TVA Architects learns how to build business
POSTED: Wednesday, February 16, 2011 at 10:13 AM PT
BY: Nick Bjork
Daily Journal of Commerce
When Robert Thompson’s three-year-old architecture firm was invited in 1987 to bid on design work for the Nike World Headquarters project in Beaverton he knew it was a monumental opportunity.
But what Thompson didn’t know was that the project, which his firm eventually got, would lead to 34 additional projects - including private residences, Nike retail stores, an airport hanger for the worldwide athletic apparel company and even a $200 million basketball arena for the University of Oregon.
The firm, now known as TVA Architects, has designed structures ranging from a 40-story high-rise in China to an interpretive museum commemorating Muhammad Ali in Louisville, Ky. But Thompson says the company’s success starts with the relationships built here in Oregon. And while times have been tough over the last three years for both local and national architecture firms, TVA has bucked the trend by leveraging these relationships to actually grow its business.
“We look at it as if this business all starts with building good relationships with successful clients, not just designing good buildings,” Thompson said. “The question then becomes: How do you build and maintain those relationships?
“You build those relationships by performance. By designing high-quality buildings through listening to your client, putting their ideas into concept and solving their building problems.”
In 1987, one of those relationships helped TVA land the opportunity with Nike. TMT Development’s Tom Moyer, who was beginning to work more with Thompson, talked up TVA while speaking with Nike CEO Phil Knight.
“(Tom) Moyer was actually one of my very first clients,” he said. “At the time he was developing a lot of retail centers, movie theaters and small office projects, which are some of the types of projects we were capable of doing.”
The relationship with Moyer has led to nearly as much work as with Nike, and probably even more diversity. TVA designed the 27-story Fox Tower in downtown Portland, and the 26-story Park Avenue West tower, where construction is presently stalled. The firm also has designed homes for the Moyer family and even a nondenominational meditation center dedicated to Moyer’s wife, Marilyn.
“We haven’t just built relationships with people and companies; we’ve built lasting relationships with great people and high-quality companies,” he said. “As they’ve grown and built a reputation, it’s allowed us to do the same.”
Nike, for example, was a $750 million company when TVA was hired to design its first group of buildings at the company’s Beaverton headquarters. That year, 1987, also was when Nike introduced its Air shoe sole concept and signed basketball player Michael Jordan. The company has grown at a rate of about $1 billion annually since 1987, even posting a 22 percent earnings increase in the second fiscal quarter of 2010-11.
“I think Phil (Knight) saw TVA as a similar company to Nike when he first hired us,” Thompson said. “He had passion, big dreams and a good work ethic - just like us.”
TVA presently has 32 employees; four are architects with eight to 10 years experience who were hired in the last week of 2010. This year is expected to keep the firm busy. It is under contract to finalize the design for a new alumni center that will be built next to the Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene. The firm also is working on six Nike retail stores across the country, including a new one in Portland.
“We are incredibly optimistic about this coming year and I’m not just saying that,” he said. “Plus, it couldn’t get much worse than it has been these last couple of years.”