11-04-19 | News

Landscape Architecture Firm Becomes Employee-owned


According to, an employee stock ownership plan is a retirement plan that enables employees to own the firm where they work through a qualified trust. Established in 1974, there are about 6,700 ESOP businesses in America, employing more than 13 million employee owners.

MKSK, Inc., a 29-year-old national award-winning, landscape architecture, urban design and planning firm with a network of seven metropolitan studios in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and South Carolina, recently announced that it has become an employee-owned company through the creation of a new Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP).

The company's statement relates that it went this direction to provide long-term ownership and organizational stability that will ensure that talent stays intact to serve the company's clients and secure the company's future for its employees and the local communities where it practices.

MKSK's ESOP is funded entirely by company contributions and requires no out-of-pocket investment by employees who will earn shares in the business while working for the company, enabling them all to take part in the firm's long-term growth and success. Under this plan, ownership of the company is held in the ESOP Trust, and all employees participate. This is designed as a long-term retirement benefit, with the employees' accounts increasing as the value of the business increases.


"The move to an ESOP will only enhance the creative design and planning leadership of MKSK," said Brian Kinzelman, FASLA, AICP, LEED AP, who will continue in his current position as CEO.

The company's principals also believe that by investing in the current professional team, they will be able to continue to attract and develop the best emerging design and planning talent in the industry and help them build the necessary leadership qualities to become the next generation of leaders.

"As we look to the future, our practice is increasingly in demand as we face the societal challenges of our time," Kinzelman continued. "We have been intentional in adding talent to our team, and the retention of these incredible professionals ensures our ability to continually address our communities' needs. This ownership structure provides for the long-term stability of this group of colleagues, continuation of the practice past the founding generation and increased service to our clients."

MKSK, which employs 100 people, says they have doubled in size over the last decade, and are larger than most landscape-architecture firms, which have an average size of less than 10 employees. While the company has goals for more expansion, it plans to remain purely a landscape-architecture firm, believing that in doing so, it will stay true to its mission of focusing on what is right for each client on every project as it works in cities to reimagine, plan and design urban environments for the enjoyment of all.

"I am privileged to work with our gifted designers and planners, and it is an honor to pass the firm ownership and future leadership to our employees," said Tim Schmalenberger, FASLA, and a principal and COO. "MKSK has a strong collaborative philosophy which allows us to bring diverse talents together to create successful projects."

MKSK has formed a new board of directors of principal practice leaders, with Kinzelman and Schmalenberger, and also principals, Chris Hermann, AICP, and Darren Meyer, PLA, AICP. Cara Bobcheck, senior director, Insight and Strategy at Global Prairie, Washington, D.C., will serve as the outside board member.

MKSK also looks forward to benefiting from the strategic advice of an Advisory Board, including Chris Ronayne, president of University Circle, Cleveland Ohio; Paul Russell, director of landscape architecture graduate programs and associate professor at the Clemson School of Architecture, Clemson, South Carolina; and CK Satyapriya, president and CEO of CTL Engineering, Columbus, Ohio.

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