Cincinnati Design and Construction Firm Has a Formula for Success

HiFive Development Services Co-Founders Brian Zilch (left) and Mark Davis (right)

HiFive Development Services is nearing completion on projects in West Chester, Columbus, Dayton and Xenia. The West Chester project, Centre Park Holiday Inn Event & Banquet Center, will be a premier destination for weddings and business events. Meanwhile, HiFive is growing its portfolio and emerging from the recession one of the most exciting young design and construction firms in the region. 


A recession isn’t kind to any business segment, but its effect on the design and construction industry can be particularly devastating. If ever a sound business plan has been necessary it’s been during the past five years. HiFive Development Services co-founders Mark Davis and Brian Zilch made a personal choice to carry HiFive above the economic circumstances, demonstrating the ownership and responsibility necessary to achieve the results their company needed.

“It worked out really well,” says Mark Davis, CEO and co-founder of HiFive Development Services. “It would have been so easy to take our eye off the ball. When lenders aren’t lending and customers aren’t buying, it can be difficult to focus on community involvement and the needs of the families on our team.”

Brian Zilch, president of and co-founder of HiFive adds, “We don’t like to think of ourselves as being born of adversity, but in our brief 13-year existence, this country has weathered an attack on our home soil and suffered a major recession. I can’t help but think that we wouldn’t have succeeded through those events if not for a solid foundation.”

Founded in 2001 by Zilch and Davis, HiFive opened the doors to their business one month before the September 11 terrorist attacks. After the attacks, a devastating recession caught many business-owners unawares and crumbled some of even the strongest companies.

One method that helped to keep HiFive afloat through the economic turmoil was ensuring the employees and clients alike were cared for appropriately. This helps to foster a strength and loyalty that permeates throughout the company as a whole.

“We asked our managers what the real purpose of HiFive is and initially, we got the usual response - that we provide exemplary design and construction services to our customers,” says Zilch. “We had to remind ourselves that our true purpose... is to elevate the individuals and families that make up that business. A logical extension of that would be to elevate the community in which we live. If your resources are directed toward those ends, success will likely follow.”

For the co-owners, community contribution and humility are also relevant to their company and lives.

“When young men and women approach us for career advice, we always start by telling them that the only sure path to success is to be willing to give of yourselves with no expectation of receiving anything in return.” Davis says. “Although nobody will openly disagree with that, you can pretty much tell whether or not they get it.”

To keep a family atmosphere within the walls of HiFive, Zilch and Davis began to work on many different methods to help employees feel as if they were being heard while still feeling motivated to accomplish their goals.

“We instituted a top-down system of accountability within the organization, starting with Brian and myself. Not accountability in the sense of a defensive ‘do your job or else,’ but accountability where we develop a clear understanding of expectations which flow in both directions,” says Davis.

Zilch says this accountability initiative has exceeded their expectations, helping teams at HiFive to work to influence business outcomes rather than just anticipate them. Because of this initiative, annual and semi-annual reviews of employees are no longer necessary. Instead, these stressful meetings have been replaced with quarterly conversations where change and initiative are discussed. These meetings provide a more laid-back feeling at HiFive, helping to foster and facilitate the family atmosphere that Zilch and Davis strive to achieve.

The co-owners take great pride in creating lasting relationships with their team, most of whom are friends or co-workers from former companies. “We hire slowly and train deliberately, but over half of our team has come from earlier relationships: previous workplaces, our kids’ soccer teams, the churches we attend. And most of them know we started with nothing,” says Davis. “Although working with friends can have its own challenges, on balance it’s far more fun and rewarding than the alternative.”

With the company’s efforts and struggle through economic chaos in mind, the achievements and results that HiFive has managed to produce are significant. “HiFive now has a design and construction backlog approaching $100 million,” says Zilch. “That kind of volume simply does not happen by accident.”

Currently working on more than a dozen hotel projects in various stages of development from Ohio to Virginia, a warehouse project in full swing in Alabama, and churches in Kentucky and across Ohio, HiFive is enlarging its geographic footprint throughout the United States.

During its years, HiFive has been selected as a Fast 55 Finalist by the Cincinnati Business Courier or has been honored by the UC Lindner Business College/Goering Center as a Top Private Business in six of the past seven years. Davis was honored in 2012 by Cincinnati Christian University’s Salute to Leaders as the area’s top leader exemplifying ethical leadership.

“That kind of recognition is great, but our growth over the next three years will make the previous thirteen pale in comparison,” says Davis.

“Something funny happens when you pursue a goal in a focused and determined manner,” says Zilch. “Sometimes you achieve that goal. Occasionally that can leave you thinking you’re the dog who caught the car, but that’s okay.”

Davis and Zilch believe that hard work is important, but so too is enjoying life.

“On Friday afternoons,” says Zilch, “You’re likely to find Mark and me on a golf course...and we’ll probably be smoking cigars. We may or may not be talking about business, but that’s something that’s never far away.”

“On the golf course I often hear ‘better lucky than good’,” says Davis. “I’m not so sure about that.”


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