Conversations with HMH Leadership: Driving Our Future

HMH Leadership

For over 43 years, HMH has fostered an internal culture that promotes employee growth, provides strong mentorship, rewards initiative, and encourages challenges. The leadership of HMH recently reflected on the qualities that keep the firm at the forefront of community building in The Bay Area and other California locations. Our HMH senior team joined HMH Marketing Manager Jennifer VanderArend to share insights on the hallmarks of the company, industry issues and the value of the HMH multidisciplinary structure. The roundtable discussions included:

  • Land Development and Planning: Principal Ray Hashimoto, Manager Vitina Mandella and Planner Deena Morsilli.
  • Public Works: Principal Jon Cacciotti.
  • Civil Engineering: Principals Zef Jimenez and Stephan Kuehn.
  • Survey: Principal Dave Stanton.
  • and Company President David Wilson.

This particular discussion below includes Zef Jimenez, Vitina Mandella and Stephan Kuehn. See additional HMH blogs for more thoughts from other HMH senior leaders.

Experienced Backgrounds

Jennifer: Let’s start by discussing your early career and how you got to HMH.

Zef: I have been at HMH since 2001. I started as a civil engineering intern and worked public works assignments, and then moved to faster-paced private residential projects. One thing that I have always had at HMH is opportunity. No matter what I wanted to do, they said “Go for it. Let’s see if you can do it.”

Vitina: For 15 years, I was an engineer and project leader at two firms –one locally and one globally focused. I recently came here because not only is HMH so established in the valley, but it’s always growing, always evolving to anticipate client and market challenges. HMH was seeking a strong leader in business development and client relationships. The executive group is open to new ideas, encouraging input and critique of existing processes here. I see my career flourishing at HMH because the culture is open to building and evolving.

Stephan: I have been at HMH since 1995. After getting my civil engineering degrees and working at other firms, I interviewed with David Wilson and Bill Wagner. I still remember when I started: I was engaged with clients and the HMH team in so many positive events. My first reaction was “Wow, this is a great company. Things are happening here.” Despite the ups and down of the economy, we have never lost that optimistic, interactive spirit. HMH has been an ideal place for me to learn and grow a complex capability through the years. The learning curve to become a land development engineer is very steep. I have been involved in the transition from drafting by hand to using CAD, learned the key land development engineering principles from our management team, and had early opportunities to interact with clients and agency staff. My team and I still learn something new every day. The Ranch on Silver Creek was my first project, and our portfolio has grown tremendously since then.

Relationships, ideas are key

Jennifer: What are the core strengths that HMH will carry into the future?

Zef:  At the core of our work are relationships. We work hard to keep strong connections to city staff, county departments, state and even federal agencies. Having those relationships is what helps HMH and our clients succeed and do so well, especially in the Silicon Valley, where we have solid communication channels. So, we’re effective in negotiating solutions for our projects that benefit both our clients and the agencies.

Stephan: Yes, part of what makes us successful is that we have a lot of relationships built with the city staff. We enjoy reaching out to them. That is a strong point of ours. Our known contacts may move to other agencies, but we still maintain our connections with them since we work in so many different cities. Within various agencies, we continue to collaborate with people that we have known for 20-plus years.

Vitina: Bringing new thinking on future issues will be key. For instance, I have been heavily educated on storm water regulation. I can go sit down with the city and we can have a discussion, a back and forth. I can say, “Hey, I have another idea of how we can handle this and this might be a cheaper alternative, but we’ll still get the same results.” That makes everyone happy. Clients have been appreciative and receptive to that. I have enough of a background in stormwater that I can question the agencies, they can absorb the input and all sides can benefit.

Communicating internally and externally

Jennifer: How do you maintain that connected environment and constructive progress?

Zef: Communication –on so many levels– is what we strive for every day. I am always telling my people to call their contacts, respond, acknowledge. Let the client know, or the city agency know, “Got it. I’m working on it. I’ll have this to you in a day or two.” It sounds simple but we build and maintain respect in the industry by constantly responding to our contacts.

Vitina: Part of that is asking questions, both internally and externally. As the people designing and engineering projects, I think it’s our responsibility to be considering all aspects and questioning agencies, clients, partners on how we can make projects better. As an example, I am part of the public-private coalition Interstate Technology and Regulatory Council. We are publishing a white paper, a call for a standard on stormwater best practices.

