MidCoast Design Record
June 21, 2016
LOVES TO WORK AT /
STARTS HIS DAY IN /
THE SOUTH PLAZA
LIVES WITH THESE PEOPLE AND ANIMALS /
CHASE, GRIFFIN, JACK, JANEY, AND MORGAN……
ALL OF US CAN ACT LIKE PEOPLE OR LIKE ANIMALS
DEPENDING ON THE SITUATION
So, you haven’t been a practicing architect for a long time – do you ever miss it?
I feel like I am still practicing architecture. I don’t do it in the traditional sense, but I believe I am an architect and always will be. I just come at the industry from a different angle… the angle that builds designs and doesn’t dream up designs or develop them. And I think that architects at the end of the day are creative problem solvers and I do that all the time. Do I miss the daily grind? No I don’t, but my love is really being out with people and making connections and I couldn’t have done that at a traditional firm. I don’t miss it, but every once in a while I love the opportunity to pick up a sharpie and some trace.
What has been the most unexpected challenge in the first 6 years of Centric?
Finding talent that has the experience to build the projects and fit our culture. That has been the biggest surprise to me. I didn’t realize how much time it would take finding people who would fit the culture. Surprisingly, the hard part has not been finding projects, but it’s been finding the right people to build those projects. We’ve also had to grow the firm in a way that is authentic to our culture.
Do you feel like you have figured out how to determine if someone is the right fit?
Yes, we’ve figured it out, but you’re always tinkering with it. Earlier in the firm’s life the more important it is for each person to have a 100% fit with the culture. We still make mistakes every day, but overall I feel like we have the culture figured out. I was in a ‘state of the firm’ presentation last week and we talked about how important our culture was and how to maintain it as we grow. I said that I believe we have the best culture of any construction firm in Kansas City and the room erupted in applause, which really told my partners and I that we are doing something right.
Do you feel like the core culture is the same or has it evolved as you’ve grown?
The core is the same, but we’ve had to modify our business model every once in a while based on specific projects. But, the whole impetus for us starting Centric was to have a construction company that was more nimble, flexible and agile and could change the way we do business to fit the client, the project, the budget, and the expectations of the project rather than to bring to the project a standard operating procedure. So, we being authentic to ourselves allows us to change.
The musician you are embarrassed you love?
Katy Perry. Love her! She’s awesome. My daughter and I go crazy for Katy Perry.
What’s one piece of advice would you give someone starting their own business.
HUSTLE! When you start your own business you can have the greatest business plan in the world, the greatest logo, really cool business cards, but until someone has hired you nothing has happened. Too often I see people focus on the ‘who we’re going to be in the community’ or our ‘differentiators in the design process’ or our cool logo. They don’t spend enough time getting clients in the door and finding people that say, ‘Yes, I’ll hire you!’ We focused on this a lot and it’s paid dividends. Be prepared for long nights and not a lot of time for anything but the business for the first few years. And then be prepared for the difficulty when it comes to handing things off. You birthed this baby and then someone else is going to raise it. But, when you’re starting – go get work!
What is your favorite restaurant in KC?
Oh man, it changes so much. My favorite restaurant right now is Novel.
What is the biggest change you see on the horizon in the AEC industry?
I feel like the business has made a shift – partly just from competitive pressures – from being this artisanal level of detailing and being able to put together buildings. And, I don’t think it’s the fault of the architectural community, but it’s from economic pressures – we have to do things faster, quicker, and with less fee. I think that will require much more collaboration between the builder and the architect. The day of a ‘clean set of plans’ being handed over the wall from the architect to the contractor to build is gone. So, I think it’s finding new ways to communicate – a lot of people have put stock in BIM being the solution to that. I think communication – face to face, phone, or even email is essential – I think an architect and builder have the same goal – they might have different opinions on how to get there but they respect each other and they can work together to achieve design intent, but also respect the owner’s goals from a time and budget schedule.
Favorite Building in Kansas City?
The collection of buildings called The Country Club Plaza. I think it is still a piece of architecture…no one building is anything special. It’s the building’s placement and the space they create for cars and people. I love that it’s the most mixed-use, dense part of city, and so I call that my favorite building.
Do you think the industry will head in the direction of more firms that have contractors & architects under one roof?
I think putting it all under one roof can be a solution, but the skill sets and talents that are present in a great architect are not the skill sets and talents present in a great builder. I don’t think one is better or worse – they’re just different.
