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CROFT & Associates

CEO Jim Croft, RA, NCARB (right); and President Mark Jackson, PE, AIA, next to the firm’s wall which displays employees’ professional accomplishments.
CEO Jim Croft, RA, NCARB (right); and President Mark Jackson, PE, AIA, next to the firm’s wall which displays employees’ professional accomplishments.

Building communities and making a difference

By Sigele Winbush

Standing inside the expansive, 13,000-square-foot headquarters of the multi-building campus of CROFT & Associates, one may find it difficult to imagine the award-winning architecture firm’s modest beginnings. Behind the company’s present-day success, however, is the steadfast dedication and unwavering faith of its founder, Jim Croft, who also never imagined this would be his reality.

Despite having known much of his life that he’d wanted to be an architect, starting his own business wasn’t necessarily a part of his vision. According to Jim, God had other plans.

The genesis of Jim’s story can be traced back to his childhood in Albany, Georgia. At the young age of 12, in his seventh-grade industrial arts class, Jim first discovered his passion for what would later become his life’s work. “It seemed to be a new language that I understood but had not yet been taught,” Jim said. “My teacher, Barry Nunley, must’ve recognized it in me because he began taking his own personal time to create assignments that would push me. Finally, one day, he told me I should become an architect. I believe that was the first time I’d heard the word ‘architect’ and it somehow sounded exactly right for me. He encouraged me to go home and ask my parents to purchase a set of drafting tools for me out of a catalog he had. This was the spring of 1972. I still have every piece of that original set of tools!”

From there, Jim was locked in. Further nurtured by his school drafting teacher and mentor, Charles Tyner, he would go on to obtain his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architecture from Georgia Tech before quickly making a name for himself in the industry. However, about 20 years into his career, the path he thought was clearly laid out for him began to shift.

CROFT & Associates CEO Jim Croft.
CROFT & Associates CEO Jim Croft.

“I would say entrepreneurship chose me,” Jim said. “Owning my own company was never on my radar, but I would say my faith guided me here. And I’m glad I trusted God in his direction because it has been an incredibly rewarding experience. CROFT was born out of obedience and I have just maintained that posture daily.”

Jim truly began building from the bottom, first operating out of the basement of his home, taking one ordered step at a time to build what is now one of the top players in the architecture industry in Georgia and beyond. “All I knew to do was show up every day and give my best effort,” said Jim, whose reputation in the industry and the community helped drive the company’s steady growth in its earliest days. But as the company grew, Jim realized he would need support managing the day-to-day operations if he wanted to remain involved in the aspects he loved the most: creating and designing. Jim then received the answer to another prayer by the name of Mark Jackson.

Mark and his firm had been a client of CROFT. Over their years, Mark and Jim developed a great respect for each other. The evolution into partnership seemed to fall into place at the right time. Mark has now been with CROFT for nearly 17 years and in 2023 was promoted from chief operating officer to president, serving alongside Jim as CEO.

They lead with effortless coordination, supported by a leadership team of 10. Four of those executives have been named shareholders: Anthony Iorillo, Jeff Morgan, Kip Stokes, and Stacey Chapman. These shareholders represent the second generation of CROFT employees with a stake in the company — an achievement of which Jim is particularly proud. “I’ve always known that CROFT is bigger than just me,” he said. “Every individual on our leadership team has contributed to the growth we’re experiencing today, and I don’t take that for granted. My long-term goal is for CROFT to be 100-percent employee-owned. It’s what I refer to as ‘Plan A.’ I wanted to create a place of opportunity for thousands of people for generations to come.”

People First, Always
This approach, you could say, is what has made CROFT the success it is today. Jim’s people-centric style has become the foundation of its culture, which extends beyond the boundaries of the company, influencing how CROFT serves its clients and its community. “Culture is the most important thing,” Mark said. “Anyone in our building will tell you that and I do believe it’s what sets us apart. Our core values — ‘doing the right thing,’ ‘taking ownership,’ and ‘passion for excellence’ — drive our work daily, as well as the belief that we can trust one another. We recognize that some days will be difficult and demanding, but we firmly believe that with trust, no circumstance is insurmountable”

The CROFT “second generation”: Anthony Iorillo, SVP Director of Architecture; Jeff Morgan, Director of Operations; Stacey Chapman, SVP Principal of Corporate Strategy; and Kip Stokes, COO.
The CROFT “second generation”: Anthony Iorillo, SVP Director of Architecture; Jeff Morgan, Director of Operations; Stacey Chapman, SVP Principal of Corporate Strategy; and Kip Stokes, COO.

This culture has fostered an engaged, dedicated team. It also supports employee growth. “Right person, right seat,” Mark says often, which is a motto CROFT has followed to ensure every member of its now 95-person staff feels supported and is operating at the pinnacle of their talents, gifts, and interests.

This has all amounted to CROFT having consistent year-over-year growth. In its 20 years as an organization, it has grown in its service offerings, clients, geography, staff size, and revenue. CROFT’s projects currently extend across 42 states, the British Virgin Islands, and abroad. In the past five years in particular, CROFT has tripled its revenue and expanded its offices into four new markets: Denver (2021), Charlotte (2022), Savannah (2023), and most recently Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (2024). “When you really trust your people and are committed to their individual success as much as you are the company’s, the alignment can be transformative,” Jim said. “Many of our major strategic moves have been influenced by our employees and where they saw opportunity for their personal growth as well as the company’s.”

