On Monday, Rick Carter started a new job at the engineering and design firm where he has worked for more than 30 years: chief executive. He succeeds William Bennett, who will continue to serve as the board chairman. Carter helped establish and lead LHB’s Minneapolis office, and most recently was the integrative design team leader and a senior vice president. In 1991 he pioneered the company’s commitment to regenerative and sustainable design. He participated in the design of the first American Lung Association Health House, the state’s first LEED pilot project and several other pioneering sustainability demonstration projects. He led the team that created the state’s sustainability guidelines and launched the state’s Regional Indicators Initiative, a collection of energy and other critical data. Carter was inducted into the Fellowship of the American Institute of Architects in 2010, and in 2011 was granted fellowship in the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, becoming one of the first to receive both honors.
Q: When you started with LHB, did you ever imagine that someday you would be running the company?
A: Definitely not. I moved to Duluth in January of 1982. The firm where I started ran out of work in July, so I walked down the street to talk with Robert Berquist, the “B” in LHB and the only other architect I knew in town. Fortunately, he hired me on the spot. At the time, the seven-person firm was made up of Robert, Lauren Larsen (the “L”), Harvey Harvala (the “H”), William Bennett, Dave Sheedy (current COO), a technician and the receptionist/bookkeeper. I was given tremendous responsibility from Day 1, but I did not even consider the idea of leading the firm until many years later.
Q: Bill Bennett has been in charge a long time, in what ways are your leadership styles similar?
A: We share similar values when it comes to business. We are both very involved in our communities, professional associations and with client relationships. When it comes to financial decisions, we both lead conservatively. I aspire to maintain the strength of our company that Bill has helped grow to 250 employees. As an architect, I may bring a different perspective to issues than Bill, who is an engineer. I will be the first CEO to reside in Minneapolis, rather than Duluth. He is a much better golfer than I am.
Q: Any short-term plans for the company?
A: The short-term plan is to launch a process that will reframe our long-term goals. We plan to develop a firm-wide vision and forward-looking goals that will guide us over the next 10, 15, 20 and 25 years.
Q: What are your biggest achievements so far?
A: I am very proud of LHB’s strategic changes over the last five years. We reorganized from geographic-centered business units to three groups focused on client type. I led the integrative-design team, our buildings and sites practice. In that time, this work became more profitable, our employee base grew over 50%, our teams designed many amazing projects and we refocused our sustainability work with an emphasis on research. Our firm has also grown and expanded the diversity of our services.
Q: In what ways do you think you were most influential in leading change at the company?
A: After 20 years of operations as a Duluth-based engineering and then architecture firm, LHB obtained a number of projects within the Twin Cities metro area. In 1988, we opened an additional office in Edina. As a result of the entrepreneurial nature of LHB and the need to differentiate us in the marketplace, the expansion office embraced the notion of sustainable design — referred to then as “healthy building design.” I am proud to have been a part of that vision that became what has defined our buildings and site practice for over 25 years.
Q: When you started talking about sustainable design, did you encounter much opposition?
A: Not really opposition, but rather a lack of understanding. In 1997, the Green Institute hired us to design the Phillips Eco-Enterprise Center (now the Greenway Building) in Minneapolis. We always say they are the only client to ever “push” us on sustainability beyond what our teams incorporate as our standard practice. Most clients want to do the right thing. It is our job to show them the way to design projects that improve the built environment’s impact on natural resources and enhance their communities, within their means. Today, we do this type of work for all kinds of clients. We just completed a project for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, helping them evaluate the use of renewable energy to power remote-site maintenance buildings.
Q: Back in the early 1990s, sustainable design was considered the future in your industry. Today, what’s the future?
A: We are developing our Thrive framework to track the level of sustainability on our projects in the categories of climate, wellness, water, resources, ecology, prosperity and community. The system, which locates projects/elements of projects on a scale where the current building code is the far left, “sustainable” is in the middle and “regenerative” is the far right. The new goal is “regenerative,” which, like “sustainable” 25 years ago, is an unclear target, but one we know we need to achieve. This will be the future of design for the next year and many years to come.