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1001 Madison Avenue
Toledo, Ohio 43624-1535
Telephone: (419) 255-3830
Fax: (419) 255-6101
Web site:

Private Company
1948 as A.H. Samborn & Associates
Employees: 600
Sales: $81 million (2004)
NAIC: 54310 Architectural Services; 5431330 Engineering Services

SSOE Inc. is a leading architectural and engineering firm with 11 offices in California, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee, Washington, Puerto Rico, and Shanghai, China. The company employs approximately 600 professionals, providing various services in a wide range of markets, including automotive and part suppliers, chemical, commercial, education and athletic, energy, food, healthcare, manufacturing, personal care, pharmaceutical, and retail. The company operates one wholly owned subsidiary, SSOE Systems, Inc., a provider of integrated solutions with single point responsibility from design and startup, to procurement and troubleshooting.

1940s Origins

SSOE Inc. began in 1948 when founder A.H. Samborn, a structural engineer, signed his first contract with Spurgeon Conveyor Company to design a material handling system for converting a boiler plant from oil to coal. Samborn called his company A.H. Samborn & Associates, but renamed it Samborn, Steketee and Associates after fellow structural engineer Jack N. Steketee joined the firm in 1949 to help with the increasing number of projects. The fledgling company initially worked only on small material handling design and structural steel detailing projects. In 1950, the company completed its first industrial architectural project by building a diesel repair shop for Toledo Terminal Railroad, and provided all the structural steel detailing for the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, then the largest all-welded rigid frame structure in existence. Over the next few years, the company took on new challenges, including projects for such clients as The Andersons, Ford Motor Company, and Surface Combustion, the firm's first repeat client.

By 1953, the firm had 32 employees, and the following year the company diversified into highway design services with its first project in designing highway improvements for U.S. Rte. 24 between Defiance and Napoleon, Ohio. In 1955, upon the recommendation of the Ford Motor Company, the firm won a major commission from National Carbon Company (later renamed UCAR Carbon) to design a warehouse and manufacturing facility in Tennessee. With its growing business and services, the firm added architects Erwin J. (Burrie) Otis, Jr., and John H. Evans in 1956, setting the stage for a major expansion in business. In that same year, the company established a Cleveland, Ohio, office to provide structural detailing services to the surrounding area. From 1957 to 1961, the company set up an affiliate partnership under the name Hatch, Samborn, Steketee to pursue highway design projects. In 1958, the company changed its name to Samborn, Steketee, Otis and Evans, Engineers and Architects, later known as SSOE. By the end of the decade, the company had diversified its operations into plumbing, fire protection, power distribution, lighting and communications. It had won its first international project in 1959 from UCAR Carbon, a $10 million contract for a graphitizing plant in Monterrey, Mexico.

The 1960s: Company Expands and Diversifies

In 1960, with a staff of 58 including six partners and two office locations in Ohio, the company began to diversify the types of projects it undertook and its client base in the Toledo area. The company's design label appeared on a range of business projects, from Blue Cross of Northwest Ohio, to Lutheran Welfare Services in West Toledo, to the Anderson Office Building in Maumee. The company's 1961 project involving Crestview Club Apartments, a full care retirement community, was the first of many health care projects to come. In 1962, the company won several contracts from Libbey-Owens-Ford at its facilities in Ohio, Iowa, Illinois, West Virginia, California, and Canada. The highlight came with a $20 million design contract for a flat-glass production facility in Italy.

The company continued to expand and diversify its business throughout the remainder of the 1960s with its entrance into new fields of engineering and architectural design. By the late 1960s, the company had added new services, including environmental control, industry process design, and fast track construction techniques. These services enabled the firm to undertake new projects in the chemical and refining industries. To keep pace with technological advances, the firm established a computer division to assist in the design process. The company now designed anything from manufacturing plants, to post offices, to office buildings.

The 1970s: Slower Times

Although the 1960s was a profitable time for the company, the 1970s proved less prosperous amidst a declining domestic economy. Nonetheless, the firm's early diversification enabled it to weather the slower times. SSOE completed design projects for such major clients as Champion Spark Plug, Owens-Illinois, and longtime client Union Carbide. It also branched out into the international arena, completing projects in Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Singapore, Japan, Spain, Italy, England, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, India, and France. In 1977, the firm underwent its first organizational change when Samborn stepped down as president and was replaced by Steketee, his long time partner. Samborn remained on as chairman of the board of directors. By 1978, the firm had offices in Toledo, Ohio, and Flint, Michigan, and had acquired the firm, Dunbar Associates of Monroe, Michigan.

The 1980s: Boom Times and New Directions

The 1980s returned the firm to more prosperous times. This renewed prosperity stemmed in part from the addition of computer graphics to its core business, helping to boost the firm's reputation for innovative design and technical expertise. In 1980, the firm established SSOE Systems as a wholly owned subsidiary to provide turnkey integrated components for process and building systems. The firm also contributed to Honda Motor Company's building of its first U.S. plant at Marysville, Ohio. In that same year, after merging its Flint office with the firm of Lantz-Griggs, the company developed the enterprises into a self sustaining, full-service design firm with approximately 150 employees. This development enabled the Flint office to obtain in 1982 its largest project award, a $90 million contract to modernize the Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois. Partners Otis and Steketee died in 1982 and 1984, respectively. Before his death, however, Steketee had passed the mantel of leadership in 1981 to Byron West. In 1984, the firm Samborn, Steketee, Otis and Evans officially renamed itself SSOE Inc. Thereafter, in 1986 Samborn retired from the company. With most of the original partners gone, SSOE's new leadership took the firm in new directions by intensifying marketing, increasing computerization, expanding into new cities, and entering into new fields of specialization. The acquisition of Nashville, Tennessee-based Pickney & Associates in 1987 both increased the size of the firm and enabled SSOE to pursue more challenging projects with a regional presence. The acquisition also brought with it such established clients as Ford Nashville Glass, General Motors, and Bridgestone Tire. By 1988, SSOE had risen to national prominence, leading the magazine Building Design & Construction to rank it the nation's 12th largest in size among engineering and architectural firms.

