Global architecture firm SmithGroupJJR has announced a new corporate leadership team as part of an internal succession process that began six years ago. Michael Medici, AIA, Russell Sykes, and Troy Thompson, AIA will assume managing partner roles for the firm, effective on May 18 upon their election by the company's board of directors. In their new positions, Medici, Sykes, and Thompson will succeed current president and CEO Carl Roehling, FAIA, and chief operating officer Randal Swiech. Roehling and Swiech, who are not retiring, will continue to practice with the firm, expanding their involvement in programming and strategic planning. They will also remain on the firm’s board of directors.
These leadership transitions are the result of the evolving organization of the 162-year-old firm, the oldest architecture-engineering practice in the U.S. The internal succession process began in 2009 with the realization that the then-current firm leadership was in the baby boomer generation and had no apparent successors.
In 2013, Roehling and Swiech announced they would transition out of their leadership roles and back into practice by mid-2015. The board of directors formed a succession committee to identify firm needs in its new leaders, recommending that three co-leaders would have the greatest potential to effect change. The committee began shortlisting internal candidates, who all happened to be members of the committee and had helped to develop the new leadership approach.
A separate nominating committee,
which included Roehling and Swiech, narrowed the shortlist of candidates for
approval by the Board of Directors. The three finalists—Medici, corporate practice leader; Sykes, Science & Technology studio leader in the Detroit
office; and Thompson, director of operations for the Washington, D.C. office—were endorsed and began establishing their new responsibilities within the practice. In September 2014, the
three new co-leaders started a formal process of shadowing Roehling and Swiech.
Starting the succession process four or five years in advance is one of the keys to a smooth leadership transition, said Ray Kogan, AIA, president of Arlington, Va.–based consulting firm Kogan & Company, in a Best Practices column from ARCHITECT’s September issue. Kogan, who was not involved in the SmithGroupJJR transition, also advises firms to engage a board of directors to steer them through transitions and that firm owners should groom the next generation to be strategic leaders and not project managers.
For SmithGroupJJR, the goal of the strategic transition period was “to be an industry model for the succession of a partner-owned firm. Our 180 partners are the strength of the firm and our financial autonomy is key to attracting and retaining the best talent,” Roehling said in the press release.