Earl Smith, a CROFT vice president, had a desire to relocate to North Carolina, which led to CROFT’s Charlotte expansion. A strategic hire in Colorado presented an opportunity for CROFT to be closer to its National Park Services projects. Soon after, CROFT’s Vice President of Engineering, Vincent Mazzei, followed and the Denver office was opened. The third satellite location came to be after the wife of senior designer Eric Pettingill received a job offer in Savannah. To support Eric and his family, CROFT proposed a relocation, entrusting him with the responsibility of establishing a presence on the coast. “All three are now leading the efforts in these markets, growing CROFT and growing their own capabilities in the process,” added Jim.

CROFT’s diverse client base, spanning market sectors such as education, ecclesiastical, local and federal government, mission-critical, industrial, commercial, and residential, have contributed to professional growth opportunities for employees. This variety also has played a part in CROFT’s resilience and longevity during challenging times.

For instance, during the 2009 recession, when many architectural firms faced setbacks, CROFT’s ability to design mission-critical data centers, schools, restaurants, churches, and military facilities allowed them to double their revenue in the subsequent two years. Similarly, during the 2020 pandemic, CROFT weathered the storm and maintained stability.

Cultivating a Culture of Innovation
CROFT’s passion for excellence has inherently made innovation a central part of its company’s business model as well. Never satisfied with doing things simply because that’s how they’ve always been done, leadership shares with pride their practice of challenging themselves daily to think outside the box. Jim has instilled in the organizational ethos that architecture is about serving other people’s needs by finding solutions. This dedication to finding the best possible solution for their clients’, partners’, and employees’ needs has created a culture that breeds creativity and ingenuity.

CROFT & Associates’ people-centric style has become the foundation of its culture.
CROFT & Associates’ people-centric style has become the foundation of its culture.

For example, CROFT evolved its services and practices to seamlessly help bridge the design and construction phases of a project. To achieve this, CROFT expanded its hiring pool to include professionals with construction backgrounds. This proficiency helps them efficiently guide their designs through the entire build process and has become a defining characteristic of CROFT. Senior Vice President, Stacey Chapman, took an innovative approach in her focus on employee engagement and development. In 2020, she spearheaded the development of CROFT Cares, and in 2023 she launched CROFT LeadHERship.

CROFT Cares was launched just before the pandemic as the company’s corporate philanthropy program and leverages the passion and talents of its employees to create real benefit for individuals in need. CROFT had always prioritized giving back to the community, but the formalization of its efforts has increased engagement and local impact. Since 2020, CROFT has invested more than $1 million back into local communities and 5,000-plus volunteer hours on average annually. Of the 50-plus charitable organizations supported, more than half were selected by CROFT employees.

The success of CROFT Cares was followed by the emergence of CROFT LeadHERship, a program designed to empower women within the organization and to connect them with influential leaders in the Architecture/Engineering/Construction (AEC) industry and the community at large. From its first introduction, it was met with huge support. “We are fortunate to be surrounded by allies who want to see the women in our organization succeed and have a seat at the table,” said Stacey, who leads the effort alongside associate Anna Adams. “CROFT is a forward-thinking organization that understands the significance of cultivating an environment that encourages the professional growth of its female workforce,” added Mark. The program has not only made a difference on the women within the program but has also contributed to a broader cultural shift within the organization.

Each of the CROFT partners, in fact, have embraced innovation as a key aspect of the culture. Their contributions have in turn significantly influenced the vitality and sustainability of the organization. Kip Stokes, who also holds the position of chief operating officer, developed and runs weekly leadership training sessions for project managers to help prepare the next generation of CROFT leaders. Anthony Iorillo, out of his passion for improving the client experience, established a standard of architectural quality through his design and documentation work. Jeff Morgan’s influence on processes helped to improve the clarity and visibility of the company’s health, enhancing the management team’s effectiveness and its ability to project growth and plan strategically.

All these initiatives have contributed to the company’s reputation, exemplified by its recent accolades. Annually, since 2020, CROFT has been selected as a “Best Places to Work” by the Atlanta Business Chronicle. The Chronicle also has recognized CROFT as one of Atlanta’s top 25 largest architecture firms. In 2021, the Cobb Chamber named the firm “Small Business of the Year.” CROFT also is consistently included on Zweig’s “Hot Firm List,” an annual ranking of AEC firms who have shown marked growth.

But despite the awards and honors, Jim has a much simpler take on how he measures the success of his company in its milestone year. “I’m most proud of building a business that has benefited the lives of many. It’s rewarding to know that each day, under the name of CROFT, this company is growing individuals, supporting families, and building communities. My desire is always to be a good steward of the blessings God has given me and use them to bless others. I’m proud of the individuals who’ve grown with our company from its earliest days. I’m proud of the schools we’ve designed that are now providing students with a quality education. I’m proud of the fire stations we envisioned that house the heroes who save lives daily. I’m proud that as a company we are able to live by our values and make a difference in our communities.”

CROFT & Associates
3380 Blue Springs Rd.
Kennesaw, GA 30144

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