First Impressions Matter
On a stormy summer night in 2011, Kurt Swensson, PhD, PE, and founder of KSi Structural Engineers, boarded a puddle jumper for a quick flight from Atlanta to Tulsa. As a speaker for the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC), he was scheduled to conduct a training session for the new steel manual at a structural engineering firm in Tulsa the next day and then continue on to Baltimore to represent KSi at a meeting for one of their federal projects.
The plane bounced in, dodging lightning and touching down amidst steady rain. Knowing he had to be up early, Swensson grabbed his bags and immediately headed to the hotel to get some rest. The next morning, as he unzipped his suitcase, his heart sank. His suits – the dress clothes he needed for his important business functions the next two days – were soaking wet.
Running short on time and not knowing what else to do, he headed to his presentation in his clothes from the night before, apologizing and explaining his predicament.
After a long day, Swensson gathered up his belongings, mentally preparing to haul his wet luggage back to the airport to catch his next flight, while wondering how he was going to round up some clean clothes before his meeting the next day. To his surprise, a dry suitcase awaited him. While he had been presenting, the company had sent his wet suits off for dry cleaning, dried his luggage, and repacked his bag.
That company was Wallace Engineering.
“You talk about those random acts of kindness…that was a pretty cool experience. I didn’t have to ask, they just took care of it. That told me a lot about who they were.” said Swensson.
Now, more than a decade later, Swensson is back at Wallace, only this time as a principal. Swensson and his fellow owners at KSi decided the best move for the company’s future was is to team up with Wallace Design Collective. While a number of factors played into their decision, Swensson’s experience that day is part of what makes him confident that Wallace is where he and his team want to be.
“To me, the culture has been here forever. It wasn’t a change that happened five years ago, it’s a core of who Wallace is," noted Swensson. "It’s the little things when nobody’s watching..those tell about who you are.”
Call It Fate
Rewind to the summer of 2019. Wallace was looking to increase staff in their Atlanta office. KSi was looking to merge with another firm, hoping to expand their depth and national footprint. But the timing just wasn’t quite right. Yet.
“We didn't initially start out looking for a firm, we were just trying to restaff…but we’re not known in Atlanta like we are in other areas of the country, and there was a lot of competition,” recalled Wallace Design Collective’s CEO, Tom Hendrick. “But after the success with [landscape architecture firm] Howell & Vancuren, we started looking for a small firm we could acquire.”
KSi was actually on Wallace’s radar from the start. After a recruiter informed Hendrick that they were aware of an Atlanta firm looking to be acquired, Hendrick and Atlanta principal Sarah Appleton excitedly speculated it might be KSi. It wasn’t, and that firm ended up not being the right fit. But the experience got them thinking…why not reach out?
As it turned out, Swensson was interested, but at the time, KSi was already in negotiations with another firm. It looked like a dead end.
Fast forward to two years later. Wallace was still on the hunt, and KSi’s name came up again. Wondering if their previous deal may have fallen through, Hendrick reached out once more. And this time, everything fell into place.
According to Swensson, KSi had explored a few merger options with other firms, but the biggest obstacle was finding a company with similar culture – a like-minded approach to business and dedication to providing a quality experience for employees.
“[Wallace’s] tagline of “make lives better” really fits in with ours, which is “helping people be successful.” We’re here to add value to everything we touch, and we want people to be better off because they picked KSi," explained Swensson. "I think the way Wallace is set up is basically the same."
A Natural Fit
It turns out that KSi and Wallace are a natural fit, bringing to the table complementary geographic markets and work experience and a similar philosophy and culture.
With KSi joining Wallace, Wallace Design Collective is thrilled to expand their Atlanta presence and break into the Nashville market. Meanwhile, KSi is excited to have the resources to grow the Nashville office while also enjoying a more national footprint, with direct connections in Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Kansas City, and Denver.
On the design side, Wallace is looking forward to tapping into KSi’s experience with high rises, laboratories, data centers, and higher education. For KSi, going from a 20-person firm to a 200+ person firm means greater stability, more opportunities, and a more varied tool kit. With this newfound depth, they're eager to start competing with larger firms and offering their clients more services and specialties, including civil engineering, cold form facade design, landscape architecture, roof consulting, and more.
While the interlocking markets and expertises create exciting possibilities, it’s the recognition of a kindred spirit that is truly setting this partnership up for success.
“Taking care of clients and taking care of employees, that's the two big things they do, which is part of our vision as well – being an essential partner to our clients and being the best place to work for our employees,” noted Hendrick.
