MHBC Planning, Urban Design & Landscape Architecture
Since 1973, MacNaughton Hermsen Britton Clarkson Planning Limited (MHBC) has been providing exceptional land use planning, resource management, urban design and landscape architecture services to both public and private sector clients across Ontario. MHBC brings innovation, creativity and practicality to the challenges of commercial, industrial, residential and aggregate resource planning.
MHBC was founded in Kitchener, Ontario by Ian MacNaughton, whose integrity, work ethic and creative thinking were second to none. It is these core values of MacNaughton that have provided the cornerstones to which the MHBC culture was built upon. He served as president of MHBC until 2010 and continued on the Board until 2014.
In the ensuing 40-plus years, MHBC has earned a solid reputation as accomplished problem solvers. Their core business involves guiding clients’ land development projects through an ever increasingly complex planning approvals system. They also conduct policy review and background studies for municipal and provincial governments. Their services require project coordination and working with multi-disciplinary consulting teams. Professional planners at MHBC are qualified to provide expert opinions on policy conformity that is required in Ontario in order to demonstrate that a project or proposal should proceed.
“We help build communities,” explains Brian Zeman, a partner at MHBC who took over as president in 2014. “We have led the design and approval for hundreds of residential communities across Ontario. We have helped develop commercial and employment areas in many towns and cities. And, we are well regarded in resource management particularly helping clients ensure building materials like sand gravel and crushed stone are available close to the markets where they are required.”
MHBC is comprised of 65 professionals, technical staff and administrative personnel, with 14 ownership partners. Half of the current ownership group became partners in the past five years demonstrating the firm’s forward looking commitment to the future. This experienced team of leaders in their respective fields consists of professional planners, urban designers, landscape architects and cultural heritage specialists. They come together to create a positive, unique and exceptional experience specifically tailored for each client while meeting the needs of all stakeholders.
Diversification for growth
One of these partners is Brent Clarkson, who was president of MHBC from 2010 until 2014. In 1999, he opened MHBC’s Vaughan, Ontario office with a staff of three, which grew more than five-fold over the next 10 years.
“MHBC stands out because it’s successful in obtaining results for clients with positive outcomes and profitability,” says Clarkson. “We are one of the largest firms that are dedicated to land use planning and landscape architecture without an engineering component.”
The firm’s success is based on a diversification strategy for both geographic markets and services. This has been partially accomplished through mergers and acquisitions which has worked well by building on established credibility and relationships.
“We have been able to grow by bringing together established businesses with great people who share our corporate values and philosophy,” says Clarkson.
In addition to the Kitchener and GTA offices, MHBC has opened offices in Kingston (1998), London (2001), and Barrie (2005). The company currently has project work across Ontario from Ottawa to Windsor to north of cottage country.
Clarkson has also been closely involved in expanding MHBC services.“
The initial focus for the firm was land use planning and in addition to that we’ve expanded our business in landscape architecture, urban design and cultural heritage assessments, so we’ve both diversified our markets and the services that we offer; this has fueled the strong and steady growth of the company,” he says.
“We have tried to add services that complement our core businesses,” explains Clarkson. “The services we have added are great fits as we often work on project teams with these disciplines.”
MHBC landscape architects and urban design teams provide solutions that incorporate sustainable designs with nature, foster a sense of place, enhance community life and create safe, healthy, and desirable human spaces.
MHBC also integrates cultural heritage planning into many planning projects that involve intensification and redevelopment of urban spaces. MHBC’s Cultural Heritage Group has extensive knowledge of heritage planning issues in Ontario and has worked on numerous National Historic Sites, provincially significant sites, heritage conservation district studies and individual historic properties.
Keys to great service
James Parkin is also a partner with MHBC. “Being owner-operated is key to providing exceptional service; the partners have hands-on engagement with nearly every project,” he says. “The depth and strength of our team means we can cover each other and be more accessible to our clients.”
Many of the firm`s clients have been with MHBC since the beginning. A large portion of the business is projects for loyal, longstanding clients that trust the company to deliver results and relevant advice. Because of that, MHBC does not require a large marketing budget – the results speak for themselves, with added benefits from referrals and reputation.
At MHBC no detail is too small to ignore. Meeting all deadlines and honoring client commitments are always at the forefront.
