Joe Briggs | Crain's Washington D.C.

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Joe Briggs

Background:  

JMT Architecture is the newly launched architecture and interior design practice of Johnson, Mirmiran & Thompson, a 1,500-person multidisciplinary planning, design, technology, and construction management consulting firm. JMT recently acquired RCG Architects, one of Baltimore’s oldest operating architectural firms. JMT Architecture works with public and private sector clients in education, healthcare and government from offices in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio.

The Mistake:

The mistake was moving on too quickly and failing to maintain professional contacts.

Architecture is a project-focused effort. You work on a project for months or years, then you move on to the next one. You make a lot of contacts, especially early in your career, and I’ve learned you need to nurture those contacts and keep in touch with all of them.

The tendency is to become focused on your next project and the needs and concerns of that next project. Your prior contacts are a valuable resource, and you have to nurture those relationships so you feel comfortable reaching out to them for advice or guidance or new work, which is a great thing to have. Earlier in my career I became too focused on the work and did not cultivate and maintain those relationships.

My career focus has been in higher education and designing academic buildings for colleges and universities. We work all over the eastern half of the United States, and a lot of times we team up with other architects, engineers, and consulting firms and clients.

When we go into markets that are out of our geographic base, we have to rely on teaming opportunities with local architects, because they’ve got a closer connection to local universities or colleges. We’re always trying to team with the best local architect that will increase our odds of getting work at that particular institution. It’s competitive because there are other national architectural firms that do a lot of higher education work, and they’re all competing for the best local firm to team with in these pursuits too.

We’re competing for work but also competing for teaming opportunities with local architects. In some cases we’ll have spent time keeping in touch with universities but lose touch with local contacts. There have been a couple times where we’ve lost touch and we haven’t been able to leverage those connections because they’ve grown old and distant.

In architecture it takes years between design and construction. It can be two or three years between the start and end of a project. It’s nice to have a metaphorically deep rolodex of people you’ve worked with and connections you’ve made.

Your prior contacts are a valuable resource, and you have to nurture those relationships.

The Lesson:

The lesson is to take the time and devote the resources to maintaining relationships with former clients and contacts. Even though the job is done and it’s been a success and you’ve moved on, it’s good to continue to maintain those relationships as a networking asset. If those relationships die away, you lose that networking potential.

We’ve done a lot of work at the Kennedy Center, and I made a conscious effort to really cultivate my relationships with the Kennedy Center staff. If I was in Washington, D.C., for another meeting and I had time I’d swing by and have lunch with some of those contacts. It took a conscious effort of resources and time to keep those relationships up and build them on a more personal level, and not just a professional level. But as we got to know one another, we just became more engaged in what our respective families were doing, we found shared interests, and those were things that kept those relationships active and interesting. Those relationships have allowed us to continue to work there for the past 16 years—over $26 million worth of work.

Don’t assume that your work is done and you should move on. Keep in touch through phone and email. If you’re in the same town or traveling through town, take the time to reach out for a meeting. It’s all about keeping those relationships going.

JMT is on Twitter at @JMT_Inc.

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