TZL 1359 (web)


part of our business planning, and overall communication. We have perfected our “homegrown” spreadsheet, and it has proven fairly accurate over the years. It also allows us to see if principals and associate principals are meeting their business development targets. TZL: How much time do you spend working “in the business” rather than “on the business?” NL: I am blessed to be able to do project work – and can often be found sketching early design ideas and approaches to projects. I am lucky to have a trusted group of project managers who work with me, and we understand each other’s working styles. While I don’t spend time drawing on the computer (that would not be cost effective!), I am able to review design progress with staff on “screen,” and adapt design details through our design software programs. I also enjoy meeting with clients and city officials in the permitting of our work. I am project billable more than 60 percent of my time. That said, I do enjoy the business as well – the numbers are direct and clear cut, while designing buildings is very subjective. I also enjoy developing concepts for existing and new clients, helping them bring ideas into vision as part of our business development strategy. TZL: Are you using the R&D tax credit? If so, how is it working for your firm? If not, why not? NL: We are absolutely using the R&D tax credit! Our accounting firm has made this an integral part of our firm finances. Our firm has a long history of innovation with sustainable building technologies – the R&D tax credit seems to have been put in place for just our kind of efforts. TZL: How are you balancing investment in the next generation – which is at an all-time high – with rewards for tenured staff? This has always been a challenge, but seems heightened as investments in development have increased. NL: We find that people across all ages need to feel engaged, and will self-select where they want to focus their energies. If staff members want to take courses for higher certifications, establish organizations, or travel to conferences, we encourage them and generally pay for the events. We do extensive in-house training, often led by staff themselves, helping them to grow in their presentation skills. Our younger staff appreciate this level

of engagement. We do our best to make sure our tenured staff work on the kinds of projects that motivate them, and give them responsibility to focus their growth. We have been able to reward all staff with generous bonuses and retirement account contributions over the last couple of years. TZL: What novel approaches are you bringing to recruitment, and how are your brand and differentiators performing in the talent wars? NL: Over the years, we’ve employed recruiters, LinkedIn, ads on industry websites, and attended job fairs at local colleges, etc. But we have also attended conferences, participated in events that draw students, and lectured at colleges and universities to find talent. We are lucky to have great architecture programs in Boston, and taking part in their intern or cooperative education programs has netted us many grads throughout the years. Our brand is grounded in deep caring about the environment and housing, and that tends to draw people to our practice. “Fruit Tuesdays/Thursdays,” “Bagel Fridays,” and many teaching, training, and group activities throughout the year keep our staff very engaged. TZL: When you identify a part of your business that is not pulling its weight in terms of profitability or alignment with the firm’s mission, what steps do you take, and what’s the timeline, to address the issue while minimizing impacts to the rest of the company? NL: We’ve established performance metrics for each principal, and their practice areas. These metrics are evaluated on a quarterly basis. If the principal cannot meet basic billability requirements and bring in enough work to support the staff in that practice area, we act immediately to reduce costs for that practice. Over the years, this has included reducing salary for that principal, reassigning staff, and/or reassigning work to shore up the practice area. 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? NL: ICON named our next generation of leaders almost two years ago, and these six new shareholders are already in their second year of stock buy-in. When I became the managing shareholder of ICON more than 10 years ago, I




YEAR FOUNDED: Founded in 1979

as Lane Frenchman; became

ICON Architecture in 1997


ICON’S MISSION: Live. Learn.

Renew. ICON is motivated by

design’s ability to positively

transform, empower + restore.

It delights in collaboration

+ commitment to ongoing

dialogue + discovery. It

champions innovation to

strengthen communities + create

enduring value.






See CHANGE, page 8


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UST 31, 2020, ISSUE 1359

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