitability with our mix of projects, knowing that a healthy mix of project and client types will have various profitability levels, but will also add strength and sustainability as we move forward. We focus on:

  • Keeping our base costs to run the office down;
  • Keeping the net fee that GH2 keeps on projects at a high percentage of the gross fee; and
  • Keeping net revenue per team member at a high level.

That does it for us and has put us on Zweig Group’s Hot Firm List several times.

TZL: They say failure is a great teacher. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve had to learn the hard way?

MH: Choosing project consultants who don’t have the same level of dedication and desire to provide great service to your clients will end badly every time.

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?

MH: This is something we work on every day at GH2. We work hard to communicate and share workload challenges through weekly team leader meetings and central schedule coordination. We have worked closely with Zweig Group to implement project management training for everyone, and we are working to clarify and separate the role of project architect and project manager as we move forward.

TZL: In one word or phrase, what do you describe as your number one job responsibility as CEO?

MH: Be a positive, stabilizing force and look at the big picture.

TZL: What happens to the firm if you leave tomorrow?

MH: Without hesitation, and because of the people we have on staff, I can confidently say that GH2 would continue to grow and prosper and serve our clients well.

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.