‘It’s not about the money,” says Robert Hillier. “I wanted the firm to continue.” Hillier and his wife, Barbara, who own a majority share in the architectural firm he founded 40 years ago, have sold their 300-employee firm to a Scottish firm, RMJM, for $30 million. The new firm, to be known in this country as RMJM Hillier, will be an international “super studio” with about 250 people on each of four different continents, and more than $15 billion worth of buildings currently under design.
Princeton’s Alexander Park will continue to be the headquarters for the North American business (www.hillier.com), and all the employees, including those in Philadelphia, New York, and Washington D.C., are expected to keep their jobs.
RMJM’s Peter Morrison, age 33, will be the CEO, and Bob Hillier will be the vice chairman of the global RMJM holding company, based in Edinburgh. Although he is of retirement age (Princeton University, Class of 1959), he has no plans to retire. “I love the work. I absolutely love it. Actually, I work 90 hours a week and may go down to 80,” he said in a telephone interview June 19, the day of the announcement.
How this unusual deal went down: For 18 months big engineering firms had been trying to buy Hillier. “The culture of architects working for engineers just weren’t right,” he says. When the RMJM opportunity came along, it was just right. “They have no offices in North America, so we become the fourth leg on their stool.” Conrad Druker of the Mercadian Group on Quakerbridge Road represented Hillier, his longtime client, in the deal.
Why sell at all? To reinvigorate the company. “We get access to their clients who want to build in the states, and we get a huge uptick in our ability to do work all over the world,” he says. “The projects are bigger, the complexities are greater, and architects want to do the most exciting projects in the world.” RMJM beat out Rem Koolhaas and other celebrity architects for a hot project in St. Petersburg, and it also won the competition for the convention center in Beijing.
The reorganization will jumpstart recruiting too. “As firms get old and stuck in their ways,” says Hillier, “the design gets more conservative. This has made a huge difference in our ability to attract young designers; they have a wonderful and refreshing way of looking at architecture.”
Younger architects often yearn to work in Europe and Asia because clients there are more open to non-traditional design. Until now, Hillier has had to hand over its overseas work to an in-country firm. Now it will have 17 global offices: “We do buildings in Beijing — they have an office in Beijing. We have buildings in Shanghai — they have an office in Shanghai. We do buildings in Singapore — they have an office in Singapore.” And so on.
Even as the deal was being worked out, designers from the two firms began working together. The convention center expert is helping the Hillier firm to bid on a project in Texas, for instance. “We have been in bed together, just not married,” says Hillier. He anticipates no culture clashes. Next week 13 architects from Hillier and 20 from the Scottish firm will convene for a “big think session,” in Thujet, Thailand.
Hillier and his wife, Barbara, also like their new partner’s pedigree. The 33-year-old CEO, Peter Morrison, is the grandson of the founder of a construction company. His father, Sir Fraser Morrison, grew a million pound company into a billion pound company, becoming a knight in the process, and sold it. When RMJM needed capital, Sir Fraser Morrison came in to be a major investor, and Peter was appointed CEO.
“Peter is all about energy and branding, and marketing, and raising the design bar,” says Hillier. Hillier and Sir Frazier are of the same generation: “He and I still wear ties to meetings. He is an absolute delight, very smart, and asking the right questions.”
On Hillier’s plate are some important jobs, including the Princeton hospital and the controversial West Windsor transit village, which has recently become a political football. And he also has a new project, an “Obit” magazine that is now delivered as a website (www.obit-mag.com).
Was it not a surreal experience to meet with financiers about a multimillion dollar deal and simultaneously fend off complaints from West Windsor residents about the transit village? “That’s why I work 90 hours a week,” says Hillier.
It probably isn’t about the money, but though the partners will get a hefty share of the $30 million, and the employees will receive $107 for each share of the company’s stock that they own, Bob and Barbara Hillier could salt away, in round numbers, more than $12 million on this deal. Says Hillier: “It’s our transition plan.”
— Barbara Fox
Ad 4-Pharma, a pre-startup discovery project aimed at developing drug lead-finding technologies, opened its doors in April at the Princeton Corporate Plaza. It has two years of funding from an angel investor.
“Currently we are utilizing computational models to identify small molecules for targeted screening,” writes company spokesperson Ben Mugrage. The company is using in-vitro screening to test its strategies for compound identification. Initially it will target oncology and cardiovascular indications.
Now in its proof-of-concept stage, Ad 4-Pharma will become a limited liability company if it gets the results it is seeking. Until then, it is in quiet mode. However, according to Internet sources, the owner, J.P. Errico, the owner, co-founded Spinecore, a Summit-based maker of artificial lumbar and cervical discs that was acquired by the Stryker Corporation in 2004.
