Thursday, April 9, 2015

A message from Ron Unterreiner

To my HBE friends:

With the recent news that this company we all know well will cease to accept new business which ultimately will mean operate at a level somewhat foreign to all of us and/or drift off in a Colorado sunset in some manner, I started having many reflections.  Wes has inspired me to share some of these.  I promise to be brief which for all who know my writing style is a promise most likely to be broken.

I suppose many of these thoughts and reflections came about from reading all of Karen’s updates on Gary which triggered many memories.  Gary’s situation is so unfair as he deserved many good years outside of the pressures of high level design and construction.  We all wish we could wave some magic wand over Gary’s tangled up brain and bring him back to his cussin’, pleasin’, sometimes ornery personality.  Personally, I hold out some hope that one day in the future that will happen—time does wonders for many.

I wish there was some way to elevate the reputation of HBE in this marketplace as we (I am going to regress and use the word “we” which certainly includes anyone reading this) have made and continue to make such a significant impact on design and construction in the St. Louis region.  The talent that we brought to St. Louis is quite staggering really and there is not a week that goes by that I do not feel the presence of HBE employees helping to keep the design and construction business happening in our area.  On the massive Wash U/BJC Campus Renewal project, HBE alums have their stamp all over this building, both on the design and engineering side as well as the construction side.  Bill Wagner is one of the key leaders of ACW Alliance, the GC, and Dean Foth will be the lead field guy putting the pieces together.  I could quickly name a dozen more HBE alums that have shaped this project---one of the largest game changing healthcare projects ever in our city.  A little closer to home, Rhodey is about five weeks away from finishing over $35M of improvements at the St. Louis Zoo, all under the vision and the guidance of a kid (David McGuire) who used to  build models in our model shop.  And that ever changing campus at Wash U School of Medicine is all pretty well under the control of ex-HBE professionals who consistently treat all of their HBE brothers and sisters with respect.  Personally, all this HBE induced involvement throughout the St. Louis landscape makes me proud.

I have been missing from the halls on Olive since September of 99 and in my fifteen years of working in St. Louis since, I have watched, met with, worked with, reported to, drank with, lunched with and partied with innumerable HBE alums.  One thing that always hits me when I run across an old friend from the war (pretty close metaphor I suppose) is the level of professionalism, knowledge and work ethic as compared to many others in my path.  We hired some good people and no question, gave employees some outstanding lessons in healthcare design and construction.  You have to admit, we seemed to have no shortage of clients and projects to practice with.

Another observation would be that the quality of documents put out by HBE architects and engineers takes a back seat to no one.  The clarity, completeness and simplicity of our documents is something that others in our marketplace should emulate.  We certainly were not perfect but compared to what I deal with on a daily basis, believe me, we did a professional job and were a credit to our respective professions.  For sure we did not play the “alternate” game that seems to be the way of the times in this market and our addendums, seemingly many through the years, probably pales in number to what I see happening.  The recent Arch Museum project bid by City Arch River had over thirty addendums, sometimes two and three in one day right up to bid time.

I realize the times have changed and hard to compare one era or one client to another but the point I want to make to all ever employed at HBE is to always hold your head up high and be proud of your work and your time helping the clients of HBE realize dreams they never thought possible.  The company may wind down to a fraction of what it once was but there are hospital buildings across this land that never would have existed had it not been for the ability of this company to practice discipline in our work and work within budgets and schedules at no sacrifice to quality.  Through the many years we brought new life and hope to quiet country towns with simple, affordable buildings—buildings with interior spaces that met their needs and that worked well.  That is the way I see it anyway and I would sit and discuss nicely that opinion with anyone that wants to challenge it.

Fred was (I am sure still is) tough, demanding and often times off base when compared to conventional ways of doing business but I will always say that his business ideas were right on—it was simply the implementation of those ideas—the total inflexibility in that implementation—that made all of us toss and turn at night and seek work elsewhere.  What a shame—I always feel a sense of failure in that I was never able to change that over the years by way of my position at HBE and my relationship with Fred.  People are hard to change though; especially successful business people.  Personally, I define success in other ways; many of us do.  In my mind, HBE could have been so much better if we would have just backed off the pedal a notch but then none of truly know the answer to that thought. 

