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Think Time Tuesday: Leadership & Where the Buck Stops

May 25, 2021 @ 8:30 am - 9:30 am PDT

$15 – $50


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Think-Time Tuesdays: Leadership & Where the Buck Stops

Inside the A+D Studio

This is a virtual series.  Zoom log-in information will be emailed to registrants 24 hours in advance from events@aialosangeles.org. If you do not receive a confirmation 24 hours prior to the event, please email events@aialosangeles.org.

Learning Units: 1 LU

Scheduled to keep the momentum going for a year of growth for your firm, this special AIALA series offers learning units and the foundations of a strong practice with strategic planning.

Who builds, manages, and supports the team and how? This session focuses on how business strategy defines and influences an A+D practice’s structure and its management, as well as the firm culture.

Join Think-Time Tuesdays host, and SO|arch founder Elisabeth Sporer, AIA CIC for a presentation on the business of running an A+D firm. Elisabeth will provide an overview of firm profiles and firm structures, as well as leadership styles and firm cultures, then present select SO|arch case studies in conversation with her clients:

+ Improving overall performance for small and midsized firms with Cathy Merrill (Merrill Morris Partners)
+ Building teams with Michelle Gayle Hill (Spatializing) and Rob Zirkle (brick)
+ Leveraging niche services with Dong Kim (DIALOG)



Elisabeth Sporer, AIA, LEED AP, CIC; A+D Business Strategist and SO|arch Founder
Elisabeth Sporer works with CEOs, founders and leadership teams to build successful A+D firms through an integral approach. Based in Northern California, she has presented at major AIA chapters in the region, including AIA Los Angles, AIA SF, AIA East Bay and AIA Central Valley, on topics like international practice [“Unlearning the Metric System” in 2019], mentorship [“High Performance Mentorship” in 2020], entrepreneurship [“The Free Solo Practice” in 2019] and business strategy [“Blueprint for Success” in 2020].She holds a Master of Science in Advanced Architecture Design from Columbia University in The City of New York and a Master of Architecture and a Bachelor of Architecture, both from TU Berlin.


Guest Presenters:

Cathy Merrill, ASLA; Founding Principal of Merrill Morris Partners
Cathy Merrill, founding principal of Merrill Morris Partners, a San Francisco-based landscape architectural and planning firm, has covered the spectrum of the profession in her 35+ year career – park/ open space design, public works facilities, transportation and environmental planning, urban design, office/commercial, institutional, campus and residential development. Cathy is well known in both the private and public sectors for her facility and creativity in planning and design, as well as her skillful approach in public relations and advocacy. Cathy obtained her BA in landscape architecture from UC Berkeley.


Michelle Gayle Hill, architect; Founding Principal of Spatializing
Michelle Hill Gayle is an award winning architect and interior designer with a broad range of experience, spanning from lead interior designer, furniture specifier, project architect, space planner, construction administrator to project manager and firm owner. Michelle founded Spatializing, Inc. in 2016 to help clients plan and implement facility improvements that enhance their bottom line by supporting employee wellness and productivity. Michelle holds a BA in Architecture and an MBA from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management.


Rob Zirkle, architect, LEED AP; Founding Principal of brick
Rob Zirkle is the founding principal of brick. Under his guidance the brick team brings a rigorous, value driven design process to a wide variety of project types in architecture, interiors and urban design. Rob leads the firm’s initiatives in design, client satisfaction, new project acquisition and company culture. Channeling Rob’s entrepreneurial approach, brick has grown into a thriving 25 person team with $450m of current projects under construction ranging from commercial office, life science, housing and higher education. Rob holds an MArch degree from Yale University.


Dong Kim, AIA, LEED AP; DIALOG, Principal
Dong Kim is a partner in DIALOG’s San Francisco studio. He provides architectural design services for various public clients across Northern California. These services range from preliminary visioning projects to nitty-gritty building system retrofits. One of his most noteworthy project is the Rainbow Recreation Center in East Oakland and he collaborated with Better SF to generate a probono feasibility and vision study of potential modular homeless shelter design. Dong obtained his BA in architecture from UC Berkeley and has taught 3D modeling courses at Chabot College. He continues to enhance his practice through research in latest technological advancements.


Learning Objectives:

+ Participants will discern how leadership style and firm profile shape business strategy, firm structure and firm culture
+ Participants will gain an understanding of challenges and opportunities throughout the life cycles of A+D firms
+ Participants will add to their knowledge of best practices for business strategy, culture and firm management
+ Participants will be able to adapt best practices for their own business


Series Overview:

What makes a successful A+D practice? Find out by taking a break from your daily grind and getting into active thinking mode with business strategy consultant, architect and SO|arch founder, Elisabeth Sporer, AIA, CIC.

Elisabeth works with A+D firms — from emerging studios to established practices and legacy firms — to create business plans based on the “Four Pillars” of brand, finance, operations and design. Holistic in approach, viable and succinct, these business plans address a variety of goals — from long-terms ones like overall growth, market sector expansion, succession planning or ownership change, to short-term ones like strengthening leadership teams, improving financial performance, establishing efficient operational processes, or even getting a business loan.

Through interactive, quarterly sessions — rooted in case studies, best practices and the lessons of entrepreneurship — you will learn how to strengthen, and synergize, the “Four Pillars” of your business. By giving yourself time to actively, and deliberately, think on all aspects of your business, and your firm’s unique DNA, you can realize an A+D practice where purpose, portfolio and profit meaningfully converge.

1st Quarter: Story-selling & The Freestyle Practice; February 23, 2021 (Watch Recording Here)

Who gets the work, and how? The first session [of four] focuses on the elements of a strategic plan with a focus on brand, BD (business development) and marketing.

2nd Quarter: Leadership & Where the Buck Stops; May 25, 2021 | 8:30-9:30AM PST

Who builds, manages, and supports the team and how? This session focuses on business strategy, culture and firm management.

3rd Quarter: Profit Motive & The Business of Design; November 16, 2021 | 8:30-9:30AM PST

Who deals with the money, and how? This session focuses on finance, metrics and performance.

4th Quarter: The Art of Collaboration & Getting Things Done; December 14, 2021 | 8:30-9:30AM PST

Who does the work and how? This session focuses on design teams, leadership styles and new ways of working.


May 25, 2021
8:30 am - 9:30 am PDT
$15 – $50
Event Category: