One of the problems pretty much everyone in the A/E business has is finding enough people who can not only do their technical or design work but also can do the “business” aspects of our business. There’s a huge shortage of management and sales talent and that can be, at a minimum, an impediment to growth. In its worst case, it can kill the very business itself.
One of the reasons why we lack managerial and business development-oriented people is that the technical and design people have misconceptions about business and businesspeople. These misconceptions keep people from learning about the business disciplines needed to effectively run an A/E firm. Not only have I witnessed this in my nearly 40-year career in this industry, but I see it today in engineering and architecture students who take my entrepreneurship classes at the the University of Arkansas. These misconceptions contribute to our dearth of business talent in this business.
Here are some examples:
- There’s no science to business. Of course there is! There’s lot of science to it. Management is a science. Marketing is a science. Information technology is a science. And there’s plenty to know about human resources, finance, and accounting. You can get a Ph.D. in any of these disciplines. I think a lot of engineers and architects are surprised by how much knowledge there is out there on these subjects and many more aspects of business.
- You have to be a good liar to sell stuff. This deep-seated, erroneous belief keeps a lot of design and technical professionals from selling. Their logic goes something like this: “To be a good seller you have to lie. Since I am not a liar I don’t sell. I am a better person than someone (a liar) who sells.” This one takes a lot of training to overcome. People need to see that in fact the best sellers are NOT liars. Instead, they build trust with their clients by telling them the truth.
- Entrepreneurship requires you to invent something new, something no one else has ever done before. It does NOT and this belief keeps so many people from becoming entrepreneurs. What entrepreneurship does require is that you do something better. It also requires you to build value in your business versus extract over time through operation. Entrepreneurial A/E firms do well through differentiation and innovation inside what is a very mature industry.
- You can’t get any creative satisfaction from business. As someone who also owns a design/build contracting and development company, I understand this sentiment. But what I’d like to say to the engineers and architects who think this way is: “Give business a chance. You might be surprised how satisfying it is to build a business rather than just building a construction project.” I have seen many talented design professionals successfully transition from designing projects to designing a business. Many find it more intellectually stimulating.
The bottom line is all of these misconceptions hurt us. They keep our people from maximizing their individual potentials. And they hold our firms back. It’s only through education that we can dispel these myths.
Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.