Chapter II: Why I Chose to Sell My Architectural Firm
The epiphany hit me about two years ago. Like most significant decisions in one’s life, this one was the result of many factors and influences. However, the decision to sell my architectural firm came to me, fully realized, in an instant, as a nearly fully realized idea not unlike the original inspiration to start my practice over 22 years ago.
Within a day or two, I was on the phone with my friend Brad Harwick. Having been heavily engaged with mergers and acquisitions with his former company, and he’s an old friend, Brad was perfectly suited to personally and professionally coach me through the process of selling/merging my business.
The Austin economy has been stable for years, and I was approached several times with unsolicited inquiries about selling my firm. Some were just fishing, but the more serious ones became ongoing conversations. Two of them yielded offers.
Ultimately, those went no further because they were not the right fit or the right time. However, through those discussions, I learned about the M&A process, and, surprisingly, I found that I was open to joining another firm. Spurred by that realization, Brad and I sat down to create a narrative of my ideal job description and a plan to get there.
The narrative accomplished several things. First, it clarified what I did and did not want to do going forward. Mainly, I wanted to focus more on client relationships and the practice of architecture and push away from the administrative tasks of running a firm. More specifically, I wanted to continue to design with a high level of thoughtfulness and creativity on large projects, ideally those with positive community impact. I wanted to produce this work collaboratively within a group of highly professional, talented people of integrity. The narrative helped me identify members of my valued staff whom I wanted to invite to join me on this journey. Lastly, it became the tool for me to organize, explain, and illustrate the value, skills, and experience I could bring to another firm.
After 22 years in business, my firm had achieved nearly everything that I set out to do. We had an excellent reputation in the community. We had great clients and enjoyed many long-term business relationships with them. We still do. We also garnered some recognition for our work with awards for design, construction, preservation, and business integrity.
However, like many things in life, for every reward, my business ownership also had a price. That price most often meant time away from family. Frankly, it had become too costly. Particularly after our youngest, Elena, was diagnosed with Leukemia in the spring of 2019. As you might imagine, a cancer diagnosis for a loved one has a laser-like way of refocusing your priorities.
So, this is where providence stepped in. Within weeks of finalizing the narrative, and within weeks of Elena’s diagnosis, I received a call from an old industry friend who is a recruiter. While her call was to inquire about our current staffing needs, I shared my thoughts about my career move. It was then she mentioned another client’s search for a Principal-level architect with substantial commercial experience to help them lead and grow their commercial practice. That firm was VLK Architects.
Just under one year later, I find myself in a good place. Elena’s cancer is in remission. She has returned to school. Her hair is growing back. Professionally speaking, I am pretty much living the narrative that I wrote back in the late fall of 2018, working with a group of talented, creative, and thoughtful people at VLK Architects.
Yes, of course, it has been an adjustment, and it will continue to be. However, quite honestly, it’s all good, and I can't think of a better next chapter in my career or a better result.