Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 11/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
"The genius of Art Gensler is his intuitive ability to read people. It works both with clients and for the talent he hires," says Ronette King, principal and design director in the San Francisco office. And he has certainly hired some of the industry's greats—innovators who, during their tenure, opened up regional markets. Margo Grant Walsh started the offices in New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., and London; Ed Friedrichs founded L.A.; Tony Harbour launched Houston and went on to become managing director of the London operation.
A certain amount of turnover is inevitable in any business. But with principals participating on local, regional, and national levels to deepen the talent pool, Gensler has a vested interest in building a staff that stays—or comes back. The Boomerang Program was initiated in 1981 by vice chair Walter Hunt. Leave for a year, and the door stays open: An employee returns to the same title, vesting percentage, and vacation accrual rate, with an inscribed wooden boomerang thrown in as a souvenir.
By a recent count, 166 employees have taken advantage of the standing offer.
In-house, much is made of Gensler's culture. Entrepreneurship, long-term client relationships, passion, and shared ownership are dominant traits. "So is hiring people smarter and more talented than yourself," says Dan Winey, a board member and a managing principal for the Pacific Northwest.
Since even smart, talented people need to keep up to date, Gensler runs a learning program with its own director and a budget derived from a resources group that receives 6 percent of the firm's annual revenue. Gensler University trains future leaders. Train the Trainer workshops cover topics such as sustainability.
Gensler's internal nurturing is matched by similar outward concerns. "Our culture extends to communities," says executive director David Gensler. That means foreign offices are staffed by local professionals as well as Americans. "It's about surrounding yourself with great people," says Robin Klehr Avia, a board member and a managing principal for the Northeast. From King: "The firm is Arthur's persona. There's a level of integrity without any arrogance. What you see is what you get." And from Hunt: "We're about personal respect, challenge, and caring. Some of us have spent 25 to 30 years working together."
A Gensler cult? "Yes," Avia says, laughing. "We all drank the Kool-Aid."