Stephan: Yes, speaking up for our capabilities and services helps us keep client interests top-of-mind. I’m the Chapter President this year of the American Council of Engineering Companies. We’re involved in different legislation activities and take sides on propositions and assembly bills that affect our industry – both the engineering companies and our builder clients. On the internal side of HMH, collaboration and productive interdisciplinary communication has always been our strong suit. Our managers stay personally vested with clients and assignments. This strong ‘ownership’ brings our different department members together as a team to creatively solve each project’s unique issues.

Zef:  Another example of our involvement with facilitating open communications at higher levels is through HMH’s active involvement in the Building Industry Association. We offer our office as a BIA event site. HMH hosts lunchtime gatherings where the BIA invites council members, mayors and election candidates for an interactive session on current industry topics. HMH tries to make sure that we have an opportunity to brand ourselves and get ourselves involved because we need to know who those people are and hear their concerns and perspectives.

Answering client challenges

Jennifer: What are major challenges now and into the future? How is HMH successfully addressing those concerns on behalf of our clients’ projects?

Stephan: The process with local agencies — with all their new staff and increased requirements and regulations — has become more challenging. From drainage design to fire safety requirements to accessibility design, to storm water treatment, California is leading on regulating. And, the requirements are more complex. But our extensive knowledge base guides us. We work together as a team. We tap into the combined knowledge and experience of our staff for each project. HMH has the power of multiple minds. That’s why our clients see the value in us, because there is no book or road map that gives exact steps. It’s that collective,

in-house, shared wisdom that allows us to have the reputation of being the company in the South Bay to work with. We have managed evolving regulations throughout our history and even have had to adapt to long-lasting projects like Communications Hill, which we have been working on for over 20 years.

Vitina: Agreed. There are huge environmental regulations. That’s just California. The result is new emerging disciplines in many areas. Even roadways. There’s a lot with transit, transportation design and how we think about a roadway now. Maybe we include other aspects of it, whether it’s light rail, more walking, wider sidewalks, bike lanes. It’s a shift, and the HMH teams are figuring that out now, being part of many leading-edge projects like Flea Market. Within all of our HMH capabilities — land development, public works, engineering, surveying, and landscape architecture —we are working on evolving very suburban locations into urban environments.

Stephan: On the private development side, the type of projects we see now is much different. It’s almost 100% re-development. And that has challenges from everything from entitlement to engineering, primarily because you’re trying to fit something new into something that’s already there. The design process is much more integrated today, requiring all the different consultants to work extremely closely as a cohesive team. Integration and communication are HMH hallmarks.

Zef: An issue we see, in some cases, is that cities’ long-term, experienced staff are moving on and retiring. Some of the folks who established a policy in the past are not there to explain the core objectives. The newer staff, who are implementing policies, often don’t know the broader aspects and the current implications, so it’s occasionally challenging to have a conversation because staff only sees what’s on paper and may not know the background behind a regulation. Given the collective knowledge at HMH — with our 43-plus year history — our teams do their best to educate staff and help give these policies some modern-day context. We want San Jose and Silicon Valley to grow in a positive direction, based on planning principals that support a strong future.

The Big Picture Rewards

Jennifer: What keeps you committed to this business and to providing senior leadership at HMH?

Stephan: I still get excited about going to a site and thinking, “Wow, there’s going to be homes here someday, and new roads, new services.” That’s a pretty neat feeling to be able to stand there and see what it is, and confidently visualize what’s coming. And then see it happening and go back there. Now you’re standing in a neighborhood. All while bringing HMH creativity and innovation throughout the process.

Vitina: I relish the big ideas that are the foundations of creating a quality development. You’re redeveloping land to create a safer future for our children, and I think that’s where the HMH value comes in. Everyone in the process must think broadly, for the greater good. I am committed to helping build a long-term project with integrity. Something that’s going to stand the test of time, and something that is going to be safe and better in the future.

Zef: First, I would say it’s just the craziness of the project pace which is fun. The challenge of getting that new client, getting that new project, and then seeing it succeed is a big thing. Second, the atmosphere of “How can we do better?” that exists here at HMH. Third, the training and education of our team. Then seeing our young professionals get it. Making sure that we are setting up our employees and our company for success is what drives me.


HMH is pleased to share these insights from members of our leadership group: Civil Engineering Principals Zef Jimenez and Stephan Kuehn, and Land Development and Planning Manager Vitina Mandella.

An additional HMH blog covers thoughts from the leadership of our Landscape Architecture studio, including Principals Bill Sowa and Jackson Derler, and Manager Brian Glick.