Nice of Wes to organize a site where we can share some ideas and some good memories.  I hope many do and I truly hope they are all positive.  I work hard in my business dealings to always talk high of HBE and our work and especially our impact on our local industry.  There is no reason to do otherwise.  To all still employed at HBE, when the time comes to exit due to lack of work, I can assure you that you have many friends on the outside that will guide you to continued employment.  If not, we will certainly share a drink and a story with you.  We all have plenty of stories.

To all those now employed at other firms or out and about realizing their dreams but reaching back now and then for memories, may we all enjoy the moments of life to come in good health, in peace and free of the stress we have all shared and may we always seek to extend a helping hand to those in need.

I wish all well that are closing down the shop and I sincerely hope that the days and months ahead will bring a soft ending for those still engaged.  You are still performing needed work for good clients that depend on you and that will not go unnoticed.

I hope to bump into many of you in the years ahead—it is always a pleasure.

Ron Unterreiner


  1. Part 2
    On Monday morning about 9:00 AM Ted came by my office and told me to gather up my papers as we were going to see Fred - I expected the worst but the meeting went in a different direction. Fred had spent most of the weekend studying the work we had done on the projections and COMPLIMENTED me on the work that had been done (I believe it was the only REAL compliment I got from him in 10 years). We went through many of the pages of spreadsheets and comment sheets that were attached to each projects summary and Fred had questions and critiques of many of the entries and stated that he was disappointed that others had not brought him similar information in the past. Lesson learned - Fred doesn't like bad news but he HATES bad news not delivered on a timely basis. Ted and I were dismissed and the rest of the day was not particularly pleasant for many others that Fred decided to blame for the bad news.
    From that point forward, my career at HBE was extremely positive. I worked in Cost, Estimating, Purchasing, did some quality control work in HDI, became involved in Adam's Rib, was involved in Operations on a variety of projects and finished my time as a VP in Project Development. I thoroughly enjoyed my relationship with Fred and had some interaction with him about 12 years after leaving as he was looking at changing his involvement in running the company. The ride in the 70's and 80's was pretty wild as the company grew. The quality of people was unparalleled in my previous or subsequent experiences and I still have many folks that are among my friends and acquaintances from those days. As HBE winds down, I wish those that help close things down the best in their current and future endeavors.

    David Hanson

  2. This comment is pretty long
    Part 1
    Ron's comments bring back fond memories of HBE in some of the earlier years. My time at HBE was from 1974 to 1984 (70 employees to 700). The construction and design people were of the highest caliber and the sprinkling of health care consultants, hospital financial professionals, equipment experts and others gave an education to the relatively young that was unparalleled.
    One of my earliest experiences revolved around my initial position as HBE's first cost engineer. I had been recruited by Ted Brown from a small construction company in CT that we had both worked for and followed Ted to St. Louis by about 3 months. Ted had identified 5 projects which he believed were in some level of financial distress (over budget). At the time, there was no organized form for projecting costs on projects other than in accounting. Working with Ted, Ron Unterreiner, others in accounting, Herb Gruber (the chief estimator), John Endebrock (purchasing), and others, we came up with a format for looking at cost to complete and projecting the ultimate profitability of the project. I then embarked on a trip to visit the "problems" in Smithtown, Long Island; White Plains, NY; Spencer, OK; North Detroit, MI; and Orange, CA. The short story is that the projections of final cost that I came up with were, in total, $5-7 mil greater than what the company was carrying at the time. I presented these one by one, as I completed my analysis, to Ted and asked him when we would be bringing the info to Fred - who I had only met in passing up to this time. Finally, at the end of my fifth week on the job, at a time when my wife and 2 1/2 year old son and myself were living in a hotel awaiting our house in Manchester to be completed, Ted told me we were to meet with Fred on Saturday morning to review the information. As you can imagine, Fred did not receive the information well. He accused me of trying to tell him that all of the people above (Ted, Ron, Herb, John, etc.) were idiots and that I was presenting myself as the only one who knew what he was doing. I replied to him that I still had much to learn about how the company worked and that final results on these jobs would probably get worse as a follow up analysis was done (a fact that was to be proved correct). This caused Fred to completely uncork with yelling, waving of arms, pacing up and down and finally suggesting that my presence was not welcome in the meeting and he would determine my future with Ted. I returned to the other end of the floor at 717 Office Parkway and waited for Ted but he did not return for well over two hours, and finally I determined that both he and Fred were no longer in the building. I returned to the hotel and told my wife that perhaps this wasn't going to work out as well as we thought and spent a miserable weekend waiting for Monday. Ted did call me and told me I had done a good job in the meeting but this did not give me much comfort.