August 22, 2011 | last updated June 1, 2012 10:37 am

Founder of firm offers managers buy-in chance

John J. Hoffman, far left, president of Hoffman Architects, meets with his new partners, from left, Lawrence E. Keenan, director of engineering; Russell M. Sanders, executive vice president and director of technical services; Arthur L. Sanders, senior vice president and director of architecture, and Avi A. Kamrat, treasurer and director of administration.

What started as a simple thought nearly seven years ago finally came to fruition recently for seven individuals. The group, all longtime employees in the Hamden-based firm of Hoffmann Architects, received ownership stakes from company founder and president John J. Hoffmann.

"I've been thinking about this for a long time," the 64-year-old Hoffmann said. "I'd love to see the company continue" upon his retirement. And offering key employees an ownership stake starts that exit strategy.

According to Hoffmann, who still owns the majority of the shares in the privately held company, the decision to take on partners is part of his desire to ensure the business is left in capable hands following his departure.

"I would like to be able to continue working as long as I can," he said, adding that he plans to work "at least 10 more years, and hopefully more." But, he pointed out, it was important to begin the process of incorporating new faces into the ownership circle.

Hoffmann said the decision to offer ownership stakes took some time because of the amount of paperwork and due diligence needed.

"About 3 years ago, we hired a consultant to start the process, and then got an attorney to review everything and it just took awhile," he said.

Hoffmann Architects, founded in 1977, is an architecture and design firm specializing in the rehabilitation of building exteriors. The business employs 38 people in three offices, Hoffmann said. Among the projects Hoffmann Architects has worked on are the Paul Rudolph Hall at Yale University, the University of Connecticut Health Center, Smithsonian Institution, and the U.S. Department of the Treasury building.

Each of the new partners, who had to make "small investments" for their stakes, have extensive experience in the industry and with Hoffmann Architects in particular.

One of them is Russell M. Sanders, executive vice president and director of technical Services. Sanders is one of the first employees Hoffmann hired.

"First, let me say as a 33-year employee working for John Hoffmann directly out of school, I couldn't be happier that he has extended the opportunity to become one of several owners in such a prestigious firm," Sanders said. "I'm very fortunate; witnessing the growth of this wonderful company over the years has made me proud of our achievements and inspires me to continue our pursuit of establishing Hoffmann Architects as a leader in the rehabilitation of the building envelope."

Also part of the new ownership group are:

• Arthur L. Sanders, manager of Hoffmann Architects' Connecticut office and senior vice president and director of architecture with more than 20 years with Hoffmann Architects;

• Richard P. Kadlubowski, director of architecture, senior vice president, and manager of the firm's Washington, D.C., office with more than 20 years working with Hoffmann;

• Craig A. Hargrove, who has 25 years of industry experience and nearly 10 with Hoffmann Architects. He is manager of the firm's New York City office;

• Lawrence E. Keenan, director of engineering, and a 14-year employee of Hoffmann;

• Avi A. Kamrat, treasurer and director of administration, who joined Hoffmann in 1998; and

• Juan Kuriyama, senior architect, who has been with Hoffmann more than 12 years.

"I have always enjoyed details and how buildings are put together," said Kuriyama. "Hoffmann Architects was my first big job after attending Pratt Institute, and I believe the work in which we specialize fits perfectly with my career choice."

"Now as a partner, I not only have the opportunity to share the knowledge I have accumulated over my 13 years working in Hoffmann Architects, but also to continue learning from the combined experience of my new partners."

For Kadlubowski, the opportunity was just too good to pass up. "[It's a] great opportunity to have a direct part in the company and its future," he said. "We now have a personal stake in the company."

The ownership stakes became effective on July 1, Hoffmann said.

"John is committed to the team that made his company successful," Kamrat said.

"It is rare to find a company that is so focused on excellence. … I am just lucky that I get to do that for the rest of my career with such a terrific team."

Hoffmann said that these seven could have opportunities to increase their stakes at some point, as well as the possibility that additional employees would be offered chances to join the ownership group.

"The company could issue more shares," Hoffmann said, "but that would just dilute the shares. But the ultimate goal [is to eventually divest myself of the business]."

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