Wallace strives to "make lives better" through core values of responsiveness, flexibility, quality, and creativity. And if there’s one additional attribute that Swensson believes KSi can bring to the table, it’s tenacity.
"If something comes up, we're getting it solved, no matter how big or complicated or stressful. And yes, a lot of times, it may be in our best interest, but it’s also in the best interest of the team. Even if it’s not our fault, we still make sure that if there is anything we can do to help, we are an active part of the solution. To me, that makes a big difference in our relationship with our clients and other design/construction professionals. We all have that attitude."
“They just deliver,” observed Hendrick. “They talk about listening to the client, being creative, and delivering what the client needs. They just seemed like a good fit, and once we started talking and sharing more information, it just continued to be more of the same.”
1 + 1 > 2
At Wallace, we’re thrilled to welcome the KSi team and are excited to see where this partnership takes us! With this dynamic collaboration, the sum is sure to be greater than its parts.
That may not sound like your typical engineering math…but then again, Wallace Design Collective isn't your typical engineering firm.
Are you as excited about this as we are?! Keep reading to meet KSi’s leadership team and learn about some of the unique project experiences they are bringing to Wallace:
Kurt Swensson, PhD, PE
Founded KSi: 1999
Fun Fact: Kurt knew KSi had officially “made it” when early on, a client (who is still a client today) called his house (because he couldn’t find any other contact information) and requested Kurt attend a meeting about an upcoming project for a 14-story office with a parking garage and a 20-story apartment. Needless to say, Kurt’s four-person firm got the job (and crushed it).
Top KSi project(s): “The Coda Tech Square Project, here in Atlanta…It’s about 1,000,000 gsf when all the elements - office, data center, retail, parking and public plaza are included. It was a very complicated project with below ground parking, groundwater issues, multiple ownerships, delayed start of the data center, building adjacent to an historic building, a 90ftx120ft transfer level supporting 17 levels, the tallest spiral stair in the world and a “martini glass” column! We helped get the project done, and without any change orders or any significant problems. It’s pretty much an icon right there in the middle of Midtown Atlanta. I think that shows our strength as a firm, to be able to work as an active contributor within a strong team on a world class facility.”
David Lower, PE, SE
Joined KSi: 2000
Fun Fact: Being project manager for a hospital campus is complicated to begin with, but especially when it’s in a high seismic zone. David managed the structural design of the Northeast Arkansas (NEA) Baptist Memorial Hospital, which happens to be designed for (at the time) the highest short period seismic acceleration in the United States.
Top KSi project(s): “For me, there’s three projects that come to mind, when you talk about key projects. The Mansion on Peachtree – that’s a 50-story tower in downtown Atlanta, sloped columns, and crazy transfer trusses. Just the architecture of it, the impact of it, and to be involved in that heavy design was a great opportunity. You don’t get to do one of those every day.
“Another one was probably NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital. The team created the project in a soybean field and built not just a hospital, but a hospital campus. Every building was fast paced, early release. Basically, we showed up and two years later, we had a functioning, open hospital campus. It has completely changed that community as far as healthcare, just a great project to be involved in.
“Probably the third project for me is one where we helped someone rehabilitate a parking garage. At the end of it, the client went out of her way to come to me and say, ‘You just took this project from beginning to end, helped me through every step of the way, and you blew me away with service.’ It’s not that there was any great, significant step, but that’s just who we are and what we try to do.”
Eric Blackmore, PE, SE
Joined KSi: 2001
Fun Fact: Eric is currently working on the CDC’s second high containment lab on their Roybal Campus in Atlanta, which will be replacing the one he helped design in the early 2000s.
Top KSi project(s): “The earlier lab was probably one of the first projects I got plugged into when I came to KSi, and that was the first high containment lab at the CDC…I’m proud of it because when I came to KSi, I was doing big box retail, I wasn’t doing anything for a lab or from that kind of technical standpoint. That project really changed the direction of my career and where my specialty has developed.”
Joined KSi: 2001
Fun Fact: There’s a reason one of his favorite KSi projects is the Schermerhorn Symphony Center – Thor is an avid musician who has played guitar for 50 years and was featured on an EP in 2010 with a band called Red Letter Echo.
Top KSi project(s): “The two that stand out for me are on complete opposite sides of the spectrum. One is Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center. That was a great project, a great building. I’m very much into music, so everything on the acoustic side blew me away. It’s a very traditional looking symphony hall. On the other side, one of my favorites here in Atlanta is the Porsche North America Headquarters, otherwise known as Avengers Headquarters (as depicted in Marvel Cinema’s Captain America: Civil War movie). There are a lot of things in that building that are very unique and it was just an overall fun project to be involved with.”