There’s Nothing Inherently Bad About Business

Jan 12, 1998

Talk to some architects and engineers and their real feelings will come out: They believe there’s something bad, something sick, something wrong, something immoral about business. Their attitude is that design or technical work is good; the business stuff is bad. That may sound like an oversimplification, but in truth, it’s not. I used to have the same types of discussions with my wife, who, prior to our having children, worked as a school psychologist in various public school systems. I always knew she had a talent for business and tried to talk her into getting out of the public sector and into the private sector, but she fought me. She didn’t like business— or so she thought. Today, she’s going into her third year of private-sector ownership and management of a successful reading clinic she founded, and she would tell you it’s been a great experience. I think this “anti-business” attitude that so many design and technical professionals have hurts a lot of firms and is detrimental to our industry overall. But as much as I would like to wave my magic wand and make it go away, I have been around long enough to know that won’t happen. These people need to be sold on a new way of thinking. They need to know “business” is good so they won’t feel like they are compromising themselves by committing to a successful career as more than an architect or engineer, but as a manager, entrepreneur, and businessperson, as well. The “business” of our business really is an admirable calling. Here’s why: You don’t have to lie, cheat, or steal to be a success. In fact, most people in this business who do those things will not be a success— what goes around comes around. I find that in business, the more honest you are, the better off you are. The word gets around and good things happen. You can provide real opportunities for people that they might not get elsewhere. I have to believe that many of our readers know what I am talking about. There isn’t much more gratifying than spotting potential in someone, giving them a chance to demonstrate what they can do, and then seeing that person succeed. When you are in business, you can give people these chances. You can use all of your gray matter. Certainly, not everyone in business can claim this, but those fortunate enough to be in the A/E/P or environmental consulting business can do so. You have to think creatively to sell a big project. You have to think on your feet to defuse public opposition to one of your projects at a ZBA hearing. You need to do a little digging to understand the differences between an S-corporation and a C-corporation. You need to put some real thought into how to buy out your older partners at a price that’s fair to them but also one the company can afford. I could go on and on, but you get the idea that the technical work is not the only aspect of this business that’s intellectually challenging! You can contribute to your community and society. Being successful in business allows you to give money to the causes that you want to help. It may also give you more influence than you would have otherwise when it comes to ram-rodding changes in your local business district or school system. The fact is, people listen to successful businesspeople more than they do to “Joe Lunchbucket.” You can have the satisfaction that comes from building. Most people who go into architecture or engineering like to build, to create. You love to see the project you worked on actually get built. It’s gratifying. Well, the same can be said for building a business. That, too, is gratifying. Just knowing that something you were directly involved in and responsible for employs people, provides income to other businesses, and is known in the community as a good firm is gratifying in a very deep way. And it’s especially gratifying and reinforcing when obstacles to success are overcome due to planning and hard work. It’s great to feel in control of your destiny. So the next time you hear someone in your firm speak disparagingly about the business of the A/E/P and environmental consulting professions, set ‘em straight, O.K.? Originally published 1/12/1998

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