When architecture and interior design firm HBG Design opened its doors in 1979 (under its previous name Hnedak Bobo Group), the firm’s partners didn’t take any chances in letting firm growth simply “fall into place.” “We didn’t necessarily have it all figured out when we started,” says retired founder Kirk Bobo, FAIA, “but we did know that in order to grow, we needed to surround ourselves with talented, passionate people.” 

That philosophy of bringing together passionate people to lead and inspire has generated a highly collaborative and entrepreneurial culture that has enabled HBG Design to grow from a regional design practice to a nationally recognized hospitality design firm.

Terri Struminger, an industry veteran of 25-plus years, was someone that Bobo associated with early on; today she serves as COO of the company.

“It’s always been at the core of our firm values to challenge each other to excel beyond what we think we can achieve,” she says. “We like to say, ‘your path here is what you make of it,’ and we empower staff to design their career experience around their strengths and passions. That’s key to our culture; and I think it’s a big reason why we’ve come so far as a company.”

At a recent company-wide event, staff gathered to share their thoughts on the culture of HBG Design.

“The managers really encourage you to pursue your passions,” says Karen Paule-Carres, a senior interior designer who joined the firm in 2016. “They encourage you to step outside of your comfort zone.” 

Kalyn Johnson, a junior interior designer adds that the firm’s philosophy of “designing experience” resonated with her in several ways. “We talk a lot about designing experience, and to me that means we have the opportunity to learn … (so), not only are we creating these really unique experiences for our clients, we’re learning and gaining experience in the process. For me being right out of school, it’s really a great quality.”

For over 20 years, HBG Design has sustained its top-10 position in the industry’s national rankings of hospitality design firms.
“You don’t maintain that level of strength by chance — it takes the right mix of strategy, talent and passion,” Struminger adds.

As a team, Struminger and Practice Leader Rick Gardner, AIA, are guiding HBG Design’s growth not only by measure of high-quality design projects nationwide but also geographic reach.

The firm successfully established a downtown San Diego office in 2016 and since that time has tripled its California staff, growing to 15 employees in 21 months. HBG Design San Diego is currently leading various stages of design and project management for over $500 million in resort expansion projects up and down the West Coast.

Here at home, the 95-person Memphis office recently moved into new workspace on two floors of the One Commerce Square tower in downtown. Elevating collaboration and physical connection with one-another were two key drivers of the new space’s design.

“At the core of our practice are talented people who want an environment that engages and inspires innovation,” says Gardner. “Our open studio naturally promotes engagement and idea sharing and puts senior staff in the midst of the studio environment where they can teach best practices and impart knowledge to junior staff.”

It appears to be working. Within the past year the firm has been recognized at both the state and national level as a Top Place to Work for Emerging Architecture Professionals by the American Institute of Architects and the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards.

“The culture here is great,” says Tim Crenshaw, AIA, LEED AP. “It’s a family of people who come together — some with a lot of experience and some with less experience — and just contribute talent to projects that are high-quality and high-caliber design.” 

While both the culture and office environment have set a high bar when it comes to helping employees pursue their passions, many of the firm’s innovative professional and personal development programs also help employees achieve career advancement and a healthy work/life balance.

The firm’s Sponsorship Program and EDGE training help participants set goals and take responsibility for their professional development while building teamwork, leadership and communication skills. The firm’s GOH Travel Scholarship provides an international research experience to broaden an employee’s knowledge and demonstrate the global impact of design.

There is also a strong culture of recognition within the organization that emphasizes not only how the firm values its employees but also underscores how each individual is connected to the big picture. Jay Davis, a junior architect sums up what he believes the culture of HBG Design is all about.

“I feel wanted. I feel like I’m doing something that’s important, and I feel I’m at home here,” says Davis. “I enjoy coming to work every day — and it’s not even work a lot of the time; it’s like a second home.”

Struminger and Gardner agree that the role each individual plays across every level of their organization contributes to their collective success.

“We’re excited about designing an experience for our employees that offers limitless possibilities for them personally, and for the firm as a whole,” says Struminger.

See article in The Commercial Appeal