Featured Author

Kristin Liu, LEED AP Senior Associate, Business Development Syska Hennessy Group, Inc.

Kristin Liu
In the fall of 2011, a newly passed New York State law, Bill S-2987/A-4581 signed by Governor Cuomo, opened up new career path possibilities for marketing professionals in architecture and engineering firms. Non-licensed professionals became eligible to own up to 25 percent of their firms. While ensuring the decision making majority still remained with licensed professionals, this law allowed for New York firms to be more competitive with firms in others states. (Read more about the law here and here).

[expand title=”Click here to read more…”] I first heard about this law at the SMPS-NY Leadership Lunch last November and have wondered about its impact to our profession. So I asked several SMPS-NY members who hold ownership stakes to share their thoughts on this law and on their firm ownership experiences.

Patricia Neumann, CPSM, CEO & President of Accu-Cost Construction Consultants, has held ownership for 12 years and has been with the firm since it opened in 1993. Accu-Cost has 2 principals and 9 employees. It provides construction cost consulting and estimating, feasibility studies, value engineering services and expert witness services!

Kirsten Sibilia, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP, is 1 of 10 principals at Dattner Architects. She loves that her role is doing “everything but running projects.” Kirsten joined Dattner in 2010 and became an owner in 2012. Dattner provides architecture, planning and interiors services and has 105 team members!

Jennifer O’Donnell, LEED AP, is Vice President, Business Development at Array Architects, a 110-person planning, architecture, interior design and advisory firm that serves healthcare clients exclusively. Jennifer joined the firm 2 years ago as a principal. Array has a total of 22 principals!

Do you know about this law? Patricia: I heard about this law when it was first established, (but it does not apply to cost estimators.) Kirsten: Yes. The bill was in Albany for years. It recognizes the valuable role that allied professionals – planners, interior designers, CFOs and, of course, marketers – play in their firms. Shortly after it passed, we filed to become a Design Services Professional Corporation (DPC), and I was made an equity partner in the firm. (Dattner) may have been the first architectural firm in New York City to elevate a marketer to such a position. Since becoming a principal, do you see any significant changes in your ability to influence major strategic moves in your firm? Kirsten: I was fortunate to have a “seat at the table” (before ownership but)…things do change with equity. I care even more – and I had not thought that was possible…The title of principal earns me more respect internally and externally, which has allowed me to effect positive change more easily. Jennifer: Influencing major strategic moves depends more on the culture of the firm versus the level of ownership…understanding how to incorporate feedback from others in the spirit of continuous improvement is the real secret to influencing positive change. What key qualities help marketing and BD professionals grow into firm principals? Patricia: (Stick close to principals and) learn about the operations of the firm…also a belief in the firm, hard work, doing more than expected, and an enthusiastic outlook. Jennifer: Clearly show the Principals what makes you unique…demonstrate your value time and time again. Don’t wait to be told what to do. Help them understand why marketing and business development should be a part of the overall strategic vision of the firm. What key qualities help technical professionals grow into firm principals? Kirsten: Typically, in addition to technical prowess and experience, one must excel in other areas as well – cultivating relationships, leading people, and leveraging technology, for example. Jennifer: (One way is to) possess a particular mastery that makes them a go-to person within the firm…being recognized as very valuable, core team members. (Second way is) being a well-rounded designer with the right temperament and charisma that appeals to clients…(be) problem solvers…understand different stakeholder perspectives along with clients’ challenges, and then provide creative solutions. Do you have additional comments/suggestions for professionals that are interested in growing into this level? Patricia: Holding ownership in a firm is a big responsibility. Know exactly what you are getting into. Kirsten: Thinking like an owner is the first step. Learn as much as you can about the entire enterprise. Develop a respect for the core business (architecture, in my case) and a sensitivity to what goes into making projects successful. Understanding what it takes to run a business is also critical. Jennifer: Don’t lose sight of the fact that you play a vital part in your firm’s success. Working closely with many smart, talented designers great at their craft, business developers often underestimate their own value. Remember, being an analytical, strategic-thinking connector is a craft in its own right! Remain confident – people are relying on you. If you have had personal experiences with this law, please contact me contact me – I’d love to learn more. [/expand]