Friday, April 4, 2008

Architectural firms Going Global

Western design firms are cashing in on international construction hotspots by opening foreign offices equipped to serve the local clientele.And thanks in part to the evolving globalization of economies and the advances in electronic communication,working overseas is more feasible for design professionals than ever before.

Of course, venturing beyond your familiar business circle to the global stage requires a somewhat intimidating investment. After all, hiring special consultants to educate you on the local practices, relocating and housing staff, and
maneuvering through government bureaucracy are not without steep price tags. However, the move can pay off for those willing to think beyond today’s dollars — and toward tomorrow’s euros, rupees and yen.

When we consider opening an [international] office, we know that the first few years will require more investment with less return,”Ray Hoover, AIA, Managing Principal of Atlanta-based Thompson,Ventulett, Stainback and Associates(TVS), a multi-disciplinary firm of more than 300 people. TVS has maintained an office in Dubai for the past four years and is now opening one in Shanghai, China.

wise companies aren’t just looking for profits — they’re also looking for growth and stability. By spreading offices across different countries, a firm diversifies its cash flow supply, says Cheryl Neumann,COO and Executive Vice President of Wilson Associates, a Dallas, Texasbased interior design firm.“When one market is up and one is down, we’ve got coverage,” she says.“There are times when not every office is going gangbusters, and the diversification helps us manage through.” Wilson Associates is well diversified, with offices in three major U.S. cities, as well as in Singapore,South Africa, China and India.

Leo A. Daly, a 1,200-person interiors,architecture and planning firm based in Omaha, Neb. “You can go to the hotspots and hope to do work, or you create relationships and let the clients tell you where they need you.”Dalluge’s firm takes the latter, more service-focused approach.Dalluge takes pride in noting that Leo A. Daly was one of the first design companies to venture into China, opening there in 1967. “We wanted to be an international company,”he says. It was part of the firm’s strategic plan.Neumann agrees that, first andforemost, having overseas offices is primarily about clients. “It gives our clients a perceived closeness,” she says. With that closeness comes a stronger designer/client relationship,and as any business-savvy designer will attest, it is relationships that continue feeding work to a hungry company.That said, one of the biggest pulls and payoffs to establishing foreign branches is the opportunity to createone-of-a-kind, world-class buildings that would probably never get built in a developed Western nation. In fact,many designers choose to become designers to test boundaries by creating.

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