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2012 SmallBiz Success Awards

18 Hawaii small businesses are finalists for Hawaii Business magazine's SmallBiz Success Awards

(page 6 of 8)

Principals James Freeman (left), Ralph Shelbourne (center) and
Benjamin Candari started their boutique firm, FSC Architects, to
get back to day-to-day designing with clients.
Photo: David Croxford

New Business Winner:
FSC Architects

Starting an architecture firm in the middle of a recession was a risky move.

“Yes, some thought we were crazy,” says James Freeman, one of the three partners and principals at two-year-old FSC Architects. “But, we saw an opportunity and decided to take it.”

Freeman and his business partners, Ralph Shelbourne and Benjamin Candari, had all worked together on previous projects and each had the right skill set to bring to the drafting table.

The trio decided to open a boutique firm that moved away from the conventional, large corporate structure. “One of our biggest selling points is that each client is assigned a principal and gets his full-time attention for the duration of the project,” says Freeman.

“We wanted to get back to architects designing day to day with their clients. This means our clients get a real high-touch, hands-on approach.”

In theory, such a model may limit how much volume a company can take on, but the partners insist it doesn’t affect profitability. The new firm grossed $2 million in its first year and revenues are projected to continue growing.

Specializing in hotel and hospitality properties, all of the firm’s current clients are overseas, primarily throughout Asia. In fact, FSC is one of the few firms in the world that can say it designed a property in Tibet.

James Ravi, president of G Charlton Hotels & Resorts Malaysia, a client of FSC, remains impressed by the company’s organization and commitment to a project. “They have the capacity to build large-scale hotel projects, and always gain the respect of all of our colleagues and owners,” says Ravi.

What advice would they offer to other small-business owners? The trio, seated in a semi-circle around Freeman’s desk, all chime in. “Choose your business partners well,” says Shelbourne.

“Prepare to risk,” advises Candari.

Freeman emphasizes respect and building relationships with clients. “Hawaii is the best melting pot in the world. If you can’t learn to get along here, you won’t get along anywhere,” he says.

With an international clientele, the three founders are well aware that their cross-cultural skills, combined with 15 years’ experience designing projects throughout Asia, has positioned them to handle the rising demand for international hospitality development.

- Tara Zirker

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