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Susan Smith
Susan Smith
Susan Smith has worked as an editor and writer in the technology industry for over 16 years. As an editor she has been responsible for the launch of a number of technology trade publications, both in print and online. Currently, Susan is the Editor of GISCafe and AECCafe, as well as those sites’ … More »

Art Gensler’s Lessons Learned

June 15th, 2016 by Susan Smith

Art Gensler’s book, Art’s Principles: 50 years of hard-learned lessons in building a world-class professional services firm, was the topic for Gensler’s talk on lessons learned in the architecture industry at AIA 2016 in May.

The Philadelphia Museum Art crowns the city’s illuminated Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The culturally rich stretch is home to many parks, public works of art and museums, including Swann Memorial Fountain (pictured), the Barnes Foundation, the Rodin Museum, The Franklin Institute, The Academy of Natural Sciences, Sister Cities Park and many other attractions.

Hosted by Black Spectacles, Gensler recounted his experience of the beginnings of the firm with one draftsman who had not yet graduated college, and his wife doing bookkeeping, administration and “everything else.”

Gensler ended up doing the design for BART in San Francisco. He began his own business by working for an employer in the morning and doing his own work in the afternoon.

He didn’t feel he was a good businessman in those days, as he had been trained only to be an architect. But he charged more for working drawings and space plans, and found the smartest people he could find, then got more projects.

“At some point in your life you’re going to have to lead people, pay bills, figure out HR problems, and all that requires business sense,” said Gensler. “The faculty in most of our schools has no idea what business is. Faculty has not dealt with this.”

“I took a University  of California extension program, I hired the teacher as a consultant and took a couple of senior people and learned about business. Make everyone learn what we have to do. I got sick of people saying architects are poorly paid, I had three kids and a wife.”

Gensler said people don’t value what they get for free. The profession provides an amazing business and therefore should get value for what they do and get paid for it. Now there are, 5,000 employees in the business,  2,500 clients a year, and 7500 projects a year.

His management style is very flexible. “You don’t control that many people, you hire great people, give a great support system, and get out of their way. Can you imagine controlling 7500 projects?”

Gensler said that if he worried about the mistakes he made he’d never go forward. He is now 80 and has the energy to go for 20 more years.

“I don’t like competitions and I don’t give away free work,” said Gensler. “We talk about we and us. We work together as a team. Not about who is important and who isn’t.”

Problems are solved for clients using the power of design. Gensler said too much time can be spent with people who are not committed. The firm has an institution of a Monday morning call that every office around the world must participate in. “We’re all one family and we work together,” he said. “600 new business opportunities per week show up in these meetings. We want those people to always be networking.”

“We don’t have a director of marketing,” said Gensler. “I have receptionists to bring in business. We depend on the firm to bring in business. Everyone in the business is a star and we have a constellation of stars, 5,000 of them. All of them have to be stars.”

Distributions are based on performance, and the receptionists will get the first bones, and senior people get the last one. If people have to wait until someone retires to advance they won’t be motivated.

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Categories: 2D, AEC, AECCafe, AIA 2016, engineering

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