Lee Powers

Age: 52
Firm: K.lechleiter Architect

We’re converting a building that Gertrude Stein used to live in into a five-unit affordable housing unit. Right now I don’t have any employees. I’ve hired a couple people on contract to help me with production drawings. But I’m the designer and the project-manager, the draftsman and the spec writer, the bookkeeper and the janitor, the rainmaker and the office administrator. At any small firm you do it all. I worked with my husband both at a practice we founded in Minneapolis and at HCM. I realized one morning I had forgotten a mortgage payment. That same morning, my husband called me out of the conference room and said that the school nurse was on the line—our kids had head lice. That was when it clicked. One of us had to do something, and I decided to go on my own.

My attitude has gotten better, but it’s organized chaos. Different—not better or worse. Work didn’t take a back seat. I’d get up early and work from home. I’d do the kids’ stuff, then go to the office, pick them up. Then, after they went to bed, I’d work late, a lot of times until midnight, one. You’re accessible all the time. Initially it was hard—on both of us. We’d worked together for 13 years. We didn’t see each other as much. There were a few projects we competed on, during the recession, when bigger firms were going after smaller projects. There’s an ego thing involved, I’m sure, but it goes both ways. I was missing the opportunities he was getting in the big firm, he missed the flexibility I was getting in the small firm. There was a shift, because all of a sudden I wasn’t making as much money. It wasn’t what I planned to do, but I wouldn’t change it either. It gave me more time with my kids, and that was a conscious decision. Something I wanted to do. —As told to Alex Hoyt