President of Mancini Duffy, a national design firm based in NYC with a 100-year-old history and tech-forward approach specializing in architecture, planning, and interior design.
By Liisa Andreassen
Giordano believes that the world of architecture and design is due for a reinvention. And, as he approaches his leadership role at Mancini Duffy (New York, NY) with the benefit of more than 25 years of experience, he’s well poised to push industry boundaries. Internal innovations include a research and development arm – the Design Lab – which focuses on technologies that create an immersive design process.
“At Mancini Duffy, we’re working to create an entrepreneurial mindset – one that encourages new ideas and ways of looking at things,” Giordano says. “We’re also very cognizant of the importance of a healthy work-life balance. We want people to want to be here.”
A conversation with Christian Giordano.
The Zweig Letter: Can you tell me what you have up your sleeve for reinvention?
Christian Giordano: On one level, it starts with firm culture. There’s still a great deal of “old-school mentality” out there when it comes to managing and leading an architecture and design firm. There’s a tremendous amount of young talent out there, but they’re often discouraged by the traditional hierarchy and, as a result, leave the profession. At Mancini Duffy, we’re working to create an entrepreneurial mindset – one that encourages new ideas and ways of looking at things. We’re also very cognizant of the importance of a healthy work-life balance. We want people to want to be here. On the tech side, we’ve authored a proprietary software that helps with speed of decision making. It combines REVIT with a virtual reality software.
TZL: You have a podcast called The Anti-Architect and also sell some merchandise with that tagline. What’s behind the name? What are you hoping to achieve through this branding? During your podcasts, what’s been one of your more memorable guests/interviews and why?
CG: It actually started with Zweig Group. I brought them in as a consultant after I bought the company and they suggested that I needed to become a thought leader. I’m not big on writing so I suggested a podcast that focused on what we can do, together, to improve the profession as a whole. I interview people, ask questions, share experiences and lessons learned. The name Anti-Architect just sort of evolved from that. For the most part, I don’t enjoy going to events where there are lots of other architects; I find it a little boring. Frankly, I want to be the only architect in the room. Most people get it. Now, we have thousands of listeners each week and many other architects are listening. Now that it’s working, I want to up the game a little, so I’ve hired someone who preps people for TED Talks. It’s unexpected and fun! The guests I enjoy the most are the ones who are candid and not afraid to tell the truth.
TZL: Ownership transition can be tricky, to say the least. What’s the key to ensuring a smooth passing of the baton? What’s the biggest pitfall to avoid?
CG: When I purchased the firm, I hired Zweig Group as a consultant and they made the process pretty painless. Looking back, I think it was important for both parties (buyer and seller) to want to make it work. We had open communication. A pitfall is to put your personal priorities first. It’s important to lay out a set of common goals and go from there.
TZL: What benefits does your firm offer that your people get most excited about?
CG: On the HR side, we have things like summer Fridays off and we pay for a portion of vacations (up to $2,000) to encourage people to take time off. We also give solid bonuses and compensation. More than this, we offer opportunities and encourage the entrepreneurial mindset. We’re also very transparent and lay out the vision for the company so there are no surprises.
TZL: How has COVID-19 permanently impacted your firm’s policy on telecommuting?
CG: It not only affected our policy on telecommuting, but also on real estate. We downsized from a 20,000-square-foot office to 15,000 square feet which saves on rent. We also went to a “hotel” model. When people come into the office they can sit at any desk they want. Everyone has the same laptop, etc. And, since no one has a set office this helps with collaboration. People sit near different colleagues all the time and it makes everyone more mobile. Overall, we’ve rejuvenated the office experience. People can also work at home two days per week; some people choose to come in more. We’ve struck a great balance and I’m open to more flex arrangements too.
TZL: What role does your family play in your career? Are work and family separate, or is there overlap?
CG: I’m lucky. I met my wife at work. She was an interior designer. She knows the profession and the demands that go along with it. My kids know that work means a lot to me and I involve them in aspects of my job. We have career work days, office and family BBQs, etc. I think it’s important for my kids to see that work is important. Maybe it will rub off on them in the future. It’s really all rolled together.
TZL: What skills are required to run a successful practice? What do you wish you knew starting out that you know now?
CG: I wish I had gotten more formal business management training or gone on to get an MBA. The first time someone asked me about top- and bottom-line revenue, I looked at them with a blank stare. I learned these skills on-the-job, which is both good and bad. They don’t teach you things like how to read a P&L sheet or how to understand cash flow in architecture school.
TZL: Diversity and inclusion are lacking. What steps are you taking to address the issue?
CG: It seems this has always come naturally for us. About 60 percent of our staff is comprised of women. Many of the women are involved in leadership groups at the AIA level. One of our partners started an organization called “She Builds Waves” – a collective of women who make waves in the built industry by engaging each other and striving for more, together.
TZL: You created “The Toolbelt.” How has this changed the face of your business and do you use it for all projects?
CG: This is our virtual reality software and we use it on all projects now. It helps to make the client a real part of the process and gives them ownership. It also helps with speedier decision-making. For instance, what a regular architect can do in three weeks, we can do in three hours. We can get to the design part of the process almost immediately and it’s been very well received and successful.
TZL: What type of leader do you consider yourself to be?
CG: Inspirational. I try to empower people and be a resource and encourage them to follow their passion.
TZL: Your firm recently acquired Gertler & Wente Architects. What was the main impetus for that? How will it help to drive the company forward?
CG: It had to do with the desire to diversify our work, sectors, and geographic reach. We’ve always been known for designing high-end corporate interiors – and still are – but we wanted to move into other areas too – hospitality, healthcare, aviation, etc. I knew Jeff Gertler and asked what he had planned for his company after he retired. He said, “No one has made me an offer.” So, with that, an offer was created and an acquisition happened. We now have 20 more people on board, including Jeff, and I hope they are as happy as we are as we took a great deal of time and effort to integrate. They have much experience in the healthcare and multi-family market and we’re excited to expand into this area.