Tags: management
Episode 190

From Designer to Executive

Enoch SearsApr 4, 2017

Joining us today is the Co-Managing Principal of Gensler's Southeast Region, Kenneth P. Baker, IIDA, Assoc. AIA.

In addition to co-managing the southeast region and being on the Gensler Management Committee, Ken Baker is considered a global expert on workplace design and planning, having designed more than 10 million square feet of corporate headquarters and offices for law firms and financial institutions around the world.

If Gensler's Southeast Region were ranked separately from Genlser, it would be one of the 10 largest firms in the US, to give you a sense of the size and responsibility of this position.

In today's episode, you'll hear about the challenges and opportunities of moving from a design role into a management role.

You'll also discover what you can do to grow within an organization and externally with your clients – including Ken's secret sauce for building successful, long-term relationships and delivering great value to Gensler's clientele.

Go here to watch the second half of our interview on A Powerful Firm Culture Inside and Outside

Resources for today’s show:


Interview Transcript and Members Only Resources:

[DAP errMsgTemplate=”SHORT”]
Ken Baker: If an issue comes up, I have to own that. But if there's a big success, I give that credit away. I'm strong enough in my own personal character to be able to do that. I get rewarded in other ways.

Enoch Sears: Business of Architecture, episode 190. Hello, I'm Enoch Sears, and this is the podcast for architects, where you'll discover tips, strategies, and secrets for running a profitable and impactful architecture practice. I'd like to invite you to discover how to double your architecture firm income and create your dream practice of freedom and impact, by downloading my free four-part architecture firm profit map. As a podcast listener, you can get instant access by going to freearchitectgift.com.

Joining us today is the co-managing principal of Gensler's southeast region, Kenneth P. Baker. In addition to managing the southeast region and being on the Gensler's manager committee, Ken Baker is considered a global expert in workplace design and planning, having designed more than ten million square feet, that's a lot, of corporate headquarters and offices for law firms and financial institutions around the world. Now here's the thing, if Gensler's southeast region, which Ken Baker is the co-manager of, if it were ranked separately from Gensler in terms of size, it would be one of the ten largest firms in the US, perhaps in the world. Just to give you a sense of the size and responsibility of this position.

This is a fantastic episode. Today's episode you'll hear about the challenges and opportunities of moving from a design role, into management role. How those skill sets are complementary, and sometimes pose their own challenges. You'll discover what you can do to grow within in organization and externally with your clients, and Ken's going to share with us the secret success for building his secret sauce for building successful long-term relationships, while at the same time delivering great value to clients.

So, without further ado, let's get down to business.

All right. Well, Ken Baker, welcome to the Business of Architecture.

Ken Baker: Thank you.

Enoch Sears: Would you start out telling our audience what goes into your role as the co-managing principal of Gensler's southeast region?

Ken Baker: Wow. That's a great starting question. That's a big question. Let's see, I'll start very simply. We have nine regions in the firm. Southeast region is one of the larger regions. We have eight offices in our region, from Philly, Baltimore, D.C., Atlanta, Raleigh, Charlotte, [inaudible 00:02:40], Miami. So, my role as co-regional managing principal is to make sure that we are building the business across those regions, we're building those offices, we're building people's careers in those offices. Whereas we say at Gensler, it all starts and ends with our clients, making sure that our clients are happy, and the services we're providing are helping our clients grow and become more successful at the same time.

Enoch Sears: In terms of your day-to-day, tell me about what you're focused on? I know you do management obviously, and you also do some design work.

Ken Baker: Yeah.

Enoch Sears: Give me a picture of what is the daily, a typical day in the life of Ken Baker.

Ken Baker: So, because we have eight offices, the biggest being D.C., on my daily kind of travels on the regional managing principal role are I have a weekly chat with the office leaders of each individual office where I have our regional CFO, and each of the office leaders in succession, because we have eight and there's only five days in the business week, there's a couple days have two offices that report. We do an hour-long download on what the financial metrics are for that office, what the business development's efforts are for that office, what the business wins are for that office, new staff hiring, how we're mentoring people, IT programs that we would put out there. Kind of a state-of-the-art health check on a weekly basis with each of the people that are running those businesses. So, that's on the regional managing principal side; that's a big deal.

