30 Years of DMA: The Beginning
As David Mason + Associates celebrates its 30th year in business, the team thought that highlighting some of the landmark moments in the establishment and growth of the company would provide useful context and maybe a little bit of entertainment for our employees, our clients, customers, and friends. Look for these short installments to appear monthly at davidmason.com and on our social media platforms. And where else to start but the very beginning…
As 1988 rolled into 1989, David Mason was looking to make a change. He was a founding partner of The Design Partnership (TDP) where he was pursuing a lifelong interest in designing residential homes. But, fulfilling that ambition had left him wanting. He needed to find a more viable and more relevant use of his skills as a design professional and an entrepreneur, a business that could withstand the historical cycles of boom and bust that always disrupted the housing market.
As chance would have it, an acquaintance presented David with an opportunity.
Jim Hacking, a neighbor of David’s brother-in-law, was creating a team to respond to yet another “request for proposal,” a frequent event in his job as the marketing manager for Warren & Van Praag (WVP). Jim had met David at back yard bar-b-que’s and family events and knowing he was an architect, he might be a good addition to the team. And so, Jim called David, ostensibly to schedule a meeting to discuss the potential project…but what really happened was the germination of a seed, the start of DMA.
David thanked Jim for considering him for the project, but let Jim know that he was thinking long and hard about breaking away from his architectural practice to create a new firm. Jim Hacking had never been shy about anything, and he also had a keen eye for opportunity. At that moment, he rose from his chair, walked around the desk and closed his office door. He wanted to hear more.
Over the course of that meeting and a couple of other chance encounters – at a bookstore, at the Galleria Mall – David and Jim began to flesh out a concept, a business model. Jim was a surveyor, and wondered whether that skill might add value? David knew another architect, Chuck Jahneke, who might want to join them. They talked about the need for infrastructure repair throughout the region and the nation. They talked about the potential value of being a Minority Owned Business Enterprise, and David’s desire to be the majority partner. A plan was crystalizing, but it needed a formal sit-down and a handshake to finalize a deal.
Rossino’s might have had the best pizza in St Louis, or at least the best pizza near David’s office. It was a small family-owned restaurant in a basement with red and white checkered tablecloths and a low ceiling that contained the pungent aroma of tomato sauce, fresh herbs, and oven fresh dough. Jim, having arrived at 11:30 a.m., still claims that David was late; David, who walked in at 12:15 p.m., insists to this day that Jim was early. A sausage pizza, baked to perfection, waited on the table top.
It was February 1989. A record cold wave gripped St Louis as temperatures hovered in single digits for several weeks, followed by a blizzard that dropped a foot of snow on the City. St. Louis Cardinal baseball great Red Schoendienst was elected to the Hall of Fame. George H.W. Bush had just been sworn in as the nation’s 41st President. The Lexus and Infiniti car brands from Japan were being introduced in America, and an oil tanker ship – the Exxon Valdez – slammed into the Alaska coastline, dumping 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound. On the global stage, as democracy movements were emerging throughout Eastern Europe and the Soviet empire’s grip on its satellites began to ease, a frustrated and defeated Soviet army withdrew from Afghanistan.
And so, it began. Over a sausage pizza at Rossino’s, David and Jim reached an agreement about the company they would form. Shortly after lunch that day, Jim gave Warren & Van Praag his notice. The two soon-to-be partners met again over lunch at Favazza’s Restaurant with architect Chuck Jahneke, who agreed to become the third equity partner of David Mason & Associates.
In March of 1989, DMA incorporated and leased a small space in a single story, red-brick building at the corner of Macklind and Manchester in the City of St. Louis. They crowded into a single room office – David, Jim, and Chuck along with a drafter, Annette Coleman, and a part-time bookkeeper – working on folding tables and chairs. Jim and David would arrive early, work at their desks for part of each morning then spend the bulk of the daylight hours meeting potential partners and clients. Late afternoons they returned to the office for more desk work. Their work occasionally interrupted by the sound of freight trains chugging past on the far side of Macklind Avenue.
For 18 months the partners took no salary. David and Jim’s wives, Christine and Cissy, carried the business with the money they earned: Christine as a television news anchor; Cissy, a school teacher.
“It was a scary time,” Jim remembered recently. “No one knew who the hell we were.”
But soon, that would change.