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BALANCE , from page 7

“community-driven architecture” by providing the details of a recent project? LW: Houston Food Bank client, Brian Greene, challenged architectural standards regarding building entries and established traffic practices while we were designing renovations at their current facility. Listening to his creative ideas and vision for a food warehouse that also was a “beacon of hope for the community” encouraged us to be bold, innovative, and creative with solutions. This project transformed our traditional design process and helped us imagine “community-driven architecture.” We believe capital investments should respond to user needs as well as benefit the overall community. RDLR looks beyond project limits to seek opportunities to enhance the public realm and create places for communities. We believe that good design is not contingent upon the schedule or budget, but rather the result of an inclusive design process that includes stakeholders, community leaders and design and construction professionals. Successful projects reflect cultural influences and are contextually sensitive. They are sustainable developments which are cost effective to maintain and operate. A recent example of community-driven architecture is our project SERJobs for Progress, a community nonprofit organization that has served hundreds of low-income individuals in need of a second chance. SER purchased a 2.4-acre property in Houston’s vibrant and historic East End, converting the original home of Tellepsen Construction to serve as its headquarters. At the groundbreaking event, Mayor Turner said of the effort: “This is not just a building, it is a place where dreams will be realized, hard work will be recognized, and the whole city of Houston will benefit.” The 22,500-square-foot building was fully renovated and occupied in mid-2018, just after the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. The East End location of the project has made a large and positive impact on its residents and the community in turn. With its opening shortly after Hurricane Harvey, the organization’s services were magnified and there was a significant increase in demand for skilled labor in the construction industry, as well as many other blue-collar careers. Recently, the pandemic also created a great need for SER programs and services. Now more than ever, the program provides much needed opportunities and financial stability for individuals in Harris County and beyond. The choice to transform a dilapidated and decaying building was deliberate, bringing a sign of prosperity to the community. The coffee shop and art gallery are accessible to the community, making it a hub for people to gather and explore opportunities. Since its opening in 2018, the Workforce Opportunity Center has served almost 20,000 individuals in the community through various services. The project was recently awarded a 2021 ULI Houston Development of Distinction Award in the Not-for-Profit category. The ULI Houston Development of Distinction awards honor developments and green spaces that seek to inspire land use that fuels the creation of a flourishing global city.

RDLR’s City of Houston Southwest Substation project.

TZL: They say failure is a great teacher. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve had to learn the hard way? LW: As a firm leader, my greatest failure was holding on to staff when the firm could not afford to. During the Great Recession, our firm suffered as did many others. As a new owner, I was reluctant to reduce staffing. Employees were more than colleagues – they were friends. The result was significant financial stress; the firm was at the breaking point. We almost lost it. I learned businesses are entities that serve others. They must be cared for so they can continue to provide for all. “Firm partners share common principles for success: satisfied clients, quality design, and a healthy business. Together, we make decisions that balance these principles.” 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? LW: As a second-generation business owner who is soon facing retirement, I’ve experienced ownership transitions as both buyer and seller. This puts me in a unique position. I was the young professional with drive and vision that felt held back by management reins. I’m also the senior professional facing retirement and the changes this brings. Ownership transition must balance my young and senior persons. Transition must be fair and put the health of the business before any individual. Transition starts with selecting, trusting, and allowing the development of other leaders. Setting up realistic and comfortable financial goals for new owners is critical. Transition is a time to celebrate company achievements obtained during one’s tenure and the vision that new ownership will bring. I am very excited about RDLR’s future!

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