By Katy Spence
When Dell, Inc., hired a small, Montana-based architectural and engineering firm in the early 2000s, they told CTA Architects Engineers that it was going to be a one-and-done kind of job.
But within a couple of years, CTA was was working on projects for Dell all around the globe. CTA President Scott Wilson said CTA’s commitment to client satisfaction was one of the key reasons Dell kept returning for its services.
“It was our client service and our work ethic and can do attitude that got us with them,” Wilson said.
Since that first project in 2001, CTA has provided a wide range of design services for Dell, in excess of 2.5 million sq. ft in 19 countries. The projects have ranged in size from conference room remodels to consolidating smaller multiple locations into singular larger campuses in large cities around the world.
Project Designer Jimmy Talarico said working with client like Dell gives Montana employees the experience of working on huge projects while living in the Big Sky State.
“One electrical engineer in our Bozeman office, for example, goes to Brazil and Panama, and he’ll be going to Europe,” Talarico said. “So, he gets those opportunities to work on global projects while he lives in Montana, which is a pretty awesome incentive as well.”
CTA works with some of the largest companies in the world, including Target, Facebook, and Google. Despite working with big, international names, Wilson said some of his favorite stories are local.
Billings Public Schools was one of the first projects that founders Ralph A. Cushing and Everett O. Terrell worked on as a team, doing construction administration on the senior high building. Eighty years later, CTA is still working with Billings Public Schools.
“We have these awesome clients in Montana that have been with us, many of them longer than I’ve been at the firm, longer than most current team members have been at the firm,” Wilson said. “And they continue to engage us and they continue to see us as part of their future.”
CTA continues to work with Montana schools, recently getting approval for the new designs of Bozeman High. The firm also works with prominent Montana organizations such as Stockman Bank, SoFi, First Interstate Bank, Bozeman Health, and The Billings Clinic.
The range of clientele and projects gives CTA employees and interns the opportunity to work in a variety of fields and hone their skills in a manner they desire, Talarico said. It also means clients have a wide range of expertise through CTA’s 14 U.S. offices.
A history of service
CTA’s dedication to client satisfaction can be traced all the way to its establishment 80 years ago, when two architects went on a fishing trip outside of Billings, Montana.
Longtime friends Ralph H. Cushing and Everett O. Terrell regularly went fishing together, but on one trip, they decided to leave their firms and go into business together. In 1938, they teamed up to create Cushing and Terrell, today known as CTA Architects Engineers.
“They had a vision for a company that, at some point in time, would be more integrated in regards to the services it provided,” present-day CTA President Scott Wilson said. “That it would be Golden Rule-driven and client-focused.”
Today, CTA employs more than 470 people across its offices around the U.S., half of which are in Montana: Billings, Bozeman, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell, Livingston, and Missoula. The full-service architectural and engineering firm works with a variety of markets, including commercial, retail, healthcare, education, government, and living spaces. Its services cover the gamut of site- and building-related design. But at the heart of CTA’s work is a dedication to its clients and its employees.
Wilson said CTA has held tightly to its founders’ original vision, building the company up around the non-negotiable Golden Rule of treating others as you would like to be treated, providing an unmatched client experience, and encouraging its employees to strive for improvement. This even extends to how the company makes business decisions and passes on leadership, Wilson said.
“Our ultimate goal is to do the right thing for the right reason at the right time,” Wilson said.
Wilson said he’s proud to see how the firm has stayed true to the founders’ mission, even as it as grown.
After a few decades of rapid growth, CTA is now looking to continue organic growth and is considering some acquisitions. Wilson is especially looking forward to the next generation coming into leadership positions.
“They’re smart, they think different,” Wilson said. “I think they’re going to take the company and they’re going to grow it in new brand-new directions that we hadn’t even thought of because we haven’t put a bunch of limits on them.”
Fostering talent and looking ahead
As the company looks back on 80 years, Wilson reflected on his own history with CTA and admitted that what might be a non-traditional career path actually speaks to a CTA legacy of fostering talent.
As a young drafter at CTA in 1991, Wilson almost quit his job to go back to school and figure out the next step in his career.
CTA, however, saw a lot of potential in Wilson and didn’t want to lose him. In fact, they asked him to move to Boise to help start an engineering group and offered to pay for his schooling.
Wilson politely declined the offer. Sometime later, CTA offered again. And again.
After mulling it over, Wilson and his wife accepted and moved to Boise. After Wilson graduated from Boise State with an electrical engineering degree in 2000, CTA made him an Associate Principal and then a full Principal a few years later. Less than a decade later, he was voted in as President by the board.
“We’ve got generation after generation of just continuing to invest in people and helping them see their potential,” Wilson said. “And that’s what happened with me. They saw the potential, and they kept pushing.”
Wilson said the company continues to push employees in directions in which leadership believes they’ll succeed. In addition to mentorship, CTA helps its employees get their professional certifications through study resources and even paying for half the cost of the test. CTA also pays for annual relicensing fees and provides continuing education opportunities.
“What we really want to do is work to have professionals be developed in a way that we can be leaders,” Project Designer Jimmy Talarico said.
Talarico added that a strong relationship with Montana State University School of Architecture helps them attract talented interns and new graduates to join the CTA team.
Kasey Welles graduated from MSU in 2015 and worked with CTA as an intern before joining the firm as an architect-in-training. He said CTA’s mentorship and variety of services are helping him work toward the number of observation hours he needs before he can take the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) to get his license.
“You get a lot of direction,” Welles said. “When you do something wrong, you know, you get to go back and fix it. It’s not someone else taking care of the problem for you. This is your thing, and you’re going to figure out how to do this because we want you to win.”
Welles said that CTA’s wide array of expertise means he can draw from the strengths of all of its employees, right from his home in the small mountain town of Bozeman.
“You get kind of that small office feel with all the resources of a big company and that is just really awesome,” Welles said. “Plus, I get to be in Bozeman.”
If Welles ever wants to move, CTA makes it easy to transfer among its 14 offices. Wilson said location hasn’t influenced its ability to attract clients.
“It’s more about the people and the expertise and less about where you live,” Wilson said.
Each individual office fits the CTA company culture, but Wilson said business and office culture are unique to each location.
In the Bozeman office, the team gathers around the ping-pong table each week to brainstorm and check in on projects. Colleagues grab beer after work on Thursdays and check out local downtown events in the summer.
Wilson visits each office at least twice each year and said it’s interesting to experience the different approaches to doing business around the country. But in every office, there’s a feeling of “work hard, play hard.”
“You come to work, you put in the effort, and it’s expected that you’re going to go home and have fun,” Welles said. “I think there’s a really good work life balance that we’re able to accomplish.”
About the Author: Katy Spence is the Communications Director for the Montana High Tech Business Alliance. She worked previously with the Missoula Current and Treesource, and has an Environmental Journalism Master’s Degree from the University of Montana.
About the Publisher: Launched in 2014, the Montana High Tech Business Alliance is an nonpartisan nonprofit association of more than 350 high tech and manufacturing companies and affiliates creating high-paying jobs in Montana. For more information, visit MTHighTech.org or subscribe to our biweekly newsletter.