J Carrier

Mancini Duffy Chief Financial Officer Bolanle Williams-Olley strives to create a supportive firm culture, predicated on fair compensation and valuing employees. She relies on her perspective as a Nigerian immigrant, nonprofit founder, and accounting professional, using numbers to tell a story about how being collaborative and inclusive is the best way forward for architecture firms. Williams-Olley is a speaker at this month’s AIA Women’s Leadership Summit, where she will share her thoughts on how architects can channel their potential for better opportunities and impact.

Evaluating compensation always starts with a review of how we’re charging clients for our projects: the primary source of firm finances. Project proposals have to stay market competitive. In some cases, firms find that they have to go in lower than budget. In my experience, I’ve seen the effect this has on cash flow into firms once projects are won, which in turn can affect how we compensate our employees.

The fact is good talent costs money. If you’re not able to enrich an employee’s full experience in your firm, you will suffer retention issues. This is why at Mancini Duffy, we considered a different approach: turning the question of compensation into an opportunity to see how else we could invest in our people’s financial and long-term well-being. We offer flexible work hours and a vacation stipend; we match above industry standards in our retirement savings plan; and, most importantly, we empower our people when it comes to creating and crafting their long-term career paths.

We understand the importance of compensating fairly, but beyond that we make sure our employees are valued and recognized. That’s [our] way, and I am proof of it. I’m a young black woman and part-owner of the firm. Most architectural firms don’t have a leadership group that looks like ours; they’re largely white, male, and over 50. At Mancini, what comes naturally to us is focusing on individuality, value, and skills—not race, not gender, not age. This is how we believe you move forward.

I am passionate about collaboration. At the end of the day we are all working towards a common goal. I want to ensure project managers don’t see their accounting or human resources groups as separate entities. I integrate my team into the entire project life.

There are so many things you can learn from what your numbers are telling you. We truly see the different fluctuations and, even though we might not fully understand the technicalities, we are able to alert early enough on how projects are trending—positively or otherwise. I am always striving to see how we can be more proactive, rather than reactionary, through our numbers. —As told to Kathleen M. O'Donnell