Small Business Profile: Paradigm Braces for Growth

Engineers see jump in seismic business

Leena Rao

Structural engineer Kurt Lindorfer prides himself and his company on being accessible to clients 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In fact, on a recent vacation to Hawaii, Lindorfer was up until 3 a.m. daily helping a client solve a problem on the East Coast.

“When a client asks me to jump, I say how high,” said Lindorfer, founder and CEO of San Francisco-based Paradigm Structural Engineers. With this year’s revenue expected to reach $3.2 million, growing by nearly 25 percent from last year, Paradigm has landed big-name clients like Bank of America Corp., T-Mobile USA Inc. and Bayer Pharmaceuticals Corp., on structural engineering projects from San Francisco to New York. He has 21 employees on staff, growing from two employees at the company’s start in 1999.

Paradigm’s expertise is in seismic design, basically providing structural elements that allow a building to withstand the ground motion associated with earthquakes. It both designs new buildings and retrofits existing ones to endure seismic activity.

Paradigm’s client list ranges from the financial industry to retail to “mission critical” businesses such as a laboratories, hospitals, data centers or other important 24-hour operations that could incur significant losses in the case of an earthquake.

Lindorfer attributes the growth of his niche business to the company’s ability to satisfy his client needs, whatever they may be. “In our business time is money. Whenever a contractor is working on a building, they can’t afford to wait for an engineer to get back to them for clarification on a structure,” Lindorfer said. “My clients appreciate that I am sensitive to their time frame and budget.”

Michael Downey, an architect with architecture and design firm Gensler, has worked with Lindorfer and Paradigm on several projects in the past 10 years. Paradigm’s strength, according to Downey, is the combination of a expansive knowledge base and stellar client relations. “When I call, someone always picks up the phone. That is a luxury in our industry,” Downey said. He recalled Paradigm’s strength in a seismic retrofit design of an MCI building at 1330 Broadway in Oakland. Downey said Lindorfer and his team were able to come up with fast solutions, “taking the most detailed knowledge and translating it into something that was easy to understand for the rest of the team.”

Lindorfer’s passion for structural engineering has been lifelong. After working with engineering firms in California and Nevada, he cofounded Paradigm in 1999 with a fellow engineer (who has since left the firm) with the ambition to provide quality knowledge to clients and greater opportunities to employees.
Working on large-scale commercial real estate development projects can be challenging, Lindorfer said. With teams of architects, contractors and mechanical engineers, the company often finds itself in the midst of battling egos and entrenched corporate cultures. So respect is the nameā€¢ of the game in dealing with these consulting projects. He makes sure to maintain extensive communications with the client and members of the team of architects and engineers. “In the end, I am not only helping protect a client’s asset, but I am helping to provide security for the building and those that work in it,” Lindorfer said.

One of the greatest challenges the company has faced was an astronomical increase in its lease rates a few years ago for the company’s office space in downtown San Francisco. The added cost left the company teetering on the edge of collapse while it searched for more affordable offices. Lindorfer slashed costs by cutting employees’ salaries and bonuses, including eliminating his own bonus for the year. “It wasn’t glamorous, but it was effective,” said Lindorfer. “And it kept us alive.”

Lindorfer eventually found an affordable space in 2005.

Although Lindorfer has seen a decline in commercial real estate development as a result of the current economic conditions, Paradigm’s diversification into industries such as the health-care sector, has helped safeguard its revenue stream and aided the company’s continued growth. He is considering expanding operations east, with the hope of opening an office in the Mid-Atlantic area and becoming a bi-coastal business. (415) 288-4966