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Leadership shuffles in BatesForum merger

President Steve Warlick sells out of the firm, and name changes for second time in two years

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Architecture firm BatesForum LLC is now operating under new leadership and a new name after a recent merger.

Formed last year through a deal with Chicago-based Clayco Inc., BatesForum has merged with another Clayco subsidiary, The Lamar Johnson Collaborative LLC, with the latter company’s name surviving.

Lamar Johnson is the CEO of the combined company, leaving longtime Bates principal Steve Warlick on the outside.

In 2018, BatesForum was created in a merger of Springfield-based architecture firm Bates and Forum Studio, a subsidiary of Clayco, an architecture, engineering, construction and real estate firm.

Steve Warlick, former president of BatesForum and Bates & Associates Inc. before that, told Springfield Business Journal he sold his 50% stake in BatesForum to Clayco a couple months prior to the June merger, and he left the company at that time.

Warlick took over as president of Bates after owner Alan Bates died of a stroke in 2011.

Warlick said he agreed to sell his shares to Clayco, founded by Bob Clark, after he realized there was a difference of opinion on the future of the industry among leadership. Warlick, who declined a phone interview but sent statements via text message, did not respond to requests for further comment.

“His commitment to our Springfield office and the Springfield community is something I continue to stand behind and wish him the best,” Warlick said of Clark.

Clark told SBJ at the end of 2017 he realized Clayco’s architecture and engineering practice wasn’t keeping up with the 400% revenue and project growth that Clayco had recorded between 2013 and 2017. He said the company was seeking acquisition targets when it discovered Bates in Springfield and its solid health care practice. He also said Johnson was the leader Clayco had been looking for.

“We did both transactions knowing at some point we were going to combine into a single entity but did not have a preconceived notion of how that would work out,” Clark said.

When asked what Warlick’s exit means for the company, Clark said it doesn’t mean anything.

“I’m 100% sure that with his background and his capability and charisma that he will put something together that will be a force in whatever business he chooses. It seems like he’s focused on technology and integrated delivery and he will be good at that,” Clark said.

“Lamar Johnson was going to be the clear leader and that was determined by all the parties mutually.”

Warlick, who’s lived in St. Louis the past six years, said he sees Springfield in his future prospects.

Alan Bates took over the firm from his father, Warren Bates, in 1998, Warlick said.

At the time, Warlick was an intern at the company. Warlick said the firm was producing about $1 million in revenue for decades until he became president.

In the seven years under his leadership, he said the firm grew to generate $25 million in annual revenue through technological advances and processes he made to the company before the merger with Clayco.

BatesForum ranked No. 1 on SBJ’s 2019 list of the area’s largest architectural firms in March, based on local registered architects. The company reported 10 architects and 27 employees, as well as a 2018 market value of projects totaling $448 million.

“I love the Springfield community and wouldn’t be where I am without them,” he said, noting he was traveling to Belize, where he said he’ll plan his next moves. “I’ve got several options, just narrowing down the best path to take advantage of everything I’ve done in my career.”

Lamar Johnson Collaborative, the new combined company, has five offices, including the former Bates office downtown, 433 W. Walnut St. Companywide, there’s more than 240 employees.

Jim Stearman, principal architect, is now the leader of the Springfield office. Stearman said the Springfield designers have responded positively to the new leadership under Johnson.

“Our people really love Lamar. We’ve been getting acquainted with him for the last year,” he said.

“He exudes a humility, and he’s a very inspiring leader.”

Web Editor Geoff Pickle contributed.

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