As far as founders go, Fran Henderson was legendary. A math genius, skilled engineer, and company culture visionary, he opened Henderson Engineers on March 16, 1970 to create an environment where people came first. Fran traded in his white button-down and tie for new office attire (jeans and what became his trademark bucket hat), and the new team of three began to pursue work in many of the same verticals we do today.
It wasn’t long before the early #TeamHenderson made a name for ourselves as fast and efficient, particularly in grocery and retail design. By doubling down on the importance of technical quality and client service, we earned the attention and business of several trailblazing brands — many of which we still work with today.
Throughout the 80s, Henderson began building a portfolio of repeat clients and a reputation for technical efficiency, problem-solving, and client service. Pretty soon, our client roster included grocery and retail stores, restaurants, schools, and office buildings on Kansas City’s famous Country Club Plaza.
Near the end of the decade, Fran’s son, Duane Henderson, took over and led us through 25 years of successful growth. We also had an unexpected visit from two Bentonville execs, which started what remains our longest-lasting client relationship. In 1989, Walmart asked for help with a new store concept combining retail and grocery under one roof, and we haven’t looked back or stopped innovating retail design since then.
The 90s introduced acid washed jeans and a lot of fresh faces. New clients like Sprint, Blockbuster, Applebee’s, Sonic Drive-In, and Harps helped the firm grow from five to 100 employees. One new face would eventually change the trajectory of the company. Rich Smith, our firm’s former President and CEO, became Henderson’s 50th employee joining just as Fran was stepping into retirement.
Henderson had several other milestones this decade, including a new company logo featuring the “Power H,” and the introduction of three specialty divisions — Impact Illumination, Fire Dynamics, and Collective Tech — which are all services we still offer today. We also held our first client golf tournament, an event so legendary it has expanded to four locations around the country.
Henderson opened a lot of new doors over the next 10 years — literally. We established six of our nationwide offices as we doubled in size, again. We also landed our first venue project, Matthew Knight Arena at the University of Oregon, which has since led to game-changing projects for collegiate and professional sport teams across the country. We also helped repair damage from Hurricane Katrina for clients like Walmart, Office Depot, and the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
It was also around this time that we solidified #TeamHenderson as we expanded our family of services by introducing Henderson Building Solutions. This new group specialized in commissioning, construction management, and all the logistics and supply chain needs in between.
By 2010, our iconic projects were coast-to-coast, and Henderson officially is too with offices opening in New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. At this time, we had a leadership change as Duane Henderson officially retired and passed the role of President/CEO onto Rich Smith — a position he held for 9 years.
Fran’s once small team has grown to 900+ employees, but his founding principles have remained the same. Quality standards became an entire department dedicated to quality control and technical training. Parking lot beers turned into monthly office happy hours. And, helping fix a Habitat for Humanity house transformed into paid time-off to volunteer. Half a century of changing the industry… and we’re just getting started.
In what was supposed to be a celebration of Henderson’s 50th anniversary, the 2020s began with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through these challenges, we adapted to changing health restrictions and continued our commitment to integrating sustainable, resilient design concepts into our standard business practices.
The beginning of 2022 brought new senior leadership as Kevin Lewis became the CEO & President of Henderson Companies, replacing former CEO Rich Smith. We restructured to align our nationwide engineering and construction experience into six sectors: Business, Community, Grocery & Distribution, Health, Retail, and Venue. We also prioritized our focus on employee equality through our DE&I initiatives and proudly became an ESOP.
Seem like a lot? It is. We work hard.
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We've been casual since before casual Fridays were a thing.
Looking back is only half of the Henderson story as we’re really more focused on what’s coming next. We’re pretty proud of what we’ve accomplished in the past five decades, but we can’t help but think our next 50 years will be the best ones yet. See how we’re keeping focused on what got us here in the first place.
We’re just as committed to technical excellence and creative solutions today as we were in 1970. See how we’ve helped our clients bring their projects to life.
We love what we do so we’re always trying to stay on top of the latest design trends and best practices. Check out recent insights shared by our experts.
We wouldn’t be where we are today without hiring some of the smartest (and coolest) people in the industry. Learn what makes Henderson a special place to work.