As founder and managing partner of the Michigan Studio of SHW's, a firm based in Berkley that specializes in educational facility design, Margie Simmons (no relation to the writer) has certainly done her part in this regard.
Simmons, a CPA and certified management accountant, earned her bachelor of arts degree in accounting from Michigan State University. But she quickly realized that poring over balance sheets was not her idea of career utopia and that she craved more interaction with people.
In 1998, taking her career in a new direction, Simmons started DSA Architects, a firm focusing on higher education facilities, with her partner, Tony Duce, and three employees. In 2003, the firm merged with SHW, a Texas-based company working predominately on K-12 facilities.
It was the perfect match -- SHW was seeking a geographical presence in the Midwest, while DSA wanted to expand its penetration to include K-12 facilities.
DSA, a member of SHW Group, now has 52 employees and is one of the most well-known designers in Michigan. Simmons proudly points to the company's workmanship at the Law School at Wayne State University, the School of Education at Oakland University and the science and classroom building additions at Oakland Community College.
Smart Business spoke with Simmons about her management style and how to bring out the best in your employees.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Two things come to mind: Employee development and grand openings of our facilities.
We have many talented employees. It's been an honor to observe their progress over the past eight years. Seeing them mature and reach their professional goals has made me so proud.
This gratification is only matched by the sense of satisfaction we all experience during the grand openings of our buildings. Seeing the physical result of all of our hard work and effort is truly an indescribable feeling.
What is the most painful professional lesson you've ever learned?
We pursued a design competition five years ago. We all really wanted this business so bad we could taste it. So we poured our hearts and souls into the creative process and recommended a dynamic concept.
For political reasons, we were not awarded the business, which was heartbreaking, to say the least. The time invested over many weekends and late hours seemed to be all for naught, but it taught me not to put all my marbles in one basket.
When bidding on jobs now, we plan conservatively and recognize there are many factors totally outside our control.
How would you describe your management style?
I am a people-pleaser by nature, which has presented personal challenges in my role as manager. I have accepted my limitations and realized that, although I would love to do so, I cannot make everyone happy.
My goal is to be a high-energy, direct and fair leader. I constantly communicate with my employees and seek out advice from peers and mentors.
Of course, it helps to have employees who are a pleasure to manage. They are a culturally diverse group of people, which makes for an interesting and creative dynamic.
They are passionate about what they do, committed to a common goal and enjoy one another's company outside of work hours.
What management book are you reading now and what have you learned from it?
"Winning," by Jack Welch -- it's the best. I wish I would have read this when I first got out of school.
One thing I learned from this book is the importance of staff differentiation. You have to recognize your top 20 percent performers -- these are your go-getters who must be kept happy or they will go somewhere else.
Then you have the 70 percent B players who are solid, consistent performers, the backbone of your work force. As a manager, you must develop those with the potential to move to the top 20 percent and make sure the others remain productive and know they are appreciated.
The remaining 10 percent are your bottom performers, who you need gently to lead to other, more suitable career options.
What does the future hold for DSA/SHW Group?
We have admittedly lofty goals. In the next 30 years, we want to be one of the most sought-after educational facility design companies in the world.
With so many countries converting to capitalistic societies, we see endless opportunities for what we can offer in terms of advancing education.
Our more short-term goals are to continue the penetration of K-12 schools in Michigan and higher education facilities in Texas and the East Coast.
How to reach: DSA Architects, www.dsaarchitects.com