Sometimes as an architect at a construction company I feel that I have to be the voice of the architect. I have to say, ‘the architects haven’t figured that out yet because it wasn’t the stage of the process for them to figure that out. So what you think is new information – just by the nature of the design process – they haven’t gotten there yet’ So, what makes someone a great architect who solves great problems and is a very iterative thinker is not what makes a great contractor – who is a very linear thinker. So inherently there are issues. When you put it under one roof, someone’s thought process is going to win. I don’t think either the architect or contractor winning is the right solution – there is a creative tension like a yin and a yang between the designer and builder. I think owners may get the best value out of them being two separate entities. They have to have great respect for each other and can work together but have different skill sets.
If you could spend a day with anyone – who would it be?
Donald Trump – no other person could have the impact he will have on America’s future, and I’d love to understand his true motives and intentions.
You’re very involved locally; too often architects can get caught up in their own world or bubble of architecture. How would you sell architects on the importance of being involved in their community and with efforts outside of architecture?
Because architects hang out together it’s hard to get outside of that world, but one of the big things is don’t hang out with other architects. I don’t mind hanging out with architects because it’s great for my business and what I do. The three most impactful things on my career that steered me to getting involved in my community were:
1/ Teaching – it was a way of meeting people outside of the profession
2/ Going back to school to get an MBA – I was exposed to bankers, accounting, finance, legal, investments, HR, and IT in a way that I realized there was the whole world beyond what I learned through 5 years of school.
3/ Getting involved in the Centurions program. It was a group of 100 people I got to know and it allowed me to find what our clients’ hot buttons are and what drives them.
The best professional advice you ever received?
It came from Glenn Leroy who was a professor of architecture at KU. I worked for him at Gould Evans and taught with him for 5 years. He said to truly have an impact in Kansas City– but I think its true anywhere – you have to completely integrate your life. So, your professional world, civic worlds, charitable life, and even social life is all one thing. It’s not, I go to work and then I go do this, and then go to church on Sunday. It all has to be one connected thing. That really had an impact on me and it led me to working at places that allowed me be more involved locally.
What do you think architects can do better to maintain their relevance?
I don’t necessarily agree with the premise they are losing their relevance. I feel that as an architect I have maintained relevance in the built environment even though I’m not practicing architecture in a traditional sense. I think architects need to tell their story better and not just rely on the design of their buildings to tell their story, but to be involved in their community. They need to get involved in the political, charitable and civic arena and put themselves out there to become a leader. And we’ve had architects in KC that do that – Bob Berkebile is a great example, and others as well. They have absolutely maintained the profession’s relevance. It’s a difficult world to do that in because the daily working pressures are intense. If you think about doctors and lawyers, they are maintaining their practice but also out there involved locally through leadership.
So, maybe our relevance isn’t fading, but we aren’t doing a good job of telling the story about the value we bring.
Evernote. I jot so much stuff down to myself all the time. I’m always having new ideas and I feel guilty if I don’t get to all of them and there’s no way I can! I learned I can be most productive if I jot things down and get it out of my head.
Your favorite TV weather person?
What was the first place you ever had a ‘real’ job?
I interned for an architecture firm in Southern Germany. It was awesome because
A/ I was in Germany
B/ They didn’t really have expectations for me to do anything for them. I didn’t really have any deliverables but just got to see all sorts of different aspects of the firm.
This is the best part about working in KC:
KC punches above its weight. We are cooler, more progressive and have more going on than anyone thinks we do or that sometimes even we think we do. We are at a very special time in KC’s life cycle. That is the coolest part going on right now. My whole life is along the Main Street corridor. I live a block off Main, my kids go to school off Main, I work on Main, and my father lives at 10th and Main. I love it! It’s the coolest thing in the world. My whole focus of KC is this spine – I am obviously a huge proponent of the streetcar – a little selfishly.
What’s your favorite TV show of all-time?
It’s a close race between The Wire and The Sopranos, but I’ll say The Wire. I like it because it’s a microcosm of a city – a lot of it is about the drug trade, but it also looks at a city when it decays and how many things it can impact.
KC could do this better:
I think we can embrace change better. If I hear one more person tell me why they think a 40-year old, outdated, decrepit airport is the right thing! Look guys, every 40 years we need a new airport – let’s do it! Sometimes ‘good enough’ is good enough for us. We need to change that and embrace change.
Biggest challenge facing KC in the next 5 years?
On both sides of the state line there is a real reluctance to want to pay for the services that make a city great. In Kansas schools are getting shortchanged…it will be amazing someday when someone goes from Kansas to Missouri for schools. In KCMO the fact we have to re-vote on our earnings tax every five years is really, really scary. All of our momentum could go away in a heartbeat. I think the challenge is getting everybody to realize this is a great place to live, work and raise a family and being willing to kick-in for that.