Lab Manager | Run Your Lab Like a Business

Caring Culture, Employee Focus

How one lab design firm is winning the hiring game

by Jerry Guerra
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For most design and construction companies working in the dynamic science/technology sector, the greatest—and sometimes only—impediment to rapid growth is the ability to hire qualified employees. Taylor Design, a California-based architecture, interior design, and strategic planning firm, is bucking that trend. The firm has grown its staff by more than 20 percent from mid-2021 to mid-2022, exceeding 100 employees and making the coveted ENR 500 list of the largest North American design firms for the first time in its history.

Architect team

Emerging from the uncertainty of the pandemic, Taylor Design experienced one of the best periods in its 42-year history in 2021, boosting the head count in all five of its California offices. The secret likely lies in the 100 percent employee-owned company’s people-first culture—for the last four consecutive years (2018-2022), a leading industry consultant named Taylor Design the #1 Best Firm to Work For among all engineering and architecture firms. 

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Taylor Design president Kevin Hinrichs, AIA, says that the firm’s hiring success is measured much more by quality than quantity. “This is a really difficult time to compete for talent in our industry, so we’re obviously very pleased with the recruiting success we’ve had,” says Hinrichs, who joined Taylor Design in 2013 and became president in January 2020. “We’re not just adding bodies; we’re welcoming highly sought-after professionals who are standouts in the field, and who all appear to be an excellent fit with the Taylor Design culture and process.”

Hinrichs adds that the leadership team at Taylor Design focuses an exceptional amount of energy and resources into ensuring that the company is a safe, inviting, and inclusive environment. The staff is comprised of employee-owners representative of the diversity in the firm’s home state of California, which is emphasized in recruitment policies and processes. 

Big strides for sci-tech

One of the keys to Taylor’s recent growth spurt is its burgeoning Science & Technology division, led by Enrique Ceniceros, AIA, LEED/WELL AP. With an impressive 25-year resume of public and private research facility projects, Ceniceros has re-energized Taylor Design’s SciTech group since joining the firm in May 2021.

In addition to bringing on new staff and winning several notable projects, Ceniceros embodied Taylor Design’s focus on responsible design by leading the effort to establish Los Angeles/Orange County chapter of the International Institute for Sustainable Labs (I2SL). Announcing the news on Earth Day 2022, Ceniceros said, “The LA area has increased the size and value of its life sciences cluster over the last few years, but it’s different here than in San Diego or San Francisco. Due to the geographic size of LA and Orange County, it’s always going to be many smaller clusters that are more spread out. The growth is happening though. We’re seeing a lot of investment and venture capital, so the need for sustainable lab design has never been greater.”

Founded in 2004, the I2SL operates under the motto “Advancing Sustainable Labs Globally.” Other founding members of the LA/OC chapter include the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), University of California Irvine (UCI), DPR Construction, Cumming Group, ISEC, Critical Air Technologies, and WSP Global. At the chapter’s first meeting on June 8, Ceniceros was named chairman for its initial year of existence.

Edward Gomez, a project designer who joined Ceniceros’ group in November 2021, also made an immediate impact both internally and externally. In early 2022, he was accepted into the Southern California National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) Leadership Development Program, an intense nine-month program designed to develop emerging leaders to accelerate diversity, equity and inclusion in the A/E industry. Also, within his first few months with Taylor Design, he penned an article on the importance of designing for speed-to-market, which was published by Lab Manager in May 2022

The new I2SL chapter and Gomez’s achievements underscore Taylor’s desire to make a difference, which is something that attracts employees to the firm. “Most professionals in our industry—especially the youngest among us—want to do something that matters,” says Hinrichs. “There’s a great deal of satisfaction in knowing that the spaces we plan and design improve people’s lives, but we also encourage our team to look for ways to make the world a better place outside of their day-to-day roles and responsibilities with Taylor Design.”

Shared priorities

Taylor Design has invested substantial time, money and effort into spreading the word about its notable design successes and desirable corporate culture. This has increased awareness of the firm among potential hires (as well as potential clients), and consequently eased the recruitment process. Qualified professionals are much more likely to take the risk of joining a known entity, rather than making the leap to a firm they had never heard of before. Taylor Design also encourages employees to sing the firm’s praises to their peers, rewarding those who do with tokens of appreciation, and ensures that every new candidate is treated respectfully, assessed fairly and vetted thoroughly throughout the hiring process.

“We hear from so many of our peers about the difficulty that they’re having hiring people, but our job offers are almost never turned down,” adds Hinrichs. “It happens, but it’s rare. This says a lot for our culture. We make sure that prospective new hires meet a large, diverse group of us so they can get a flavor of what it’s like working here and of the people they’ll be working with. They see how pleasant, decent and helpful everyone is, and it sets an immediate tone of caring.”

In a series of typically three interviews, prospective new hires at Taylor Design meet with a large, diverse group of current team members representing different seniority levels, disciplines, races, and genders. The intent is to minimize unconscious bias in the hiring process, while promoting an immediate feeling of inclusivity through the familiarity of already knowing several people on Day One.

Andy Adams, a project director/associate who joined the firm in October 2021, summed up his experience this way: “I’m thrilled to be surrounded by deeply knowledgeable and incredibly talented design staff whose vision so closely aligns with mine. I love the employee-owned structure and philosophy of Taylor Design, [which states] that client and care of the Taylor Design family are equally important. As employee-owners we all play a part. And you won’t find a nicer group of people.”

Jerry Guerra is a principal with The JAGG Group, a communications, marketing, public relations, and research firm serving the architecture, engineering, and environmental consulting industries.