President of HagerSmith Design, Tony Conner, first started at the firm back in 1991. The economy was not the greatest and getting a job in the architecture industry was quite challenging. Luckily for Tony, his senior project at NC State was connected to co-founder of HagerSmith, Jim Smith.
Tony was tasked to create a national record drawing of the Walnut Hill Cotton Gin. Guess who happened to be the owner? After asking Jim if he needed any help sweeping the floor, he landed an interview and was hired shortly after. He has been at HagerSmith ever since.
“I tell people this all the time, I can’t imagine working anywhere else. I tell my kids and my wife, even the employees here that getting hired was probably the luckiest thing that ever happened to me and it changed my life probably forever. The people that I work with here make this place the greatest.”
When Tony first got into the industry, the design field was mostly interior renovations or completions. At the time everyone needed an office so interiors played a huge part. Therefore, when he got hired everyone had to start out in interior design, including him. Eventually, he worked his way into project management. Before he knew it, he seemed to be doing multiple buildings a month.
Eventually, the popular trend became brick buildings. Brick and precast were the most economical materials to build with at the time. Since then, Tony has seen the architectural trends change from back in the 90s, to the late 90s, and now today. The interior environment started switching over to cubes instead of offices. Now, there are more innovative exterior finishes that are more cost-effective and environmentally friendly. Ironically, individual offices, as opposed to open-offices, are becoming popular again too.
Not only has Tony seen trends evolve over the years but the company as well. “There were a lot of times, I think multiple years where I think Mike didn’t even take a paycheck home because he knew how important it was to take care of the few folks that were there.” Efforts like that, Tony says, probably is where the culture of HagerSmith began – the importance of taking care of the employees.
“The way this company treats its employees has made them really loyal to the company and when your employees are loyal and happy, they do great work for your clients.”
Another factor Tony admits to playing a big role in HagerSmith’s success, is their determination to truly understand their clients’ business. “We work for them, we work for their interests and when we tell them we’re going to do something, we actually follow through and do it. We’re not perfect, we make mistakes but when we make mistakes we own up to the mistakes and make them right,” which Tony says can be a bit unusual in architecture firms – the type of humility and follow through HagerSmith possesses.
Tony hopes that in the next 40 years, HagerSmith continues the tradition where they build a strong firm based on family and continue to build positive and successful relationships with their clients.
Here’s to the next 40 years.
To see more employee spotlights and our anniversary video, click here.