The Future is With Our Emerging Leaders
May 4, 2022
As I move into my last few months with Dreyfuss + Blackford Architecture, I reflect on the next chapter of the firm’s life. I am grateful for the emerging group of leaders who have been chosen to move into the Senior Associates position and will help us shape our next chapter. I look beyond the firm’s principals and see a depth of talent and focus in this group: Sarah Bergman, John Zorich, Stephanie Swain, and Mike Ching. They give me confidence that the firm will thrive well beyond my time at the helm of this legacy firm and define our next generation.
As they move into their new leadership positions, they bring with them a new and vital perspective. This new way of looking at our organization and how we do things brings with it new strength and vigor. I have learned that nothing is static in this world and that if a creative team is to be successful, it needs to be constantly learning, mentoring, changing, and improving. These four individuals bring enormously diverse and complementary talents to the firm. Their diversity is their strength.
A good architect needs to balance all the competing interests of a project and a vision of a way forward that meets the clients’ key factors for success. Navigating a complex project requires clear-eyed communication and the ability to have unfettered difficult conversations that lead to a shared vision that all on the team can get behind. It is this kind of project leadership – straight talk – that is core to Sarah. She listens deeply to the needs of the client and understands how to create a path forward that will guarantee successful outcomes. She can look at themes that help her take charge, speak up, and makes sure others are heard.
Clients are very loyal to her and they know that she can deliver. Clients reward her with a string of repeat projects. This fact is enormously important to the future of the firm. To our best clients, we have always been viewed as a group of trusted advisers. Sarah embraces that model within the healthcare architecture market. She has been successful in growing our healthcare practice with new and innovative clients who have known her past work. They can be confident that when they enter into the design and construction process with Sarah, the outcome is assured to be successful. Her contributions to the growth of the firm bring me great confidence that we are in good hands.
We have moved into a very collaborative and inclusive time in the design and construction industry. Our work has come to rely on strong relationships that hold teams together and develop trust with our partners and clients. John Zorich (or “JZ” as we call him around the office) is an architect understands the bonds that hold a firm together through its culture and connect us to our clients and our work. This kind of leadership brings about trust from our partners and clients and helps our team know that they have a seat at the table. His clear communication style and connectedness to the team makes for a leadership model that is set for success in the future. He is in tune with an important cultural shift that is happening in our field, the harmonious collaboration between the client, the designer, and the builder.
The design and construction world are changing dramatically, and Design-Build is the dominant way projects are being delivered. This change has a real impact on how the architects do their work, as it requires a very collaborative approach to our projects. As architects, we need to be both an advocate for the design and be a trusted partners to the builder, all while having the goal of meeting our client’s needs. JZ has demonstrated the skills in balancing all those competing needs of the project all while keeping an eye on the quality of the work. He has leaned into the firm’s Design-Build work and been enormously successful in helping develop that part of the practice. Currently, 75% of our firm’s income comes from Design-Build projects. It takes a special mindset that JZ has to bring about a successful Design-Build project. Our partners look for that mindset as we form teams to pursue these types of projects. His contribution to our growth in this area gives me great confidence that we are prepared for the future.
The closer we get to understanding the “why” of a project, the better our work becomes. Design is an exercise in discovery, and in this process, we are compelled to investigate, absorb, and analyze information that informs better decisions. Thus, the closer we are to the decisions at the leadership level of an organization, the more informed we are about the needs of the client, bringing about better design solutions. Stephanie Swain has embraced a portion of our practice that brings us closer to understanding the “why”. She’s a strategic thinker who has helped move our practice in planning and programming forward in very important ways. Master planning has always been the gateway for our firm to enter into a long-term client relationships and Stephanie is key to opening these doors for us into the future.
Her combination of eloquent communication skills and data-driven analytical mind makes her contribution to the leadership of the firm hugely significant. She places important underlying facts, the material from which we develop solutions, behind all her design and planning recommendations. Stephanie is one who carefully examines the data and identifies themes that are critical to helping our clients make informed decisions. It is that same skillset, and fidelity to the facts, that makes her an influential leader. She can gather input and make observations that contribute to the direction and culture of the firm. She is not afraid to call things out. Stephanie’s strategic thinking and ability to discover the underlying “why” gives me confidence that we won’t lose our way as we move forward.
Our work lasts a long time. We invest a great deal of thought into designing successful projects and a greater amount of thought developing the details that make those projects last. The design and construction process takes place in a blink of an eye compared to many generations a building is expected to last. Mike Ching is an architect who understands the technical aspects of putting a building together well. He is the one who leads the work through the crucial phase of the project wherein the design is translated into documents that define how it will be built. It is because of his highly detailed and rigorous work that the firm can rest well at night knowing that our projects will beautifully endure and stand the test of time.
It is through a lifetime of experience that Mike has developed this wisdom. He has worked on some of the firm’s most distinguished projects, quietly turning brilliant designs into executable documents for the builder. This body of work informs the rest of the firm as he leverages that wisdom into detailed guidelines that others can use on future projects. He also mentors the less experienced to make good design and detailing decisions. It is his quiet leadership that has formed the backbone of the firm’s technical work. When I think of Mike, I think of the Marcel Breuer quote: “I am as much interested in the smallest detail as in the whole structure.” Knowing that Mike is a part of the emerging leaders in the firm, gives me confidence that our work will continue to last for many generations.