Having a career in the hospitality industry that spans 40 years is an impressive achievement in its own right. But spending 30 of those 40 years with the same company is certainly a rare feat in this industry. But it describes the career of Howard Pharr, president of HBA, who plans to retire from the company October 1, 2012.
Pharr noted his retirement was far from a sudden decision. In fact, it is part of a plan that has been in place for a number of years.
“The reason for retiring is a very simple one,” he explained. “I’ve been with HBA for 30 years, so it’s been a long career. Having spent 20 years getting ready for a career and 40 years working at that career, I am ready for the next chapter, or perhaps the 4th quarter.
But retiring didn’t just come about, it’s been a several-year plan.”
Pharr is looking forward to pursuing other endeavors such as painting, sailing, and building a new home on Kiawah Island in South Carolina. After years of designing for others, he is excited about this new challenge. He will continue to be consulting with HBA. “It will keep me traveling but certainly not at the pace I’m used to,” he said.
Pharr graduated from Georgia Institute of Technology in 1972 with a degree in Architecture. Having worked for nearly ten years as an architect Pharr was ready to make the transition to interiors. His first interior design project was the Executive Floors at the new world headquarters for the Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta. “It was a great project with very nice, hospitable people,” he said. He was still with architectural firm FABRAP then. He really enjoyed the variety of materials, colors, and textures available in interiors work compared to architecture.
In 1981 Pharr began his career at HBA Atlanta and made his way from associate all the way through being named the President of HBA in 1997. Pharr oversaw HBA’s operations in Atlanta and Dubai. He expanded the Atlanta office while upholding an environment with unwavering high standards of design and passion.
A fond early memory of his at HBA was while working on one of his very first hotels internationally, the Hyatt Regency Cologne, Pharr and the team had been up all night working to get the hotel ready to open the following day. Just as they were finishing, Bernd Chorengel, the President of Hyatt International, came up to him, congratulated him on the project, patted him on the cheek and said, ‘Take a walk around the hotel and see it one last time before it fills with people, you will not have that opportunity again.’ Pharr did, but enjoyed seeing people experience the spaces the next day even more.
With such an expansive career and roster of projects, Pharr has been through it all. When asked what he deemed to be the greatest challenge he has experienced, Pharr commented, “the periodic financial upheavals that drastically affect available projects is the greatest challenge, which seems to happen every 10 years.” Pharr decided that there was a certain kind of high-end hotel that he wanted to work on. “I was willing, even eager to travel to whatever part of the world had such projects, rather than accept whatever was available locally.”
Not many designers can claim to have worked on such a vast roster of esteemed projects such as Pharr. His projects extend to the far-reaching corners of the globe and have won dozens of design awards and honors. In Europe, Pharr designed the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Cologne, Germany and St Regis Grand Hotel in Rome, Italy. In Turkey he worked on the Raffles Hotel Istanbul, which is still in progress. Reaching to South Africa, he worked on the Park Hyatt in Johannesburg. And in the United States Pharr worked on marquee projects such as the Sanctuary at Kiawah Island, Mandarin Oriental New York, St. Regis in Atlanta, Georgia, and Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans.
Pharr’s style was to approach each project with a fervent spirit and a perfectionist lens. He once said that the greatest challenge is designing a great property and giving it the time to perfect it right down to working with the florist on opening day.
When asked what he considers to be the greatest change he’s seen over the last 40 years in hospitality, Pharr commented there have been so many that it would be impossible to pick one. “When I started, we had people using typewriters and pencils – imagine that! Technology has changed our business tremendously, and for the better. But what hasn’t changed is that this business is still about people taking care of people.”
He continued to say, “I have always told our designers that we work together because together we can design projects all over the world that none of us would be considered for individually.” He believes in this philosophy and keeping such a great collection of great designers together as a group has led to a phenomenally good reputation for HBA and his office in Atlanta particularly. He is indeed proud of the work they have all achieved together.
Atlanta’s leadership and continued design excellence is being handed over to a collective of Associates. They include: Sandra Courtner, Bill Smith, Greg Bates, Ira Imerlishvil, Nicole Smith, Betsy Hughes, John Sands, Shawn Kronen and Paul Degenkolb. “Each of these leaders posses passion and conviction for good design. The team of designers in our Atlanta office will be ushered into the next 40 years of innovative design by the best in the business,” said Pharr.
World-renowned as the “Number 1 Hospitality Design Firm” (Interior Design) and winner of six record-breaking awards (2010 Hospitality Design Awards), HBA/Hirsch Bedner Associates, unveils the world’s most anticipated hotels, resorts, and spas. Leading the hospitality interior design industry since 1964, HBA remains keenly attuned to the pulse of changing industry trends governed by today's sophisticated traveler. The company’s international presence, depth of experience, and detailed industry knowledge enables them to identify interior design trends at their source, make definitive predictions about new directions and innovations, and influence design standards at a global level. HBA’s ultimate objective is to add value, raise standards and enhance the brand of a project's owner and operator.
HBA creates the signature look of traditional luxury brands, independent contemporary boutiques, urban resort spas, world-class residences, restaurants, casinos, and cruise ships. From continent to continent, each HBA interior is the result of a unique and sensitive response to location, architecture, and client vision. With over 900 designers around the globe in 15 offices and a recent expansion in Asia, HBA is a true global company with more than 75% of its employees now outside the United States. HBA’s international presence, combined with its extensive knowledge of the interior design industry, has facilitated the ability to rewrite the language of design with each new project.
For HBA in Los Angeles, Atlanta, San Francisco, London, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo, Singapore, Melbourne, New Delhi, Dubai, Beijing, Istanbul, Moscow and Manila, please visit www.hba.com.