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Meet the CEO: Dan Noble

The new head of architecture firm HKS Inc. talks about his inspirations.
By Hilary Lau |

When architect Dan Noble graduated from North Dakota State University and moved to Houston in 1982, he thought he would eventually return to the Upper Midwest. Instead, he relocated to Dallas in 1983 to take a job with HKS Inc., and has never left. Noble, 55, who ascended to his new role as the architecture firm’s president and CEO in January, says he is energized to tackle challenges unlike those he faced as the company’s longtime director of design. “Design is my passion, so some of the things I’m encountering now as the CEO, I don’t know as much about,” Noble says. Advice from outgoing CEO Ralph Hawkins, who will serve as chairman during the transition, ties into one of Noble’s favorite philosophies: “He told me that if I’m ever in a bind about what to do, to just put HKS first,” Noble says. “Really, the Gestalt theory that ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ embodies that idea.” Founded in 1939, Dallas-based HKS now has 29 offices and about 1,000 employees worldwide.

Washing golf clubs at a pro shop in Aberdeen, S.D. 

Cleaning the stable for horses at a ranch in Aberdeen. 

I knew I wanted to be an architect when I was 12 years old, but I took an aptitude test as a kid and it suggested that I should be an attorney. My parents thought I should become a patent attorney to blend my love of how things get put together with the law. 

I was a designer of commercial buildings when I first came to HKS. One of my first projects was Lincoln Plaza. I also did some of the landscape detail at the Dakota’s restaurant, which was kind of ironic—coming from the Dakotas, working on Dakota’s. 

I find motivation from leaders, from books, from my peers, from fantastic architecture, and from music. I like all kinds of music—Wilco, My Morning Jacket, Allman Brothers, Van Morrison, Portugal. The Man, Kings of Leon.

Empathy and the ability to intently listen, to learn from my experiences, and to be able to connect with people and offer advice in the moment. 

I grow impatient when we rehash things, when we don’t get things done. 

We do world-class work but we’re not a pretentious firm. We’re very down to earth, we’re very entrepreneurial.

‘Buildings, going forward, are going to be more intelligent. With the sectors we’re in … the building is an ally. It’s a functioning piece of architecture.’

Buildings, going forward, are going to be more intelligent. With the sectors we’re in—healthcare, sports, hospitality, workplace environment, education—the building is an ally. It’s a functioning piece of architecture that should allow enterprises to be more effective. 

My wife and I met in college. We have two kids: our son is at the University of Texas in Austin, and our daughter is at Bishop Lynch High School. My wife is an architect and works for HKS part-time.

I love to hang out with my family and to travel. I saw all 50 states by the time I was 50, and now I’m going to have been to all seven continents by the time I’m 70. 


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