I sit in D.C., so although we have two office leaders for the D.C. office, I get involved in quite a few of their D.C. things, because I'm here, it's the biggest office, we have four hundred some people in this office, I get pulled into a lot of the day-to-day business with D.C., which is great. So, that's kind of the admin thing. Then I have some [inaudible 00:04:45] responsibilities. I'm on the board of directors starting in January for the firm, on the management committee for the firm, so there's not merit badges given here. Every time a title or a new initiative is put on, you have to produce, you have to bring impact to that. So, that's all kind of that admin management kind of thing.

I also, locally, I oversee design. I came into the business wanting to be a designer. I trained as an architect on shell and core buildings, quickly moved into a role of, moved into interiors versus shell and core architecture, and that's a story in itself. So, I [inaudible 00:05:29]. I had a major law firm that I [inaudible 00:05:32], as Gensler would call it, the account leader. We do all of their offices globally. They've got like 17 locations, and I've been working with them now for 20 years. It's really the only client that I kind of focus on now. I dabble in a bunch of other clients to a lesser degree, but this is a full on focus. And on that, that occupies the other part of my time. But I have teams across the globe. Like I have a team in San Francisco, I have a team in Chicago, I was there the other day with this particular client. I have team in Europe, a team in Asia, et cetera, et cetera.

So, as I get older I have to travel less because I've got great people that are helping build that business and take care of that client in those other locations. So, that fills my time.

Enoch Sears: And with all the spare time, what do you do?

Ken Baker: Well, I've got a lot of outside interests. I'm a designer, so I'm constantly reinventing the way my house looks. I'm an avid collector of art and antiques and things like that. I design very contemporary things, but I live in a Victoria and Albert Museum. As my friends say it's the Baker Museum. So, it's very eclectic but it's very based on antiques. So, I spend a lot of time collecting antiques, art work, et cetera. I am also in to music. I trained in music and piano, and that whole part of my career was … I used to do a to of theater, and I'd like to think the theater things helped me ready myself for the client contact that I have, the presentation work that I do with clients and elsewhere. So, all of those hobbies have kind of worked together to supplement what I bring to our client offering in the way of giving my career and my experience to their work.

Enoch Sears: How was it to make the transition, coming into the industry as a designer originally, you said that that was sort of your origin, and then moving into a management responsibility? Talk to me about some of the challenges, or maybe some of the benefits you had from your skill set in that transition?

Ken Baker: You know, it was not necessarily the most common path to be a designer focused on doing innovative, award-winning, excellent design work, to go into, you know, here at Gensler or other firms, a studio leadership position, which is our building blocks, you know, individual businesses within the office, studio director position, then going to an office director, then going to a regional director. But it's something that I always wanted to do. I'm a people person. [inaudible 00:08:23]. One of the biggest things that you bring to the table as a office leader or a regional leader is you're focused on not only building the business, but you're focused on building the people in our business and advancing their career, and in a sense, building them so they can replace you, or go offshoot and build another office to add to the eight offices that we've got here or the forty-some offices that we have globally.

It wasn't a direct path that's chosen by many. Usually, as a designer you just become a design director, and you keep leading design on major projects, and innovating design, and taking the firm to the next level. But I had said back when I joined Gensler, I saw what my mentor and my boss was doing, Diane Hoskins, who's now the CEO, and I said every year at my review my, we call them PDPs, we would talk about goals and objectives, and I said, “I wanted to be sitting in the chair you're sitting,” because it's a role that I really aspired towards. And then it became the regional role after that. There's always, you know, a constant movement. There's no glass ceiling. There's a way to move from what you think is the top, to yet another plateau.

