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New Belt Collins chief
Michael B. Terry
» Has been promoted to president of Belt Collins Hawaii Ltd., a Honolulu-based architecture and engineering firm that last year had gross revenues of about $11 million, excluding reimbursable expenses.
» Previously he was vice president and director of landscape architecture for the firm.
» He is a registered landscape architect in Hawaii, California, Washington state, Arizona and the Northern Mariana Islands.
» He replaces Anne Li Mapes, who was promoted to chairwoman and chief executive.
Question: I understand you have a backlog of projects.
Answer: It's a very busy time right now. There's a couple things that create that. The real estate market is hot and many of our clients are active. There's a lot of government money coming in with the military housing projects here and the military infrastructure projects that are coming in. What happens is it does create a backlog. We've learned that it is important to manage it. We try to take what's reasonable for us to do in a professional manner and meet our schedules.
There's not a large labor pool here. If you want to go out and hire a lot of people, it's hard to do in Hawaii. It's a relatively small market. One of the things that we've tried to do is use technology to increase our ability to do work without hiring a lot of people. A lot of it is the computer technology and design technology.
We can put together design packages a lot quicker than we used to. The quality is better. When I got into the business, the work was done manually, by hand. Now that's really changed where the designers are using technology to do the work.
We're always on the lookout for qualified people that would be an addition to our team. Probably if we could find more people, we could take on more work. We're very much aware of that.
We have a backlog yes, but we don't want to become so busy that we don't service our clients. The nature of the business is sometimes you have to work really hard to keep up.
Q: How many employees do you have?
A: We have here in Honolulu about 105. Worldwide, we have about 500.
We were up over 200 employees in Honolulu in the early '80s. I don't know if we would ever want to be that big again. I'm not sure we want to become the largest firm in Honolulu necessarily.
We're trying to do more business, do more jobs we like, and become more profitable than just focus on the size of the company.
At the size that we are now, we have pretty much filled out the space in our building. We're not going to get big just for the sake of it. We are trying to increase revenues and profits, of course. Overseas in our Hong Kong office, they've gotten really big, really fast. They have 100 people in Hong Kong. They are primarily landscape architecture. And they are extremely busy. The China market they are servicing now is very active.
Q: One of your big projects on Oahu was the Pineapple Garden Maze at Dole Plantation.
A: We did the project for Castle & Cooke. They were looking for something for people to do when they stop and browse in the store. They felt like they needed some activity for them.
The idea behind the maze was to publicize the plantation. The way we did that was we made it the world's largest. We worked with the "Guinness Book of World Records" people. They sent an inspector over a couple times. When we finally got that done, we had some nice photos taken of it, which the Guinness people used in their book. Castle & Cooke used that in their public relations and marketing and it was a very successful thing. The amount of people that have used the maze has been a surprise. It's kind of a fun thing for people to do in 20 minutes. When it was first open, the hedges were smaller and it was easy. It's not as easy now. It's basically pink butterfly hibiscus over two miles of pathways.
Q: Was a maze a new thing for Belt Collins?
A: It was a new thing. We had to find out a about mazes. There are people that market themselves as maze experts. We talked to some of them. The important thing was what the Guinness people would accept. Ancillary to that, the next big question was, was it something that would be fun for people to experience? It was kind of done on a shoestring. They didn't want to risk too much money on it because it was untried, but it's been successful.
Q: What are some other major projects you have worked on?
A: I've worked on many of our company's projects. When I first graduated from college in 1980, my first job was with Belt Collins. I worked in Honolulu for them on many projects that are our classics, such as Mauna Lani and Mauna Kea on the Big Island. I left around 1982 to work for other companies, and then came back in 1994. I decided to come back because I had kept ties here and the values that the company stands for. It's worked out well.
One of probably the highest-profile local projects that I've done here is the Waipio Soccer Complex. It's probably a project that seems very simple on the outside, but it actually had some complex issues.
The site of the soccer complex was basically the old cane wash pit for Oahu Sugar Co. Geologically it was tricky. There was a lot of dirt to move around. The water table in that area is very high relative to grade. We had to set the grade on the field so the salt water wouldn't infiltrate the field and ruin the field. For Honolulu it was a big thing. It was a quality-use sports venue and it's been very successful. I have five sons and all of them play soccer, and I play soccer myself. I've certainly seen the way the community has used the park, and it's very gratifying to see something like that.
Q: What's an example of good landscaping in Hawaii -- even if it's something your company didn't work on?
A: I'm going to say this, and you're going to think I'm kind of crazy when I say. A very good example is Hickam Air Force Base. It's a very good example of urban design and landscape design. That area is really hot and dry, and the tree plantings and landscape just totally change the climate once you're in there in the residential areas. I think it's very well thought out. The roadway circulation and the way the landscaping relates to the scale of roadways and public spaces and the feeling. ...
Our company has done a lot of housing increments out there. I just love going out there because it's a pleasant place to drive around with lots of shade.
It was actually laid out by a military planner who has laid out other things in the U.S. -- bold street plantings and generous open space to create really nice environments. What the Hickam people have done is they have adhered to his original concepts. To this day, when you do a project there, they have rules and regulations set up to preserve that environment, which I think is really fantastic.
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