1971 was an eventful year: my parents got married, Walt Disney World opened and Frank Hersom began his career with HOK.
He just didn’t know it yet.
Frank, a Utah native who picked up Danish from serving a two and a half year mission in Denmark, joined CRSS in Houston in 1971. CRSS became part of HOK in 1994 and Frank is now celebrating his 40th anniversary in Houston.
“I am sure others will talk about Frank’s professional skills in the engineering group and his success in managing complex projects, but the thing that stands out to me most about Frank is his positive attitude,” said Hugh Painter, one of Frank’s longtime colleagues in the Houston office. “In 26 years of working together, I have never heard him say anything derogatory or negative.
“When problems arise on a project or in the office, he will smile or make a joke to put everyone at ease and then he starts working on a solution. His positive outlook is contagious and makes HOK a better place to be.”
Frank shared with us some highlights of the past 40 years:
How did you end up in Houston?
I was working for a small engineering firm in Utah and decided I wanted to try something different, so I found, as we called it back then, a “flesh-peddler.” I sent him my resume and he lined three opportunities up for me in Houston. I interviewed with an engineering firm and I saw a nice conference room and three people, but when I came to CRSS, I saw a lot of energy and excitement and activity. I thought, “This is where I want to work.” That was the start of it.
We originally thought we’d go to Texas, make a little bit of money and go back to Utah. We realized that though Utah is a great place, we really liked Texas. I realized that I would never have the same types of projects there that I have here.
Could you tell me about your HOK journey?
I was in the engineering group with CRSS until 1990, and I started doing project management work there in 1987. It was then, in 1990, that they moved me over to the architecture side for project management. The leader of the MEP group had passed away in 1985, and I was his assistant, so they asked me to step in and hold things together for two years before they promoted Gary Kuzma from within to manage the group.
I was out of town when I got the news that HOK had acquired CRSS. It was a big surprise, but has been very good for me personally.
HOK has given me a lot of opportunities. I have no complaints about the opportunities for growth and projects and the types of projects we’ve been blessed to work on this in this office. I do, on occasion, speak with friends in the industry who are with different companies and realize that we have a lot more exciting projects than most offices.
What is one of the most memorable projects of your career so far?
A very memorable one was the Lunar Sample Curatorial Facility that we designed in 1975. In layman’s terms, that’s the moon rock lab at NASA. I designed all of the piping for that. They took us out to their temporary holding lab. We had to go through air showers and put on special clean-room clothing and we were able to go through their laboratory. I’m not a geologist – even though I took some classes in college, it was never of great interest to me – but here I was, one or two feet away from lunar samples. Just getting to work with the scientists on that project was enjoyable.
Within the last year, we were called back out to NASA to renovate that laboratory and replace the air handlers. So we got to meet with those scientists again and renew that enthusiasm and that relationship. Now, that lab doesn’t just have moon rocks. They have what they call “astro materials,” all the bits of dust and elements they have from outer space – dust from the tails of comets and other samples like that.
What is your favorite part of this job?
We get to see and, to some extent, participate in what everybody else does. I’ve done a lot of master plans, so it’s gone from manufacturing to medical and research to science to education to the oil industry. It’s very interesting to see all of the opportunities and the way things are done.
The first thing is the speed at which we have to deliver projects. That has changed drastically – now things are so fast. You used to draw everything on the drawing board and it gave you a lot of thinking time to put something together and fully develop it. Unfortunately, I think we’re sometimes robbed of that time. While we can put things together much more quickly, I’m not sure that we ought to be.
The other thing is that, when I first started, money was a big deal, but it wasn’t as important in construction as it is now. Everything is so expensive and everybody’s looking for ways to cut money out of a project.
What has stayed the same?
The necessity for good architecture and good engineering. There are a lot of bad examples out there. There are some nice ones as well, but not everybody appreciates it.
Where do you go from here?
(laughs) Well, I’m not going to work forever. I do have other activities I plan on picking up when I retire.
Over these 40 years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many talented, very good folks. That has really been good for me. I feel like I’ve been able to work with the cream of the crop. It’s been a very good journey and I have no regrets.