Enoch Sears: What do you think it is in your life that prompted you to tell your superior at that time, Diane Hoskins, that you wanted to sit in her seat? What's been driving you? What is it that drives you?

Ken Baker: Look, it was probably … It was the fact that you were able, that a person in that role was able to affect so many situations. Affect client situations, it's a sense to, by designing … By leading a firm or an office that's doing great design work, you're helping build the community. That's kind of on the client and the project thing. On the people side of things it's like you recognize people that are really, really talented that are coming out of school, and I've been a person that has wanted to give back some of the honors and awards and positions I've been given by somebody above me who's recognized talent and ability, maybe misplaced at times, but I've always felt that I get a big reward out of seeing young people grow into other levels, or older people growing into much bigger levels as well. So, there's the people thing.

Then there's also, you know, just the, I'm a people person, I said, it's like developing, there's a thrill of developing the business and see it happen very successfully, and the best thing is to have a thank you for the support that they've been giving on promotions day, which we have coming up on the 16th of December, our annual promotions day. Or, on the client side, having a client write a testimonial, unasked for, sent to the firm, the CEOs of the firm saying that my team really preformed and took them to a different level. So, as an office leader or regional leader, you're kind of building all of those things together. Sorry for the long winded filibuster answer on that one.

Enoch Sears: That's fantastic. Something that's coming up again, and again in your answers here is the desire to build other people, the idea of relationships, and building those relationships. I'd like to know, how do you maintain those relationships? Often times, I know we all struggle with the big Rolodex of people, keeping in contact with people. Tell me how you maintain relationships in the long term?

Ken Baker: Well, in house, in Gensler, you have to maintain those relationship, it's not a Rolodex relationship, it is a, you have got to touch base, these office [inaudible 00:12:14] once a week. I have to be, seen to be in the seat helping them solve problems, mentoring them, and helping them solve problems.

For the big contact list that I have outside of the firm [inaudible 00:12:28], to you know, Gensler being a global leader in design, and you have to maintain connection, you have to be in as fact the face of Gensler in this role out to the community. And that involves, you know, participating in things at the Board of Trade, things at the Chamber of Commerce, client related events that you kind of do that circuit of events, but it's all with the idea that you're not only meeting [inaudible 00:13:01], but you're actually building relationships with folks. And you're continually reminding them, “Hey, we're here. We can help solve your problems.”

It's not just, you know, calling up a client out of the Rolodex to say, “What have you got for me today? We need some new project work. What have you got for me today?” That's kind of commoditized situation. It's calling that same client and saying, “We just did research on some topic. I think it would really help your business [inaudible 00:13:32]. Send this information over, it might just help you.” And then, hopefully they'll be thinking of us the next time a project comes up and said, “Hey, those folks really know what they're doing, and they helped me out in this thing, and gave me something I really needed.”

Enoch Sears: What's your systematic process for keeping in touch with people so they don't fall through the cracks? Do you have a process for that?

Ken Baker: Well, first of all, like with my major client, which is law firm Sidley Austin based in Chicago. And I have to [inaudible 00:14:03] with all the office leaders of that firm, and even though we're kind of hired through a central source in the Chicago headquarters, I have to be seen as an advocate, and an advocate for all of those individual office leaders when they need something to improve their office, or make their business operations better.

So, there is a circuit that I kind of go through globally of talk, you know, making sure that I've time to put in a phone call, not just send an email, I think emails are okay to a point. They certainly help when you've got time frame, time differences on the globe, but picking up the phone and talking to somebody is really valuable. And I tell our folks that all the time, “Don't write me a long email explaining something. Pick up the phone, or leave me a voicemail.” Let's move it on to, you know, if we need to schedule a time to talk, that's fine, but all of those office leaders and my other contacts in the community, I think will understand, that if I've made the time to pick up the phone in my busy schedule, that it really means something to me about what they're thinking, or what their needs are.

Enoch Sears: Do you have a tool to keep track of when you last contacted someone just to make sure that no one slips through the cracks?

