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Conducting his firm to success

When Trevor Harrison was growing up, his mother told her curious son it would serve him best to find a job that was constantly changing.

He took her advice and entered the architectural field. Today he serves as managing partner of HBT Architects LLP. The Rochester-based firm has done projects for clients along the East Coast. Its local jobs include Buckingham Properties LLC’s Alexander Park project and the ambulatory surgery center for Rochester General Hospital.

HBT employs 18 people, including Harrison and his partner, James Tripp. Annual sales have grown, on average, roughly 14 percent.

Harrison, 47, sees this growth as a continuing trend that will evolve over time rather than follow a mapped- out plan.

“This flies in the face of typical business strategic planning, but we have never followed a typical path,” he says. “We always plan to grow better, rather than bigger.”

Harrison grew up in Brighton. Winning an art competition in eighth grade and then taking a high school architecture class taught by a teacher who encouraged him, led Harrison to study architecture in college.

He received a bachelor of science degree in architecture from SUNY Buffalo in 1990, then took a year off to work and get married before starting his master’s degree program. During that time, however, he believed he was learning more on the job than he could in school.

Aiding that on-the-job education was John Fayko, his former boss and one of the architects of Midtown Plaza, whom Harrison describes as a mentor.

Harrison never wanted to own his own firm, believing he could add more to an existing business rather than spending time building his own. Things turned out differently, however, when the firm where he was a partner—Handler Grosso Durfee & Associates Architects P.C.—was acquired. It was then Harrison decided he wanted to lead something of his own.

The company was founded in December 2000 as Harrison Bridges & Associates LLP. The name was changed to HBT around 2007.

HBT moved from Pittsford to larger digs on University Avenue this year. Harrison wanted to be in the city, particularly in the Neighborhood of the Arts, which he sees as a growing area.

The 6,000-square-foot space is close to double the size of HBT’s previous location. It is also near Writers & Books Inc., the non-profit organization that Harris has served as a member of the board of directors for the past three years.

Joseph Flaherty, Writers & Books’ executive director, said he believes the traits Harrison exhibits as an active member of the community translate to his job.

He describes Harrison as a strategic thinker who has created a great workplace for his employees. He is someone who is not only a good leader but also a good team player, Flaherty says.

“He will often cite instances of decisions he has made in his business that reflect on his insightful thinking and that are helpful as guides to decisions we must make within our organization,” Flaherty says.

Conducting role
At the office, Harrison describes his role as that of a conductor.

“I make sure that staff has enough of the right type of things to do, I work with architects on editing project designs, and I do a lot of business development work,” he says.

“My college-age daughter is working for me this summer and she said, ‘You never seem too busy, you just walk around and answer questions all day.’”

He also sees himself as more mentor than leader.

“I see my role as helping others get to a level of ability that they have not yet seen in themselves,” he says. “I believe we can all achieve much more than the limits we set for ourselves.”

To help, Harrison tries to provide the tools, atmosphere and expectations that allow his employees, and, in turn, the firm, to succeed. He then lets them to their jobs.

“I set the direction and the expectation and then I trust in the talented people I hired,” he says, adding, “They have never let me down, and I love to see them grow.”

That attitude in the office extends to HBT’s projects. Harrison believes everyone involved in a project adds something of value.

“Showing and actually giving respect is an important attribute of any good leader, in my opinion,” he says.

Jett Mehta, president of Indus Hospitality Group Inc., is an HBT client who describes Harrison as a hands-on professional and entrepreneur. Mehta also is impressed with Harrison’s project portfolio.

“He has a deep understanding of both design and construction,” Mehta says.”He likes to be personally involved with his clients and gets to know them as people. He tends to find (and) attract people who see the value in good design and want to work as partners with him and his team in achieving their goals.”

Harrison believes the biggest challenge to the profession of architecture is the slide toward making the industry’s services a commodity. A misconception is that architects are arrogant artists and unless a client needs something highly designed, they are not needed. But that is not the case, he says.

“The truth is that a good architect can help an organization improve in ways they have never even considered,” Harrison says. “The power of good design is immense and far-reaching and, as a profession, we need to sell that and not just pretty pictures and fancy finishes.”

That has been HBT’s philosophy from the beginning.

“We try to ask probing questions about client goals and direction,” Harrison explains.”If they tell us they are losing customers to another company, we help them understand how that company is using design to appeal to an increasingly educated and demanding consumer.”

They call it “start by thinking” at HBT.

“We think before we start designing and, even before we think, we listen with open minds,” he says. “It has been very successful for our clients, and most of our work is from repeat clients who understand and appreciate the impact of our approach on their bottom lines.”

Harrison enjoys the travel associated with job and says visiting customers gives him a chance to see what is going on in other parts of the country.

“I love finding out that a client has the same need in Florida as they have in New Jersey or West Virginia,” he says. “They want their business or institution to improve, they want to manage change and they want actual value from their consultants.

Growth prospects
HBT is growing in every area of its business, Harrison says.

The firm continues to see growth in community-based health care and in lifestyle services such as hospitality, restaurants and retail.

And while Rochester is showing signs of growth, Harrison also sees opportunities in other areas of the state, such as Albany, as well as nationally, in places like Florida.

A number of current projects for the firm involve renovation and adaptive reuse: for example, the College of Health Sciences and Technology building at Rochester Institute of Technology and Buckingham’s the Edge of the Wedge.

In addition, the firm is designing projects for the pharmaceutical industry. HBT is also designing or constructing hotels in five states and continues to help Rochester Regional Health as it grows beyond the typical hospital setting into more community-based settings.

Harrison lives and works in Rochester. He has a house in the Cobbs Hill neighborhood, and he enjoys spending time with his daughters, Molly, 22, and Maddy, 19.

He is also a bicyclist. Harrison has been bicycle racing since he was a pre-teen and, at one time, raced at the Olympic development level. These days, however, he says his success on the bike is measured in fun and health benefits.

“I still try to be competitive when I can, but I enjoy being out on the bike with the world flying by,” he says. 

He recently rode his bike from Seattle to Glacier National Park in Montana and blogged about the 14-day, 900-mile journey along the way.

He also has taken a mentorship approach to his cycling hobby, co-leading a weekly open clinic in the fall to help people learn the growing sport of cyclocross. Cross, as it is also known as, is the fastest growing area of cycling and often referred to as steeplechase with bikes.

Harrison takes the same approach with his hobbies as he does to his business.

“I am sticking with the base of who I am and what I know but adding to that with some new adventures and always meeting new people,” he says.

Trevor Harrison
Title: Managing partner, HBT Architects LLP
Age: 47
Education: B.S. in architecture, SUNY Buffalo, 1990
Residence: Rochester
Family: Daughters, Molly, 22, and Maddy, 19
Hobbies: Bicycling
Quote: “The truth is that a good architect can help an organization improve in ways they have never even considered. The power of good design is immense and far reaching and, as a profession, we need to sell that and not just pretty pictures and fancy finishes.”

9/11/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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