The 1990s: Continued Growth

In 1990, SSOE expanded to the state of Washington to serve the growing business on the West coast. The company's primary focus was industrial with Boeing as a major client. Among the firm's projects in the early 1990s were the Glass Bowl Stadium, a $5 million expansion of Honda's engine plant in Aurora, Ohio, and a new high school in Archibold, Ohio. SSOE also designed the master plan for the 2,000-acre Maumee Bay State Park, one of the public parks, forests, and wildlife refuges that line the shores of Lake Erie in northwestern Ohio. The total cost of developing the park and its 120-room lodge was $50 million. In 1991, SSOE also established a presence in Detroit with the opening of a Troy, Michigan, office. Two years later in 1993, Frank McAuliffe retired as CEO and was replaced by 28-year company veteran, Gary McCreery. The company set up a new leadership training and development program in 1995 to mentor in-house leadership and professional skills. In 1996, the firm established SSOE Studios as a strategic business unit in the Toledo office to focus on architectural and engineering design in the commercial, educational, and healthcare markets. At the same time, SSOE's Nashville operation was working on projects for a variety of businesses, including Nissan and Toyota.

Company Perspectives:

For more than 50 years, SSOE has helped clients both big and small achieve their objectives. We rely on our people to focus on your needs by providing the best service in the industry. Our specialists in design, engineering and planning deliver full-service solutions that are responsive and cost-effective. We believe that exceptional performance is only possible when people make a commitment to achieving it. That is the commitment our team can make to you. SSOE is a nationally recognized firm with the combined strengths of more than 500 professionals doing business in across the globe in diverse markets. We serve as a leader by providing the best service in the industry. Integrity. Dedication. Experience these are the qualities of the profession of SSOE.

SSOE's Tennessee office also was selected to design the corporate headquarters building for U.S. Xpress in Chattanooga. The firm designed the structure with a metal skin, consisting of Alucobond Material, to accommodate U.S. Xpress's desire for a building that would symbolize high technology and forward thinking. The design team drew up plans for a three-story, cantilevered triangular building, featuring 105,000 square-feet. The building was designed with neither a designated front nor rear with the axis through the structures culminating at the boardroom balcony. In addition, in 1998, SSOE served as the lead architectural and engineering design firm for the construction of DaimlerChrysler's new $1.2 billion assembly plant of the 21st century.

Continued Growth and Globalization in the New Century

The firm won a contract in May 2001 as the lead architectural and engineering firm for a $930 million Nissan assembly plant near Canton, Mississippi. In 2003, SSOE's expanded its presence to Portage, Michigan; Irvine, California; and Cincinnati and Lima, Ohio. In the same year, SSOE and San Antonio-based Marmon Monk won a joint contract to design Toyota's planned pickup plant. SSOE was well suited for the project as about 30 percent of its business came from automotive industry work. The partners, which were the recipients of the first contract toward the plant's construction, called for drafting plans for the facility's grading, foundation, structural steel, utilities, heating and air conditioning, shops, cafeteria, and administration building.

In 2005, SSOE opened an operation in Shanghai, China, to manage a variety of projects in and around the country. The firm hired Enzo Colonna, an experienced international manager of diversified industrial business sectors, to man the one-office shop. Colonna, who spoke four languages, brought with him 32 years of consulting, architectural, engineering, and construction experience from such companies as Lockwood Greene International and Philip Holzmann International. The move followed China's relaxation of market barriers after its three year membership in the World Trade Organization that made it more profitable for U.S. companies to do business in the country. SSOE had numerous clients setting up operations in China, prompting the firm to follow with an eye on the Chinese auto industry. The Shanghai office came after SSOE's opening in 2004 of a Puerto Rico operation to serve the island's growing pharmaceutical industry.

Principal Subsidiaries

SSOE Systems, Inc.

Principal Competitors

The Day & Zimmerman Group Inc.; Jacobs Engineering Group Inc.; Foster Wheeler Corporation; Kellogg Brown & Root Inc.

Key Dates:

A.H. Samborn & Associates opens for business and lands first contract with Spurgeon Conveyor Co. to convert boiler plant from oil to coal.
Jack N. Steketee joins firm, which is renamed Samborn, Steketee and Associates.
Architects Erwin J. Otis, Jr., and John H. Evans join firm.
Company changes name to Samborn, Steketee, Otis and Evans, Engineers and Architects.
UCAR Carbon grants firm its first international project in Mexico.
Company establishes Flint, Michigan, office.
Founder A.H. Samborn steps down as president.
Company changes its name to SSOE Inc.
SSOE acquires Pickney & Associates and establishes a Nashville, Tennessee, office.
Company opens Washington state office to serve growing business on West Coast.
SSOE opens Puerto Rico office.
SSOE opens office in Shanghai, China.

Further Reading

"Design in Motion," Buildings, November 1999.

Jefferson, Greg, "Toyota Picks San Antonio Firm as One of Two Designers for Area Plant," San Antonio Express-News, October 1, 2003.

"Metal Recovery, SSOE in Dezincing Agreement," American Metal Market, April 22, 1997.

Pakulski, Gary T., "Glass Firm Joins Spate of Companies Opening Offices in China," Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News, February 16, 2005.

"Projects Awarded," Building Design & Construction, May 2001.

Radulski, John P., "Restaurant-Hotel Design International," Nature Study, October 1991.