Ken Baker: You know what, Enoch, I would like to tell an untruth and say that I do, but I don't. It's kind of gut feel. I have a big sense of urgency. I'll wake up, I get up really early in the morning, and I power walk, and I've got this kind of route that I do. I did that when I lived in London, I did that here before I moved to London, I do it here now. And that gives me time every morning with headphones on listening to NPR or whatever I've got going on, to kind of put my game plan together of the people I need to touch base with. And I make a mental note of it, I come back and I write it down then I shower and dress and everything. And then, I come into the office, I've got my little list and, you know, hopefully, yeah sometimes things do fall through the cracks, and I'm like, “Oops,” but sense of urgency, it's really good if somebody's depending on you to get back to them [inaudible 00:16:08] problem, but own up to it, and apologize and move on, and get the work done. If it's just me doing a network thing, you know, do it, again, do it, you got to do it. So, I don't have a system; it's kind of more of something that's up here, in my head.

Enoch Sears: What would you say are the keys to growing internally, growing the staff that you work with, and helping them grow into those positions? You talked about that several times earlier about, you know, Gensler has this policy or this way of operating where, you know, it seems like you've grown because you give people opportunities and new offices. So, what is your personal kind of viewpoint on growing people and helping them move up?

Ken Baker: Yeah. Trusting them [inaudible 00:16:53] that you are allowing them to take risks without fear of repercussion, you know, there are going to be challenges, and there's going to be setback, and there's going to be bumps in the road, but you have to give folks a runway. You have [inaudible 00:17:08] into the pool sometimes. And it's not always going to be successful, but are they growing from, you know, from the mistakes they make, and the issues that get created? Are they growing, are they learning from those things? So, I think that's the big thing, pushing people forward in a way that, you know … And another big important thing is giving them credit for the work that they're doing.

I mean, it's really easy for us that are running offices, or studios, or whatever to say, “Yeah, my project won the design award for so and so.” Well, I may be the client relationship leader for Sidley, but when a Sidley project wins a design award, or a client sends a testimony, one of the Sidley directors said, “You know, this team did a great …” I give that information right back. I'm giving credit to where credit is due, and I've gotten a lot of awards and accolades in my career, and I was closest to the people that gave, that passed on that recognition, and didn't take it on themselves. And when people haven't done that I've always said to myself, “I don't want to be like that,” because [inaudible 00:18:11], if so I'd like to always be, give that information away to other people. I look at it this way, Enoch, if there's big problems on something, I have to own that, but if there's big successes, I have to give that information away. I'm strong enough in my own personal character to be able to do that, and you know, I get rewarded in other ways.

Enoch Sears: Which are?

Ken Baker: Seeing those people grow. When I moved to London, just a side story, when I was asked to leave my position as office leader of the D.C. office in 2007, and move to London, and oversee, co-manage the region, the London, European and Gulf regions for Gensler, I'd been mentoring a colleague of mine all along, and one of the biggest, proudest moments of my career, as upon my exiting D.C., this individual, he was put in my position. So, you know, just I was as thrilled as he was about his promotion into that position, because it was like, “Oh my God, this is great. He's going to takeover right in my footsteps.” And that individual happens to be, I came back when I was asked to come back, and [inaudible 00:19:30] has been made my co-managing principal for the region. So, we have had a partnership that's extended for almost 20 years, and it's been very, very intertwined.

Enoch Sears: Tell me about the transition going from leading the D.C. office, I think you said it was, and then going to Europe. What were some of the challenges that you had making that transition to going overseas to London? And what was involved in that?

