Standing before the office of Merlin Hampton is a shelf lined with 41 blue, hardcover notebooks. They date back to the creation of Baird, Hampton, & Brown in 1992 when Merlin, Senior Electrical Engineer and Co-founder of BHB, began keeping detailed records of his daily tasks, appointments, and projects. The spine of each book has a roman numeral marking their order and every page begins with a date. If someone were to ask him about what was said in a meeting on November 3, 1999, he can find the discussion topics within five minutes. Among his notes and to-do lists, his first few books contain the story of BHB’s humble beginnings and continues on to the present day as semi-retired Merlin works on his 42nd notebook, writing notes that are evidence of the flourishing company he helped found.
Merlin Hampton was born and raised in the tiny military town of Hawthorne, Nevada. There was only one school in town, and his first job as a high school student was driving a school bus for the younger kids.
“I loved it, they were always happy and energetic, and they would show me things they made in school. It was a very fun first job.”
When he began contemplating his future career, he knew he wanted more. The choice for him was simple: messing around with electricity was a hobby of his and he was quite adept at math, so his school counselor encouraged his dream of engineering. After one year at college in Oklahoma with a track scholarship, he decided to transfer to Arlington State, now known as the University of Texas at Arlington. Fort Worth, he soon realized, was where he wanted to stay.
He found employment right out of school at a large engineering firm, where he worked as an electrical engineer for 10 years and met friends and future co-founders Bill Baird, civil engineer, and Les Brown, mechanical engineer.
“My favorite part [of engineering] is just sitting down and doing the design with my little red pen and marking up the drawings. In my field, we provide all the power it takes to run a kitchen, or laboratory, or something like that. We put those pieces together and over time it gets constructed. I can drive around now and can’t hardly go anywhere in the city without seeing some project I’ve done. It’s gratifying, but I’m also relieved that some of those challenges are over.”
After wrapping up a decade of work, his previous firm encountered some hits when the economy took a turn for the worst. He and many other employees had taken major pay cuts and, eventually, he decided that “if I’m going to crash and burn my savings account, I’d rather do it my way.” Bill and Merlin each found out that the other was having the same idea and, within a week, teamed up to launch Baird, Hampton & Associates. Friend Les Brown joined in shortly after to create the multi-discipline firm that it is today.
“We were going to stay small and efficient. We didn’t want to steal business, so we had to wait for it to come to us,” said Merlin.
Their risk taking paid off as BHB began to grow steadily, from having eight people working for them in 1993 to over 100 employees to date.
“We’ve never grown or overstepped our abilities. It takes my breath away when I think that we have 105 people here.” Merlin, when asked about how much the firm has changed in twenty-seven years, says, “The biggest change has been that there really is no change. We have more employees, but the people are the same type that have always worked for us. They do a good job and they’re team players. Everybody respects everybody.” He also notes that the people they have hired have taught him a lot of patience, in a positive way. “Some employees show some reckless enthusiasm that turns into creativity. It showed me that, with a little patience, a new concept can be brought in and it works just fine. If you give it a little time, it will work. They really have some great ideas.”
Life for Merlin looks a little different now as a semi-retired senior engineer. Besides coming into the office once a week, the majority of his time is spent with his family, at church, or at the house.
“Retired life is a whole lot busier than I thought it would be. It’s not just lying around with your feet propped up reading a novel.”
In the little free time he has, you can find him skiing with his grandkids in Colorado, doing yard work, or helping churches with pro bono engineering work. Most weekends, he will be celebrating a birthday in the family or sometimes taking the occasional trip to Israel. He is appreciative of the opportunity brought to him by BHB to spend so much time with loved ones and carry on with engineering. He has no plans to officially retire and is excited for whatever the future has in store.