“We return emails and phone calls quickly,” Parkin remarks. “We value accuracy and check our facts rather than taking something for granted.”
MHBC’s successful completion of hundreds of development projects across Ontario has resulted in strong working relationships with many government agencies and professionals
“A lot of work is process-driven and our strengths are in strategic thinking and creative problem solving,” says Clarkson. “This elevates our firm to another level and our clients recognize that as well.”
Parkin is one of a group of planners who deliver MHBC’s aggregate resource planning services. Managing aggregate resources is essential to Ontario’s long-term economic prosperity. Buildings, roads, and other infrastructure are dependent on the availability and wise use of this non-renewable resource. But the source pits and quarries are often unwanted land uses and increasingly difficult to locate and approve. MHBC adopts a public interest approach to plan for mineral aggregates availability from close-to-market sources and appropriately designed to minimize environmental and social impacts. An important aspect of aggregate planning is to develop a rehabilitation plan that provides after use opportunities such as natural heritage, agriculture and recreation.
Brian Zeman is the youthful leader of the new wave of MHBC partners. One of Zeman’s immediate priorities is continuing succession planning.
“While MHBC is a well established firm that has been around for a long time its clients see the firm as young and innovative,” he states. “That is a reflection of the company’s attention to succession planning which ensures longevity and continually brings in new partners providing energy and new ideas to the table.”
There are many examples of similar sized firms that have not paid enough attention to the development of a strong succession plan. They tend to fold or be bought up by larger competitors. Ian MacNaughton was determined to ensure that there were new partners ready to carry on and grow the business. Zeman is committed to see that tradition continue and looks forward to leading the 3rd generation of MHBC partners.
All the MHBC partners are involved in setting the future course for the company. Throughout its history decisions have been made based on consensus. They have always talked things through and come to a common understanding. The executive team has never had to put major decisions to a vote.
“In November of 2013, we had a partner workshop where we sat down and identified the priorities and goals looking ahead,” says Clarkson. “What’s evolved from that is the creation of a number of capacity plans for each of the offices where we can increase the services we provide to our clients. It’s also led to individual sector business plans. Our key goal for 2015 is to see those plans implemented.”
Keeping on top of emerging issues
MHBC positions itself as an industry leader and as such is constantly researching and exchanging ideas to ensure that they are in tune with current and future policies, regulations, and land use trends. Staying relevant ensures the company has the tools to respond to the needs of their clients while delivering outstanding service, wide-ranging expertise and good value.
Change is a constant in the land use planning business. Municipal and provincial governments are continually reviewing policies that guide development and introducing new laws and policies to address emerging public concerns. MHBC makes it their business to understand and anticipate change so they can best advise their clients.
“We’re always monitoring changes in legislation,” notes Parkin. “When the government is introducing new policy or legislation, we jump on it right away and try to understand it immediately so we can assess how it will affect our client’s projects and long term planning. We make sure clients are aware, as it may change something that they’re doing or investing in.”
At MHBC they make it their business to know what’s going on and stay on top of things, while ensuring they are involved in government initiatives and have input to make sure they fully comprehend what is transpiring.
“We also participate in industry workshops and speak at a number of conferences,” Parkin adds.
Philanthropy and valuing employees
Philanthropic and community involvement is important to MHBC’s team building efforts.
“We’ve had a long standing and sustained participation in community committees and local rotary clubs particularly in the Kitchener and Barrie area,” says Clarkson. “We feel that we give back through participation and local fundraising activities, like United Way and Habitat for Humanity. One of our big efforts is to support the Grand River Conservation Foundation which we’ve been actively supporting over the years.”
Employees also participate in fundraising within the organization.
“While there is corporate money that goes to charities, we also encourage our employees to be involved. Many of the company social events incorporate a fund raising component. The best example is our annual Christmas party where the employees select local charities to benefit from employee donations. The company has also entered teams in fun runs and triathlon relays in order to raise money for community organizations. Its good for communities where we work and it helps with corporate team building,” says Parkin.
The firm seeks out the best critical thinkers and fosters a positive and creative working environment which results in quality products and services.
“We have also been very fortunate to attract great talent. Our employees are phenomenal,” emphasizes Clarkson. “We provide a challenging workplace and an opportunity for staff to work on a variety of different projects. The employees we have are incredibly motivated and dedicated. They’ve contributed a great deal to our success over the years and we recognize that.”