Ken Baker: Well, when I left D.C., I was running the D.C. office, and Diane Hoskins was the regional managing principal. At the time, we didn't have the Florida office, we were just starting to develop the Tampa office. We had [inaudible 00:20:16], and Charlotte, and Baltimore. We didn't have Philly. So, I was in a region that didn't have the breadth that it has today. When I moved to London, I was, not only [inaudible 00:20:31] office, the big regional office, and then we had two or three offices in the Middle East. So, and then there was a Gulf in between. But although, we didn't have offices on the continent in between the Middle East and London, I was responsible for London and [inaudible 00:20:48], which you know, and Ireland. And I was responsible for developing business in France, and Italy, and Germany, and you name it, you know and also Russia, and also the Middle East.

So, when I moved into that position, I had culturally a much bigger set of issues and challenges to deal with. How to do business in all of those [inaudible 00:21:18]. It was different approaches, even from, I had worked a lot in London, and I had worked in some other European countries out of D.C., which I think helped prep me for that, but it's never really the same until you get on the ground, and you're actually living in the other country. And you have to recognize, you know, you got to have people, nationals supporting you.

I was this American guy coming in to run the office in London, but my British partners in that office, my colleagues had to have a major role, it wasn't just about me, you know, being the lead guy in these scenarios. There's a great sensitivity towards local, national, culturally ingrained people to be leading projects in their country. And we've got to support that and use that to build the business. So, and there was a different set of circumstances with every one of those countries that we did work in, and continue to.

Enoch Sears: Why do you think it was that you specifically were moved into that role over there?

Ken Baker: Well, I was going back and forth to London a lot. It was obvious to Gensler, to Arthur Gensler at the time, that I was very, very comfortable in the UK and the London lifestyle. I was very much an Anglophobe, Anglophile, not an Anglophobe, an Anglophile, and I was, my literary hero is Oscar Wilde and I think I kind of [inaudible 00:22:52] Kingdom, you know, with a lot of good parts of Oscar Wilde kind of in my brain, and I was able to relate to people at a very fundamental level. I wasn't some, you know, anointed person that was being sent over from the UK. I was very down to earth, sent over from the US, I was very down to earth. I think my firm saw that I played well, and was able to relate to people and clients very well in those circumstances.

Enoch Sears: So, you played well with them, but what was the actual, what was the key characteristic that you brought to the table that put you in that position? What did that office need that you brought to it?

Ken Baker: If it would be anywhere, I think there's some commonalities that's [inaudible 00:23:35], and when an office, when a client talks about goals and objectives, you've got to listen. And when your team talks about their goals and objectives, you've got to listen. I think that's kind of the same here as it is there. But it was particularly important to let people know when I moved over to the UK, and was doing work there, that I didn't come in with a preconceived agenda of what needed to happen. I was listening to what the goals and objectives were, and acting on them, and delivering impact, and delivering, you know, it's one thing to listen and then fine and go off do your own thing, but it would actually, coming back and reinstating those goals and objectives, and say, “That's why we want to do this, does this work?”

Enoch Sears: Okay, so it sounds from what I'm getting from what you're saying, Ken, is that it was your ability to listen, and then your ability to act on the things that you understood that really brought the value to you being over there in London. Was there anything else in addition to that?

Ken Baker: You know, when I was moved over to London, Enoch, it was the, I sold my house here, and I moved my belongings over there. I got a beautiful place. It was a move that was intended to be for the rest of my career. Well, I soon found out that there were, you know, so I guess what I'm saying is when I went there, I approached it as this is the next chapter of my life, and I'm going to live in the UK or possibly on the continent and, till I retire. And you know, who knows, I could retire in the UK and you know, I would always be a US citizen, but I'd probably have this dual citizenship. So, I went in with the mindset that I was a permanent, I was going to be a permanent resident. And got culturally enmeshed and I think I answered the question, but I think the point I'm trying to make is that I believed that I was going to be a long-term, I wasn't just a visitor to the country.

As it turned out, I was asked four years later, there was another challenge that came up back in the southeast region and I was asked by Diane to, and the board of directors to come back and co-lead the region with her. So, I did it back the other way, and you know, came back here and bought a house, and moved everything back into it. [inaudible 00:25:58] end of 2011 and here we are in 2016 and I'm … I don't know if I have any big moves left in me. I'll tell you that, it's a big, moving from, I moved from Chicago to D.C. then D.C. to London and then back from London. I think I'm, till I retire and decide to do something after retirement, I think [inaudible 00:26:20] I'm going to be here, but famous last words.

