I’m the co-CEO of Gensler, the largest architecture firm, along with Diane Hoskins. Our philosophy is based on shaping the future of cities.
Our architecture firm, Gensler, is one of many superlatives: most innovative, highest revenue, largest. And while biggest doesn’t always mean best, our firm’s numbers, geographic distribution and breadth of expertise are key drivers of our design innovation. The diversity of thinking provided by our 5,500-plus people, each with different backgrounds, skills and perspectives, is the secret ingredient in our recipe for success — and should be yours, too. The lessons we’ve learned along the way offer valuable insights for companies of any size, in the real estate industry and beyond, looking for sustainable growth, firmly rooted in core values, vision and culture.
1. Make culture your North Star as you grow.
As your company increases in numbers and diversifies in location, retaining a unified identity and culture across offices can be a challenge — but it’s something that healthy expansion requires. Our firm has grown from a single office in San Francisco to 50 locations across the globe with 28 practice areas. What has kept us grounded is our “one-firm firm” philosophy, meaning we are one body, one family, united by a clear mission and purpose: to create a better world and improve the human experience through the power of design. By centering your thinking on the core values that drive your work, you can stay connected despite physical distance.
Likewise, the leadership structure of your business should reflect your fundamental principles. Our collaborative leadership structure — seen everywhere from our co-CEO model to the shared leadership of regions, practice areas and offices — is one of the clearest representations of the firm’s collaborative mindset in action. It allows leaders at every level the flexibility, agility and freedom to swiftly enact ideas and share best practices. And, by building in opportunities to lead across your firmwide structure, you prepare the next generation of leaders to step into place, streamlining transitions and keeping your businesses running smoothly for the long term, regardless of recessions, retirements or unexpected world events.
2. Source innovation solutions from across your footprint.
Placing deliberate focus on developing a unified, people-centric culture — whether colleagues sit in the same office or thousands of miles apart — allows your company to recognize challenges and opportunities quickly, to be nimble with responses and to be resilient. This is never more essential than during unprecedented times of disruption, like a pandemic. For example, early last spring, as many in the West were hearing the word “coronavirus” for the first time, we were already on high alert thanks to the leadership of our China offices. We were able to react swiftly in sending our people to keep them safe and transitioned seamlessly to virtual collaboration tools that allowed us to continue providing uninterrupted service to our clients around the world. Take a look at your company’s geographic distribution to see what specific insights and expertise can come from your colleagues around the world.
But beyond the current health crisis, an international team allows you to find and apply the best, most innovative solutions to the world’s greatest challenges. The competitive edge that this affords a company is unparalleled — particularly at a time when much of the world is so polarized and siloed. In our wheelhouse, for instance, we have leaned into the fact that design transcends borders. Through our projects around the globe, we can address challenges like climate change, social inequity and public health in a way that is more specific and impactful than the efforts of one single person, entity or even government. Identify the niche where your business is uniquely suited to impart positive change, then pull together the best resources from your larger team to meet the challenge headfirst.
3. Let your people’s diverse backgrounds and perspectives dovetail.
The opportunity to mix and match ideas from unexpected sources within your company is another key advantage of a large, diverse team. Experts in one area can provide insights to colleagues in separate fields. For example, our proficiency in healthcare design has informed the way we support the safety and well-being of users in all types of buildings, which has become especially important looking toward the post-Covid future.
Taking on projects at various scales also offers your company the opportunity to let skill sets and perspectives comingle. They also serve to diversify your portfolio of experience and introduce you to emerging clients who may one day become major accounts. At Gensler, the boutique projects we take on each year benefit from our experience designing buildings, airports and real estate developments. Likewise, those endeavors are sharpened and refined thanks to our work with new and emerging clients, whose needs often steer us toward exciting new innovations.
As the world continues to emerge from the pandemic and economies begin to recover, many companies will find themselves poised for dramatic growth. By focusing on culture, connection and a cross-pollination of ideas, you can seize the opportunity to grow in a way that supports innovation and the long-term profitability of your company. The key to achieving this is to keep your focus on your people. As our founder Art Gensler put it, we are a constellation of stars, with each individual playing a critical role in the company’s overall success.