40 Years Creating Better Places

From an interview with Rick Hitchcock, Founder of Hitchcock Design Group

Take a look into the last 40 years of Hitchcock Design Group and the steps we’ve taken to become a successful company in 2020:

In 1979, Richard Hitchcock (28 years old) was working for a well-known landscape architecture company, but he didn’t find the work “professionally satisfying” due to the old-fashioned culture of the company. He felt the communication and feedback process between the designer and the client was worth exploring further. Rick knew there had to be a “better way.”

On December 28, 1979, when Naperville, Illinois was booming with life and development, Rick took a leap of faith and began his own company in the place where he had lived for all his life.

Just a little over a year later, Rick had his “lightbulb moment.” On the 150th anniversary of Naperville, they decided to reinvent the Naperville Riverwalk. An architect took a chance on Rick and hired him to work on the project. They presented their concept to the Naperville Riverwalk Commission, which consisted of many dignitaries in the Naperville area, including Jim Moser. Jim had Rick do the planting plan for the riverwalk because Jim knew that the plan needed to focus about more than just the structures along the riverwalk.

In 1984, the first phase of the Naperville Riverwalk was constructed and dedicated. From there, Rick worked on riverfronts all over the country, especially in the Midwest area (Batavia, Aurora, West Dundee, Waukesha, etc.). He knew that his specialized expertise in riverwalks would help him to build a portfolio that formulated the perfect “cookbook” on how to design and build a successful riverfront. “It was a combination of being naive and cocky enough to do something on my own.
“The Naperville Riverwalk gave me a brand.”

“When people started calling me about their riverfronts, I thought ‘Well there’s something here that’s bigger than the design of this one project,’” Rick said. Rick’s experience in riverfront design has become a catalyst for the area, for the profession, and for Hitchcock Design Group.

Rick was then asked to lecture at his alma mater, the University of Illinois. When he first arrived at the university, they asked where his slide deck was, but rather than talk about an interesting project he designed, he was there to talk about his true passion – running a successful business.

“Design was always interesting, but I realized what’s most important for me was branding and process. Growing the business was fascinating to me.”

Rick kept asking himself why there weren’t any large powerhouse landscape architecture firms in the state of Illinois, and he realized that maybe nobody knew how to run a successful business based solely on landscape architecture and planning.

From there came a series of “Aha!” moments for Rick:

What’s changed since the start of the company? We’ve vastly improved our network, connectivity between offices, communication, and graphic capabilities, and we’ve invested in new technology, employees, geography, marketing, etc. all in an effort to keep moving forward.

What led us to the point we’re at now? Simply put, a shared knowledge of expertise.

“I think it was just the concept all along that we needed to share information, to share control, to share power, to share influence, to share leadership responsibilities, etc.”

“I really just rejected the notion of a business model where there was a ‘star,’ because what happens then is other people get burnt out and leave; they go somewhere where they can find their legs,” Rick said.

That’s why in 1993, we embraced the way Jim Sikich modeled his company in that there’s power in partnerships: “A lot of employees and people who have skin the game see an opportunity to grow professionally and to move forward and learn. 40 years later, we’re here and stable. That’s quite uncommon.”