Business Q & A

A conversation with David White

David White is the new president of Howard & Helmer Architecture, though "new" is a relative term.

"Frankly, I've been kind of functioning that way for a while," he said. "Nothing's really changed. Just kind of the title happened."

Former president and firm co-founder John Howard is still with the company and plans to stay several more years.

"John's not ready to retire," White said. "You just look ahead five years... and realign."

White, a Wichita native and K-State graduate, is one of 24 employees at the firm. That's down from a peak of about 38.

The company had to make some cuts, primarily in its Kansas City office.

"The Kansas City market has just been hit very hard," White said. "Kansas City has been much harder hit than Wichita."

Did you always plan to become an architect?

"I honestly never really growing up had that heartfelt passion to go be an architect. ... That never really was my driving force in life."

You did, though, work in construction and take drafting classes, which led you to the career, right?

"Architecture seemed to be a pretty good fit."

Was it the right choice?

"Well, I've been doing it for 30 years now.... I made a choice, and it stuck anyway."

What do you like about the job?

"I like the fact that architecture is really a combination of construction and art. Basically as you're designing a building, you're designing a piece of sculpture that will function to serve the needs of a company.

"We get those golden opportunities every now and then when a client wants to do something beyond the ordinary and... express their company in architecture."

What have been some of your favorite projects?

"My family and I (are) active members at Central Christian Church. We did the new worship center. ... It's a 3,000-seat auditorium.

"It means a lot when you do something like that for your own church."

You're also particularly proud of the Commerce Bank building at the Waterfront, aren't you?

"Once again, the clients wanted something better than ordinary. Those are the ones that are kind of fun to do."

What are your biggest headaches at work?

"Currently, the headaches in the business are getting the business.

"Of course, the economy is just strangling anything that's related with construction. ... If no one's wanting to build, then they don't need an architect."

So how do you go about getting new business?

"Basically, anything in life comes down to relationships. I don't care if it's family, if it's work.... It ultimately comes down to relationships."

We're told we should ask about your car. What is it?

"I have a 1961 Austin-Healey. It's just bright red, so if you ever see this red flash going past you, it's me."

Exactly how fast do you typically flash by?

"I usually stretch the speed limit. That's all I'll say there."

Any other hobbies?

"Frankly, I love yard work. I find yard work is a great stress relief.

"I'd like to fish more if I had more time, but that just never seems to happen."

You also have a family ranch in southeast Kansas?

"I enjoy working the cattle with my father-in-law and brother-in-law... and my two sons.

" (I'm) kind of a city boy but still like the country."

What keeps you up at night?

"I'm like most businessmen. There are times you wake up in the middle of the night when something from work is on your mind. I'd be better off if I would get up and go to work because I never get back to sleep."

When we first asked you what's one thing no one knows about you, you asked for extra time. So what did you come up with?

"I woke up at 3:30 this morning, and guess what was on my mind? Your question.

"It took me about an hour or so to fall back to sleep. And I can't find the answer."