Ad 4-Pharma, 11 Deer Park Drive, Suite 122, Monmouth Junction 08852; 732-274-2303. J.P. Errico, owner.
Waters & Bugbee General Contractors, 314 Dickinson Street, Trenton 08638; 609-882-9233; fax, 609-882-7338. Don Waters, co-owner. www.watersandbugbee.com.
Architectural contracting firm Waters & Bugbee has built a $2 million clubhouse at Mountain View Golf Course, a public county facility. It includes a fully outfitted, professional kitchen, a pro shop, new seating and furniture, and new decor. The clubhouse, located off of Bear Tavern Road, was scheduled to open with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on June 19.
IAPE/CWA Local 1096, 5 Schalks Crossing Road, Suite 220, Plainsboro 08536; 609-275-6020; fax, 609-275-6023. Steve Yount, president. Home page: www.IAPE1096.org.
Soon after it moved its office, the Independent Association of Publishers’ Employees Local 1096 union got itself embroiled in the Dow Jones/Murdoch controversy.
The union, which represents employees of Dow Jones, is working through Ownership Associates in Cambridge, Massachusetts to see if there is interest from other wealthy individuals in making a bid for Dow Jones.
“I believe that the Bancroft family can do better than Rupert Murdoch,” says Tim Martell, staff representative. “We’re concerned about the effect on our members of a sale to Murdoch and News Corporation.” Murdoch’s track record, he suggests, would predict a loss of editorial independence for the Wall Street Journal and other Dow Jones DJ products. “The other shoe that would drop would be staff cuts and a loss of employees at Dow Jones,” he says. The union is concerned about both possibilities.
The union was concerned about the potential impact of the transit village on its leasing opportunities, so it moved on May 31 from 14 Washington Road to new space in Plainsboro Village. Phone and fax are new.
Out of Business
Momentum Fitness, 377 Wall Street, Princeton 08540; 609-430-1050; fax, 609-430-1066.
After 10 years at Research Park, Momentum Fitness will close on June 30. Tony Vlahovic and many of the other trainers will move to the Hopewell Valley Athletic and Family Center (609-730-9997, 109 Titus Mill Road).
Princeton Post Office, 213 Carnegie Center, Roszel Road, Princeton 08540-9998; 609-452-9044; fax, 609-452-1853. Ronelle Mihok, postmaster.
Ronelle Mihok replaced Mary Ann Soto as Princeton Postmaster on June 7. She is responsible for both the Carnegie Center and the Palmer Square offices, including 2,331 Post Office Boxes, 57 city delivery routes, 13 rural routes, and 5 special routes, including Princeton University and Educational Testing Service.
Homefix, 560 Lawrence Square Boulevard, Lawrenceville 08648; 609-587-8000; fax, 609-587-7788. George Dunning, owner. Home page: www.homefixcorporation.com.
Homefix Corporation has moved from 560 Lawrence Square Boulevard in Lawrenceville to larger space in Hamilton in anticipation of future growth; the office currently has three full-time employees as well as 10 to 20 part-time canvassers and 10 salespeople.
With six offices and 150 employees, Homefix focuses on window replacement, siding, roofing, and doors.
Allan Briteway Electrical Contractors, Inc., 5C South Gold Drive, Robbinsville 08691; 609-689-3207; fax, 609-689-3692. Tim Sambucci, operations manager. Home page: www.allanbriteway.com.
Allen Briteway, an electrical contracting firm created in 2005 when Xcelecom merged the operations of Allan Electric and Briteway Electrical, was acquired at the end of 2006 by SAIDS.
The new owner has centralized all business functions in Whippany, but is using the Robbinsville building, which the company owns, as a staging area for work in Central Jersey.
Eckerd Drug, 301 North Harrison Street, Princeton Shopping Center, Princeton 08540; 609-924-6125; fax, 609-924-1368.
Rite Aid bought out the Eckerd and Brooks drugstore chains in early June. After the regulatory required divestiture of one store, Rite Aid will operate 295 stores in New Jersey.
Now Rite Aid has more than 5,000 stores in 31 states and the District of Columbia, and it is the largest drugstore chain on the East Coast. It will stock the former Eckerd stores with its private brands.
It will take 16 months, according to a press release, for Rite Aid to convert and re-brand all the stores, and it will spend more than $1 billion on remodeling them over the next three years.
Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart, 1200 Stuart Road, Princeton 08540-1297; 609-921-2330; fax, 609-497-0784. Eileen Mathes, camp director. Home page: www.stuartschool.org.
The Edward E. Ford Foundation is offering a $50,000 challenge grant for financial aid for high school students. Stuart Country Day School must raise $2 for every $1 from the foundation.
The 50-year-old foundation gave its first of eight grants to Stuart in 1957. The school is one of the very applicants that has never been rejected by the foundation.