Chris Herman decided he wanted to do more than just design buildings: He wanted to make his designs come alive.
Although Herman studied architecture at the University of North Carolina–Charlotte and worked as an architect for several years, he felt it just wasn’t enough. So, about three years ago, he began looking for opportunities on the development side of the business to satisfy that nagging urge.
At the same time, Carl Frinzi was tasked with hiring someone to grow Balfour Beatty Construction’s multifamily portfolio. And as fate would have it, he had his sights set on Herman.
“I wanted somebody I knew had the potential to manage and build a business,” says Frinzi, a senior vice president and business unit leader for Balfour’s multifamily division. “Chris had connections with a lot of developers in North Carolina as well as a lot of design partners.”
Thus began Herman’s impressively quick path to success in his new profession, and his selection as MFE’s Rising Star of 2014.
‘A Hell of a Salesman’
After meeting Herman, Frinzi outlined what he was looking to do and asked Herman what he thought about the plan to grow Balfour Beatty Construction’s multifamily business. Herman erupted into a flood of ideas and plans with excitement and charisma.
“He just went off,” Frinzi says. “I asked him, ‘What would you do if you were the guy that we picked?’ and, ‘What makes you think you can do it?’ He just went down this road with me and I liked everything I heard. We spent two or three other interviews together. Then, I asked him to formalize his thoughts and he did just an outstanding job with it. He’s a hell of a salesman.”
Herman, 33, now vice president of multifamily housing for Balfour Beatty Construction Services, began working for the company in December 2011, and Frinzi has since watched him blaze ahead with determination.
The company set a goal of $50 million for Herman in 2012; he doubled down and secured more than $108 million that year by striking several high-end deals. One relationship that proved particularly fruitful was the reeling in of a multicommunity development project with Charlotte-based Faison.
The Faison deal would launch Herman’s name into new markets as the two companies embarked on several projects together, including one in Nashville, Tenn., and another in Atlanta. By 2013, Herman proved to be quite an asset to Balfour as he closed on over $300 million in revenue. Currently, his team has 15 jobs in the pipeline and 12 under active development across North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and South Carolina.
But some of the most notable projects he’s worked on—such as the $31 million Gateway West Apartments, the first of the Faison projects he started—are found right in Herman’s backyard.
Queen City Roots
The overwhelming majority of Herman’s business, about 86 percent, comes from word of mouth or repeat clients. And Brian Natwick is a testament to that.
Natwick, president of locally based Crescent Communities’ multifamily division, was drawn to do business with Balfour Beatty mainly because he had met Herman years ago.
“I think his approach and perspective on multifamily construction is very unique because of his background,” Natwick says. “He has both an architecture and a construction background, so he thinks like a developer but can see how architects do things too.”
The duo broke ground on the 296-unit Crescent Dilworth Apartments in Charlotte in September 2013. In July, Herman stopped by the jobsite to scope out where things were.
One of the project engineers had just finished a “mock-up unit” for the Crescent team to tour. The unit was built with all of its finishes so the developer could experience what the complete unit would look and feel like long before the final units were built.
“We try to figure out which finishes to use and we install them so we can see what problems might be there beforehand,” Herman says. “It allows us and the teams of [subcontractors] to figure out what might not work. And it gives our customer a chance to see what they might like and might not like.”
Though a sample unit isn’t part of the company’s standard operating procedure, it’s one of those value-add touches that Herman likes to bring to a jobsite, another emblem of his comprehensive approach to customer satisfaction.
“Those decisions were all made now, before the wood framing is even started,” he says. “It helps move things along.”
The project is ahead of schedule, and Herman attributes a lot of the success to the seamless working relationship his team has with Crescent.
“He’s very solution oriented,” Natwick says. “He’s looking for solutions that are not only cost effective but are meeting his clients’ objectives. He is big-picture focused, and he has an emphasis on relationships.”
