IN-DEPTH WITH BRIDGERS & PAXTON
Bridgers & Paxton Consulting Engineers Inc.
Leader: Bill Herbst, president
Industry: mechanical, electrical, plumbing, technology and energy engineering services
Physical HQ address: 4600 C Montgomery NE, Albuquerque
Year established: 1951
Number of employees in year established: 2
Number of employees today: 125
If Bill Herbst is doing his job right, his eventual retirement from Bridgers & Paxton will hardly make a ripple.
Herbst, president of the 70-year-old Albuquerque-based engineering services firm, said that isn’t always the case after a leadership change.
Started in 1951 by Frank Bridgers and Don Paxton, the company designs heating, cooling, lighting and power systems for buildings. Bridgers & Paxton employees have worked on everything from the penguin habitat at the Albuquerque Zoo to cooling equipment for Los Alamos National Laboratory’s supercomputers.
When Bridgers retired in 1991, however, the company hit a rough patch, Herbst said. Some stakeholding employees sold back their shares and departed to start a competing firm, leaving less money for Bridgers & Paxton to invest in its future.
Businesses often fail when the founder retires, Herbst said. Not every company survives the transition.
The silver lining from that difficult period was a revised ownership structure that takes the emphasis off of individual leaders and instead fosters an “all-for-one and one-for-all” mentality, said Herbst, an electrical engineer who joined the company in 1997.
“We’re not a pyramid anymore,” Herbst said. “We’re much flatter than that. I think of it more of, like a mesa. Flat, relatively flat top, in which you’ve got a lot of people splitting duties.”
Currently the company has 12 owners, ranging in age from 35 to 61 years old. Corporate responsibilities, such as managing human resources and overseeing the accounting department, are divided between the owners who also continue to lead projects teams for the company.
As owners transition into retirement, other engineers are brought into the owner pool to take their place. To ensure there will always be qualified leaders to step into those positions, the company assigns every new hire a mentor and regularly reviews employees’ progress and goals.
There’s a “natural progression,” Herbst said. As young engineers gain responsibilities that move them from working on a project to leading a project, they also gain the skills they’ll need to one day run the company.
Done well, removing a person from Bridgers & Paxton for retirement should be like pulling a hand out of a bucket of water – the water will fill back where the hand was, Herbst said. The remaining employees continue to meet client needs and lead the business forward.
“There’s no reason this company can’t be here in another 70 years or 100 years with the way the organization and transition happens amongst the owners, in bringing new owners on as other ones are retiring,” Herbst said.
“The key aspects that I see that really makes B&P … it’s not stagnant. New owners, new employees, fresh ideas, embracing technology – all those things is what makes it exciting. The confidence I think we get from being around for 70 years – it’s like, yeah, we can work through this and solve whatever comes our way.”
Business Outlook’s In-Depth item features interviews with leaders of well-established New Mexico businesses about the practices that have allowed them to weather ups and downs. Send suggestions of locally owned businesses that have been in existence for at least a decade and that employ at least 20 people to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration.