This toast was delivered by Blaine Weber, AIA, co-founding Principal of Weber Thompson, on September 10th, 2015 at a retirement celebration for Scott Thompson, AIA, LEED BD+C.
* * *
The year 1968 was a pivotal one for the United States, and for the world. It was a time of war; it was a time of revolution; and it was also a time of longing for peace and love.
The Viet Nam war was raging on all fronts, and young guys like Scott and I were subject to being drafted into the armed forces.
Both Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. were assassinated in 1968. Grief from their passing compounded the general sense of dread and fear about the future of our country and for the safety our planet.
There were a lot of songs with love in their titles: The Doors: ‘Hello I love you’; Cream: ‘Sunshine of Your Love’; Led Zepplin: ‘Whole Lotta Love were top hits.
In the fall of 1968 – on the first day of a new school year at Roosevelt High School in Honolulu – two 16-year old transplanted mainland Haole boys met in Mrs. Taniguchi’s math class. Ms. Taniguchi warned us that our only hope for truly understanding quadratic equations would be to partner up with the smartest person in the class.
I can guarantee you that neither myself nor Mr. Thompson looked to be the smartest mathematical minds in the class, but we happened to be sitting next to each other, and I asked this brand new kid from Compton, California about the bright orange 1968 Camaro that I had seen him driving, and we quickly learned that we both shared a passion for surfing. The mysteries of quadratic equations would unveil themselves in due time.
The next year, Scooter and I shared a class in Mechanical Drawing, and Mr. Kaneko – a young Architect with a part time teaching gig – recognized Scott and I for our extraordinary ability to quickly visualize and draw objects in three dimensions, with tone and shadow.
Mr. Kaneko did not know at the time that our main motivation was to get our work done as quickly as possible so that we could get out of his end of day class and get out to the surf. Later, he would encourage both of us to consider Architecture as a profession.
Scott and I ended up working at a high-rise retirement home for wealthy retired islanders, and the bright spot of our evening was placing bets on which retiree would make it to the salad bar first, or serving a scoop of ice cream instead of mashed potatoes to the grumpiest of the bunch – who would invariably complain the next day to the manager about the cold mashed potatoes.
We shared a love for surfing, fast cars, cliff diving, skin diving and lovely women, but we somehow managed to graduate from High School with good grades in spite of all the fun that we had.
In 1970, we were both admitted to the University of Hawaii following year, we were both invited into an elite [meaning very small] class at the UH School of Architecture, and that is where the real adventure began.
We were very fortunate to study under the tutelage of Harvard, Cornell and Yale trained architects like Gus Ishihara, and Francis Oda, as well as International Architects like Arata Isozaki and Jørn Utzon, who would come to stay in the islands for a 3-month teaching sabbatical.
Jobs for young architect interns were scarce at the time, but we were both lucky to land jobs at one of the best Architectural firms in Honolulu by the name of Hogan Chapman.
The pay at the time was a measly $2.25 an hour, but keep in mind that the average price of a house back then was about $40,000; you could buy a new car for $1500 bucks; and a bowl of saimin at Zippy’s Drive in for twenty five cents.
Scott and I were privileged to work upstairs in the Design Department at Hogan Chapman, providing design support for a very talented bunch of top notch designers like Previn Desai and Budd Randall Fonce.
Before I move on to another decade however, I need to mention Scott’s lovely wife Laura, here in the audience. Scott and Laura met in Waikiki, when Scott was managing a MacDonald’s on the Beach. I’m pretty sure that it was love at first sight.
I was proud to be Scott’s best man, and proud to share their love – Scott and Laura are an amazing couple that are now celebrating 45 years of happy marriage. Laura is here this evening with two of their children, Taylor and Mitch.
Over time, both Scott and I and our respective families migrated to Seattle from Honolulu, and after working at various design firms in town, we ended up reconnecting at a small boutique Architectural firm here in Seattle, Roger Newell.
Roger is a sole proprietor Architect and a very good designer. He was a great mentor – grounding in good design principals, client care, project execution, and market place realities – not to mention the value of a good practical joke. We paid Roger back by starting our own firm and taking some of his most challenging clients off his hands.
1987 was another pivotal year. An American Rock Band by the name of Nirvana was founded; Aretha Franklin was inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of Fame; and Prozac was approved by the FDA after the stock market crash.
In the fall of 1987, Myself, Scott, and Jeffrey Hamlett founded the firm of Weber Thompson Hamlett. Jeff is an Architect and an Attorney, and he realized very quickly that there is a lot more money and a lot less risk in Law, so he departed for greener pastures.
We remain good friends with Jeff to this day, and he has a successful law practice advising architects in contractual matters.
Throwing caution to the wind, Scott and I decided that starting a new architectural firm was not enough of a challenge that year, so we purchased land on First Hill, and then designed, built, owned and managed a mixed-use building that would house our fledgling new firm – in partnership with my brother Mark and others.
We had fire in our bellies, endless energy, and the kind of passion that one only possesses when young and naïve.
We were too green to realize that we were under-capitalized, over-leveraged – but the market was strong and we succeeded in landing some fairly large commissions. And then black Monday happened.
On October 19th 1987, not long after we founded Weber Thompson, the stock market plummeted by over 22.6% in a single day.
To put this in perspective, this crash far surpassed the one-day loss of 12.9% that began the great stock market crash of 1929 when people were literally jumping off buildings in NYC.
We did not jump off our new building because our passion and fortitude did not allow this market crash or anything else to discourage us.
The early years of Weber Thompson were a joyous struggle and we were too committed to worry about under capitalization, sleep deprivation, or having to leverage our credit cards to pay for our infrastructure.
The foundation of our success is that we never wavered in our commitment for building a great design firm from the ground up – no matter what it took to get there.
Our very first employee, the lovely and talented Ms. Kristen Scott joined the firm in its inaugural year, and even though she was not there from day one; we recognize her today as one of our founding partners.
Kristen asserted herself quickly as an excellent designer, and we also discovered that she has an amazing business mind. Kristen rose quickly in the ranks following Mr. Hamlett’s departure, and a good deal of our success must be credited to her good leadership.
The three of us shared a dream to build an outstanding design firm that would be respectful of our developer client’s vision, a nurturing place for our talented staff, and a laboratory for designing outstanding projects.
Part of that dream was to eventually design and build our own office building – one that would be filled with light and fresh air – a comfortable place that would inspire and energize. You are standing in the courtyard of this building that we had dreamed of years ago.
The tumultuous first year of our practice grounded us in the realities of the marketplace and we graduated from the School of Hard Knocks with Summa Cum Laude honors.
The funds that we received from the sale of the building that we designed and built became seed money for Weber Thompson’s future.
Today, Weber Thompson is celebrating 28 successful years. What began as a boutique architectural firm focused on woody walk-ups and five over twos [actually, back in the early days we would celebrate a deck design or a bathroom remodel] is now a 70 person firm with seven design studios focused on a very broad range of project types including high-rises, hotels, and commercial office buildings.
Scott, Kristen and I are proud of this firm; we are very proud of our new partners, and we are proud to be associated with the rest of our very talented team.
In 2014 [after more than a few years of hinting at the prospect] Scott announced his plans to officially retire at the end of 2015.
The partners began succession planning, and we set out to identify three rising star firm leaders that possess the leadership and visionary qualities that a tough business like this requires.
Most of you know Jeff, Amanda and Liz, so I don’t need to sing their praises … but I will say that it was in large part the very positive feedback that we received from our clients and staff members that helped narrow the field to these three remarkable individuals.
Amanda and Jeff are both talented architects that possess all the right stuff from design vision through project execution and business acumen.
Liz is not an Architect, but she has a different bag of all the right stuff – she is an MBA with a great business mind, and she has in fact led us to three consecutive years of invitation into The Circle of Excellence – an elite national award that is given to only 60 design firms in the entire country for stellar design firm management.
A toast to Scott
Scott Thompson has been my best friend for over 48 years, and he has been my business partner for the last 28.
We have bought and sold real estate together, we have developed ground up projects, and we have built a design firm that attracts top notch local and national developer clients, and that has helped to create many successful projects.
We have survived four [or is it five?] recessions together – including the last one that put many other firms out of business.
We have built a great team here, one that has always come out on the other side of a downturn with greater market share and lessons learned that have improved our process and our efficiencies. Tenacity and our ability to constantly reinvent ourselves are two of the more salient attributes that have ensured the firm’s success and sustainability.
Scott is a very fine [soon to be retired] Architect that has many stellar, award-winning projects to his name, including – for example – Sunset Electric and the Terry Thomas project that we are standing in this evening.
Some of you know that The Terry Thomas won a national COTE award from the American Institute of Architects Committee on the Environment, in addition to a design award from the Seattle Chapter of AIA.
Scott has been a wonderful mentor to our younger staff members, and as one of our sustainability leaders he has demonstrated that sustainable projects can truly make economic sense with demonstrable payback – both for a project’s owners – and also for end users.
Scott is also a wonderful husband, father of three, and he is about to depart on a ship called SS Retirement.
I would like to invite you to raise a glass in his honor, with this Irish Proverb:
There are small ships and tall ships and good ships and wood ships that sail the sea. But the best ships are friendships, and may ours always be.
Here is to your next adventure, buddy – best wishes to you, and Laura and your family.