Enoch Sears: This is true. Maybe you'll come join us out here somewhere. Hey, Ken, during your time in London, what was, what are you most proud of about during that time period?

Ken Baker: It's kind of a weird thing to be proud of, but I joined the London office in December of 2007, the London office was [inaudible 00:26:44], it had a great book business, and then as we know, September of 2008 came along, and I was actually in a client meeting, I was doing a big project for J.P. Morgan Chase at Canary Wharf, 5 million square feet, three new buildings, and we were doing the interiors, we were working hand and glove with the building architect. And I was sitting in a meeting, and my client got called out of the room, and came back in and said, “Oh my God, Lehman Brothers just went down.” And so, we were like, “Oh, great. What is this going …” We saw, everybody saw the writing on the wall, but until things started really happening it was, you know, we had a little taste in February of 2008 of what was going occur.

[inaudible 00:27:27] work started gutting shut off from around the firm, and I immediately, as a regional leader with my British co-regional leader, we were placed in a scenario where we had to start downsizing our business, as most, our clients were shutting down operations. We were looking at how we maintained our standing but you know, we had to scale back our operations as well, and that is not an easy process. It was a big learning process to go through that in another country, particularity the UK. The whole thing around redundancies, and I don't want to focus on the negative, but I think the point I'm making is I think I was able to do that with grace, and honesty, and fairness, and I didn't want to be this American guy that was coming over in that scenario and making British residents subjects, you know, redundant, and eliminating them from the workforce. It wasn't about that, and I think I brought another level of understanding and empathy towards that very difficult situation that we were, that our firm was experiencing around the world, as everybody was. So, that was one thing that I think I [inaudible 00:28:51].

And the other thing was, again, we're an American company that developed these offices abroad. The other thing I think I was [inaudible 00:29:03] is if we want, we call ourselves a global company, but I think I was there to reinforce the fact that we are, you could say you're global, but you have to be local first. So, I was in London, so I had to embrace local, and Europe and the Middle East. And I had to recognize that the folks that were building that business came from many different cultures. In that London office, it was kind of this melting pot of a lot of different people from different countries, and they were becoming leaders in that. So, to be a global [inaudible 00:29:37] talk about what we did in the southeast region in the US, what we did in San Francisco, or what we did in Chicago. We really have to make sure that Asia, and Middle East, and Africa, and Europe, and the UK, and all of these other areas, Australia, that we're working in now, are all discussed at the same level as the work that we do in North America, South America the same way. And that's what the firm has been instilling in all of it's global platform, they call it the group of leaders that are running the regions of Gensler, and I think I was able to instill that message when I went to the UK.

Enoch Sears: And that is a wrap. Thank you for listening today. If you're looking for more time, freedom, impact, and income as an architect, get instant access to my free full part architect profit map by visiting freearchitectgift.com. The sponsor for today's show is Arch Reach, the client relationship management tool built specifically for architects. If you want to systematize your marketing and business development, Arch Reach will help you do it. Visit archreach.com to learn more.

The views expressed on this show by my guest do not represent those of the host, and I make no representation, promise, guarantee, pledge, warranty, contract, bond, or commitment except to help you conquer the world.


SHARE this episode:



Enoch Bartlett Sears is the founder of the Architect Business Institute, Business of Architecture and co-founder of the Architect Marketing Institute. He helps architects become category leaders in their market. Enoch hosts the #1 rated interview podcast for architects, the Business of Architecture Show where prominent guests like M. Arthur Gensler, Jr. and Thom Mayne share tips and strategies for success in architecture.


How To Double Your Architecture Firm Income In The Next 12 Months

Please fill out the form below to get free, instant access: