Few firms have the distinction of reaching the century mark, but Westlake Reed Leskosky, founded in 1905, has not only survived, it has thrived. The key to that success, says managing principal Paul E. Westlake Jr., FAIA, was a decision to focus the firm’s portfolio while diversifying its services. “For the first 92 years, we were a Cleveland-based, architecture-only firm with a diverse practice,” says Westlake. “We would respond to any opportunity.”
In 1997, that changed. First, the firm assessed its portfolio to determine “where we might be differentiated, in terms of our talents and our profitability,” Westlake says. It decided to focus on performing and cultural arts centers, historic preservation, healthcare, and workplace environments.
Then, the firm diversified its geography by opening new offices in cities like Phoenix, while also expanding in-house expertise to include things like engineering and building modeling services. Today, the firm provides an integrated design approach within its core areas of expertise. “Our philosophy was to get away from the patriarchy of architecture and to embrace the idea that all disciplines are important,” Westlake says. “When we do a performing arts project now, we do the architecture, plumbing, IP data, lighting, acoustics, engineering … we do everything.”
This expertise is bolstered by a strong commitment to research. Sixty percent of profits went back into research in 2013, helping to support highly technical projects like the $15 million Wayne N. Aspinall Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse modernization project in Grand Junction, Colo., which is targeted to become the General Services Administration’s first net-zero energy facility on the National Register of Historic Places and achieved LEED-NC Platinum. “You can’t get to technically excellent solutions without a phenomenal amount of research,” Westlake says.
Equally important to the sustainability of its portfolio is the sustainability of its workforce. Associates get an automatic 10 percent salary bump upon licensure, and every employee has a clear, five-year growth plan. “They love that they can look ahead and it’s not a mystery how they are going to grow in the firm,” Westlake says. “The most important assets of any firm are the people.”
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