President and principal-in-charge at Taylor Design, an architecture and interior design firm headquartered in Irvine, California.
By Liisa Andreassen
In addition to his responsibilities as president and principal-in-charge of Taylor Design, Regier devotes attention to projects by supporting its teams and assuring that client needs are effectively addressed.
“The change occurring in the industry is far more rapid now than even five years ago,” Regier says. “Managing change well is no longer optional; it is vital.”
A conversation with Randy Regier.
The Zweig Letter: How much time do you spend working “in the business” rather than “on the business?”
Randy Regier: Honestly, my time is disproportionately skewed to “in the business” these days, working to build the business through business development efforts and launching major projects. I do try to strike a balance between the projects that I’m actively involved in and the business of running the firm. I’m a strong believer of staying closely connected with the industry and what points are moving the needle one way or the other. Our office leaders do a great job managing staff workloads and projects. I meet on a weekly basis with our leadership team to work “on the business” as part of an effort for strategic planning, oversight, firmwide initiatives, and continuous improvement. We also connect on a monthly basis to focus on two or three key strategic topics.
TZL: What, if anything, are you doing to protect your firm from a potential economic slowdown in the future?
RR: We have made a concerted effort in the last few years to diversify our market sectors, delivery methods, and partnering relationships as a means of providing protection for our firm during economic uncertainty. While we are California-centric, we’re extending our geography by opening new offices to gain access to different recruiting bases and being closer to clients we are doing – or want to do – business with.
TZL: It is often said that people leave managers, not companies. What are you doing to ensure that your line of leadership are great people managers?
RR: Being recognized and ranked as the No. 1 Best Firm To Work For in the architecture category by Zweig Group this year means we have an excellent foundation of happy and empowered staff. We used the feedback from that survey, along with internal, in-person interviews with our staff to create “Engagement Communities” within our firm. This is where everyone has a voice and a place to belong. Through these communities, our staff has active roles in the success of the firm and a sense of tribe where everyone plays – and everyone learns leadership skills regardless of their role or expertise.
TZL: Does your firm work closely with any higher education institutions to gain access to the latest technology, experience, and innovation and/or recruiting to find qualified resources?
RR: Over the years we’ve developed strong relationships with local architecture and interior design schools to help foster upcoming talent. We’ve hosted design workshops, participated in design review panels, and we regularly host “firm crawl” tours in our offices. In our San Francisco office we’re hosting Cal Poly students and helping to provide input for their workshops. Most of our interns have stayed on to join the firm as full-time employees after graduation.
TZL: Is change management a topic regularly addressed by the leadership at your firm? If so, elaborate.
RR: The change occurring in the industry is far more rapid now than even five years ago. Managing change well is no longer optional; it is vital. We address change management through regular leadership team off-site workshops, our Key Player (principal, senior associate, and associates) meetings, and staff “What the Heck?” meetings.
TZL: How often do you valuate your firm and what key metrics do you use in the process? Do you valuate using in-house staff or is it outsourced?
RR: We valuate our firm on an annual basis using an external trustee who retains an independent appraiser to determine the value per share of our ESOP stock. Key metrics include past and projected financial performance, company history, organizational structure and management, economic conditions, industry outlook, and the competitive environment. Because we are a 100 percent employee-owned firm, we regularly communicate the key metrics for improving our valuation with our staff .
TZL: Ownership transition can be tricky, to say the least. What’s the key to ensuring a smooth passing of the baton? What’s the biggest pitfall to avoid?
RR: The key to ensuring a smooth transition is to always be working on it – grooming and growing those to one day take the helm, but in bite-sized chunks. We created and implemented a succession plan with a focus on leadership development of our Key Player group. This plan includes focused training on leadership qualities for the entire firm, with an emphasis on those within the Key Player Program who have been identified as high-potential future leaders. Through consistent training, focused mentoring, and group meetings, we have designed a transparent succession plan that will set us up successfully for the next transition.
Biggest pitfall? Ignoring it.
TZL: You want high utilization for profitability, but that means employees are fully loaded with assignments. How do you balance growth, utilization, new clients, and new hires?
RR: We monitor our staff utilization rates closely, with supervisors setting target ratios for each employee for the percentage of the employee’s time that we expect will be charged to regular, revenue-producing projects, then build our annual plan based on that planned utilization. We also encourage our staff to incorporate business development and client relationship management into their workload as part of an annual, goal-setting exercise.
TZL: They say failure is a great teacher. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve had to learn the hard way?
RR: A very hard lesson learned as an office leader while at a previous firm was having too many eggs in one basket. Committing to a client relationship is important, especially for a small start-up office location. However, not paying attention to diversifying that client base can come at great cost. I had to close the office and terminate the employees when that primary client went through a rapid rough patch. A rough lesson.
TZL: In one word or phrase, what do you describe as your number one job responsibility as CEO?
RR: Inspire! Be the role model for behavior, networking, and navigating client relationships.
TZL: A firm’s longevity is valuable. What are you doing to encourage your staff to stick around?
RR: Since being founded in 1979, we’ve had numerous staff celebrate 20th anniversaries (and beyond) with the firm. Our culture of continuous learning has contributed to the longevity of our staff. We launched a new employee Goal Setting Program firmwide, which has allowed for total transparency in the professional development of our staff and financial rewards available upon successful completion. The ESOP plays a role in longevity as well. Promoting the value and growth opportunity that comes over time and building a culture around ownership increases employee retention.