When Rice & Gardner Consultants Inc. was founded in 2005, it was an opportunity to merge two complementary services: program management and MEP engineering. However, more importantly, the company’s inception was based on a vision: to truly serve their clients and the communities in which they worked, both in the Houston area and throughout the state of Texas. They wanted their business efforts to also be an influence for positive change. This common value can be seen through both business and personal ventures undertaken by the firm, with President, Jim Rice, leading the way.
A year after incorporation, the firm added building commissioning services, perceiving a high demand within the industry. Commissioning also rounded out the other services as each discipline lent a natural insight into the other. Staffing Program/Project Manager, Engineers, and Commissioning Authorities gives Rice & Gardner’s clients the benefit of multiple perspectives for each project.
The company rapidly grew over the next decade – so rapidly that they were recognized four times in their first eleven years on the Houston Business Journal’s ‘Top 100 Fastest Growing Companies’ list, most recently in 2017. And it was no wonder that the company received this award so often, as the company has enjoyed a 135.95 percent revenue growth since 2012.
Considering themselves to be in the problem-solving business, Rice & Gardner works on a variety of projects for municipalities, private developments, private schools, colleges, universities, restaurants, and dialysis clinics. As an example of this, when Hurricane Harvey hit the state in August 2017, the company stepped in to help with insurance and FEMA recovery claims.
However, with Jim Rice’s background, passion for education, and the state’s rapid population growth (currently twenty-eight million and projected to hit fifty million in the next twenty-five to thirty years), public educational institutions are the biggest market for the company’s services.
One of the team’s largest institutional projects has been managing the Houston Independent School District’s two billion dollar bond that was passed in 2012. This important bond program to replace and repair forty schools, including twenty-nine high schools, throughout the oldest and largest school district in the state of Texas, is a project that comes along once in a century, but for Rice & Gardner, this type of project is one that is right up their alley.
Rice said that he feels like every school building the company works on is a notable project because it is a building that will serve generations of children who will pass through the doors. And the company is proud of that.
“More than any other public building in the U.S., a school represents the hopes and dreams that parents have for their children to get a good education and to be prepared to be successful in life, so it’s a very positive thing to be associated with something like that,” said Rice. “It’s a public school where so many children’s lives will be influenced by their teachers and volunteers who work in the schools, and hopefully they will go on and pay it forward when they are adults.”
However, one school district Rice & Gardner won’t be involved with is Fort Bend ISD, the largest school district in the country located just outside Houston city limits. Certainly not because it’s an undesirable district to do business with, but because Rice is a long-time resident of Fort Bend County and wanted to give back to his own community in a more personal way by serving as a school board trustee for the Fort Bend Independent School District. Rice’s pivotal role in the Fort Bend community precludes Rice & Gardner from conducting any business for the district, something that would certainly be within their wheelhouse. Rice is also one of the founding members for Fort Bend Cares, a charitable organization, established in 2004 to service the needs of underprivileged youth in the county. Simply put, Rice’s care for his community far supersedes his financial and business interests.
Despite Rice’s strong local reputation, Houston is not necessarily an easy market in which to establish such a strong foothold in the engineering community. Rice readily acknowledges that there are plenty of competitors who do what Rice & Gardner does, but he feels that the firm’s success boils down to people.
“We’re in the service industry, and we have to have drive to get these projects completed,” said Rice.
“We are always trying to please our clients, and our clients give us challenging tasks and projects, and we accept those challenges and work really hard to get things done,” Rice explained. “In order to do that we look for people who have the desire to do a good job for our clients, people with drive, and it’s something that can’t be taught – beyond their educational background and their work experience. They either have it, or they don’t.”
Rice also feels that it is about teamwork. They have to be able to work and play well with other people. “No one person can possess all of the requested skill and knowledge necessary to complete these projects alone… as a team we get things done, or we haven’t given the client any value. Clients recognize [our] desire and drive to do things well for them,” stated Rice. This is probably why the company has managed to increase to twenty-five people over the last thirteen years, and has attracted a loyal team who are given lots of opportunity to grow in their careers.
Clare Burton, senior marketing executive for Rice & Gardner, agreed with the perception that her colleagues all share the same passion. “As a smaller organization, everyone is very passionate about what we do – our organization and serving our clients.”
“We are working for three school districts and doing private schools and a lot of other projects, and that provides opportunities for the staff to learn new things and work on different projects – which benefits them professionally,” said Rice.
Rice also said that he would love to keep his employees forever but understands that that is not always possible, and as such, he is pleased that, with the opportunities they get at his firm, if they leave, they have a body of work that will serve them well in their future.
For the future, according to Rice, “if you’re not growing, you’re dying.” He firmly believes that if Rice & Gardner does a good job for clients and takes care of them, then they will continue to get more work and grow organically. Along the way, they may encounter an opportunity to open other offices in other cities.
In addition to the values they hold regarding customer service, Rice & Gardner feels just as strongly about the impact their buildings are leaving behind. They are heavily engaged in sustainable design and work with the US Green Building Council on LEED-certified building projects because it is very important that they design and operate their buildings in a sustainable way.
In fact, fourteen of the company’s buildings are certified as LEED, LEED Silver or LEED Gold, and thirteen more are pending certification.
“Texas is a large state, but they have not always done things the right way and have sprawled out,” said Rice. “How we provide ways to produce sustainable design is very important. It means Texas may have to become much more urban and more dense, so the impact or the footprint of the built environment on the earth is minimized. We’re not going to go back to living in teepees, and we’re not going to get people to move out of the city and live off the land. But we have to come up with a happy medium where we are careful to minimize the negative aspects of construction on the earth’s resources,” said Rice.
As they say in Texas, that is a business you can hang your hat on.