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December Fellows Forum Recap: Firm Leaders Share Candid Career Advice

by Erin Hatch, Marketing Manager, Weber Thompson

It's not often that you get to witness an open, honest Q&A conversation with A/E/C firm leaders and owners. On December 11th, more than 70 lucky marketers, business developers and technical staff gathered on the roof deck at Sellen Construction's headquarters to do exactly that. 'Straight Talk with Firm Leaders,' the final Fellows Forum of 2015, was a great way to round out a year full of fabulous educational programs, well-attended networking events and a strong community of members and supporters. 

If you missed the event (you're forgiven - December was a busy month!), I took a few notes during the night to share a few highlights. 

The panel included SMPS Fellows Bill Strong, FSMPS, CPSM, who acted as moderator; Carla Thompson, FSMPS, CPSM; Karleen Belmont, FSMPS, CPSM; Ted Sive, FSMPS; and, Victoria Cooper, FSMPS. The firm leaders were: Brian Phair, CEO, PCS Structural Solutions; Eric Overton, Vice President, Buildings, Sparling, a Stantec Company; Kay Kornovich, Managing Director, Perkins+Will; and, Scott Redman, President, Sellen Construction.

Here's a snippet of the lessons we learned:

Question: What makes a great marketer?
Brian Phair
- Be a business developer both inside and outside the office.
Kay Kornovich - The ability to read people quickly.
Scott Redman - Great listening and communication skills, and the desire to understand. 

Question: What does it take to rise to firm leadership? What kind of training do you provide? 
Eric Overton - Marketers are vital in our industry, and are natural leaders. We expect our staff to seek the training that they need and we support them in that endeavor. If you work somewhere that doesn't support your learning and growth, find a company that will.
Brian Phair - Attend events that matter to your clients. Pair developing leaders with mentors who will guide and train them.

Question: Do titles matter to clients?
Eric Overton - This industry is 80% communication/relationships, and 20% skills. So you've got to have the ability to draw in a client with conversation. But, yes, once you've drawn them in, it certainly helps if you've got an impressive title.
Kay Kornovich - Clients hire people, not titles.
Victoria Cooper - Don't always follow the rules, sometimes they are meant to be broken. Break the mold with your titles, be creative, and make them unique.

Question: How do you nurture your leadership soul?
Kay Kornovich -
 Surround yourself with a team of smart, dedicated people. Your team is really important, as is a culture of open communication.

Question: What advice would you give your 30-year old self?
Scott Redman - 
Be involved, even if it doesn't seem like a career or business opportunity. Relationships are valuable; build your network.
Eric Overton - Measure what you treasure, data holds value in the engineering world. 
Ted Sive - Let your personal and professional business development activities overlap.
Brian Phair - Emulate leaders in your firm, or ask them how you can improve. Draw on each other's strengths and strategies.

Question: What are your predictions about Seattle?
Scott Redman - I'm super bullish about Seattle. The next 2-3 years are looking good, but we will hit a plateau. But the culture here creates a diversity of markets and divvies up job growth and new opportunities. 
Kay Kornovich - We will probably see a peak in about 3-5 years.
Eric Overton - I'm optimistic, and I see new opportunities in healthcare.

Thank you to our Fellows and firm leaders for participating in this candid, and very lively discussion! Because of SMPS, our industry enjoys a supportive culture of openness and transparency - and events like this contribute to that environment in a major way.

Stay tuned for the first Fellows Forum of the new year, coming to a location near you this March. Happy New Year!

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