While Crescent Dilworth Apartments is a $38 million project, the dollar signs aren’t what piqued Herman’s interest. He’s always been partial to Charlotte and rightfully so, since he was raised there. Herman has watched with pride as the city has grown into a thriving metropolis during his lifetime.
“It’s very exciting,” he says. “I can remember the days when you didn’t go downtown after 5 p.m. and definitely not on the weekends because it was a place to work, and it wasn’t the safest place to be.”
In addition to contributing to the city’s growth by developing apartments, he also dedicates his own time and staff to many community-service projects.
One recent effort was a community cleanup day, where Balfour Beatty staffers painted fences, picked up trash, and built sidewalk “libraries” in community spaces for neighbors to enjoy. These libraries are like little birdhouses sprinkled throughout Charlotte neighborhoods, where anyone at any time can take books with no obligation to return them within a specific time. A box of donated books sits in the company’s break room, and team members have vowed to keep the libraries stocked.
Herman’s almost bashful demeanor when talking about his accomplishments only adds to his charm.
When asked about the portfolio he’s building or the way he gives so much back to his community, he simply replies, “I couldn’t have done anything without the people I work with.”
And although he may not admit how successful he really is, his coworkers rave about his dedication and enthusiasm.
Casey White, a senior project manager, took the job at Balfour Beatty mainly to work with Herman. White admires Herman’s work ethic and motivation.
“You don’t have to worry about job security with Chris around,” he says. “He understands the product we are building and can secure deals upon deals. That gives a real advantage because I think a lot of folks are just getting into multifamily and don’t really know what they’re doing.”
Tim Spano, a senior project manager, was part of Balfour Beatty before Herman arrived and was working on a project that Herman stepped into mid-development. He is now working on several projects alongside Herman, just trying to keep pace.
“Chris just keeps getting work,” Spano says. “He’s constantly interviewing people and looking at new projects. There’s no doubt he brings in business. Our job is just to try and keep up with him. Whatever he brings us, we build it.”
At any given moment, Herman could be watching one of his sites. While listening in on a conference call and answering questions from the revolving door of coworkers dropping into his office, one of his computer screens almost always will have a remote camera shot of one of the projects. And he tries to get out to the sites as often as possible, which is why he’s traveling most days.
“When he is here, you have to catch him when he’s in his office,” Spano says. “Because if you don’t, you’ll turn around and he’s running out to see something over here or there. A lot of VPs would just communicate with their project managers, but he calls our supers and he wants to know what’s going on. He talks to the engineers and our subs. He’s just more involved than a normal VP.”
As a child, Herman dreamed of living in Dilworth, Elizabeth, or Myers Park—affluent neighborhoods in the Charlotte area. And although he ended up buying a house in Elizabeth, he doesn’t forget where he came from.
“The neighborhood I grew up in was working class,” he says. “We had a community pool and neighborhood baseball teams.”
Herman also spent many years as a renter during his college days and the early part of his career. And while he may not have known then that apartments would be a big part of his career path, he was taking notes all along.
“When I lived [in my first apartment building], the trash wasn’t easily accessible,” he says. “You’d find trails of trash juice all along the corridor—I took note of little things like that. And using that experience, I try to help developers and architects design things to make them more livable.”
Countless cumulative hours of being stuck in a parking garage during rush hour flash into his mind when Herman visits new developments where parking areas are being built.
“I lived in one building where you had to go up to park,” he says. “But there were 60 of us leaving and only 30 spaces per level, so you’d sit a while when you wanted to get out in the morning.”
He also despises designs that include balconies with slats or cracks on their floors, which allow moisture to drip through to the balcony below.
“They’re horrible, because if you’re sitting out on your balcony and someone drops something above you, you’re soaked,” he says.
After hours, you may catch Herman cringing in front of his television as he watches home renovation shows and thinks about how ideas can or can’t be applied to his developments.
“Sometimes, I have to change the channel, because they’re doing something wrong and it just kills me,” he says. “Then, I eventually turn back to see how it all turned out.”