CFO of Studio+ (Fort Myers, FL), an architecture and interior design firm focused on design solutions that transform lives.
By Liisa Andreassen
Lendino is one of Studio+’s initial founders. Having spearheaded the firm’s growth from eight employees at its inception in 2011 to more than 50 today, he says teambuilding and recruitment are among his greatest passions. A true entrepreneur, he works to balance financial austerity and strategic growth opportunities as the firm looks to grow over the next decade.
“My number one goal as a leader in this company is to grow people in the ways they want to grow, and I’m always on the lookout for new ways to help our people,” he says.
A conversation with Mike Lendino.
The Zweig Letter: Your website states, “Together we design solutions that transform lives.” What does this mean to you?
Mike Lendino: I find this mission resonates with everyone in the firm, regardless of role. Design, in our core markets of healthcare and education, truly can transform a life. Every detail matters and plays a role in the impact of design. When projects and schedules create challenges, having a mission focused on such a meaningful outcome keeps our team focused on the cause and result of the design, no matter the scale and complexity. This mission also is vital during the interview process. The strongest new hire candidates tend to find great meaning and connection to our mission.
TZL: What skills are required to run a successful practice? What do you wish you knew starting out that you know now?
ML: The internal culture of a firm is so important. Not losing sight of this is vital to maintaining a long-term, successful firm. It’s unfortunate that negativity tends to spread faster than positivity. Focusing on keeping leadership and the studio positive and team-oriented can help drive a strong culture.
TZL: What was the reason for the recent acquisition of TDM Architects? What do you hope it will achieve?
ML: The TDM Architects acquisition was focused on market synergies and overall approach to client service. TDM Architects had a 27-year focused expertise in K-12 education design, amongst strong expertise in several other markets. This complimented Studio+ very well. Additionally, their model for client-focused service and project delivery also aligned with Studio+. Lastly, their culture was one focused on their people first. This is embedded in our core values which are:
- People. It’s our motivation.
- Passion. We love what we do.
- Process. We’re continually pursuing excellence.
- Performance. We meet expectations.
TZL: They say failure is a great teacher. What’s the greatest lesson you’ve had to learn the hard way?
ML: Without getting into a long story, the greatest lesson is not to lose focus on your core business. The core business is truly what makes Studio+ successful. Remaining focused on architecture and design is critical.
TZL: You founded the company in 2011. When starting the company why were you part of the team?
ML: Through prior experience, our CEO, Damon Romanello, knew of the importance of someone to monitor and maintain the business side of an architecture firm. Fast forward 11 years, Studio+ has built an administrative and business operational foundation that has been critical to our growth and success, enabling growth at-scale without increasing non-billable overhead staff. That is ultimately what I bring as a partner to the firm. I am not a designer, but I have designed a powerhouse team of administrative professionals that allows our architectural talent to drive unparalleled client service and curated design – so they aren’t worried about non-billable administrative burdens.
TZL: What type of leader do you consider yourself to be?
ML: I consider myself a very rational, servant-oriented leader. I truly believe that leadership can be achieved through building meaningful relationships based on synergistic goals. Listening, empathy, and stewardship are just some of the characteristics I use to guide my team.
TZL: It is often said that people leave managers, not companies. What are you doing to ensure that your line leadership are great people managers?
ML: Very true and very tricky. We have recently implemented a 12-month firm-wide leadership training program, with an additional focus on those in leadership/manager positions within the firm. By giving managers access and training to the right tools, they will be better equipped to manage their teams in a successful manner.
TZL: Since you founded Studio+ what is one of the top accomplishments you are most proud of and why?
ML: Watching the firm grow from eight to 56 employees has been fantastic. Having Studio+ serve as a firm that captures the talent and skills of our employees and having the ability to create both a healthy professional life and the construct of a successful personal life is really what motivates me. Our team is the most important aspect of Studio+. Seeing that team grow has been the most rewarding result of my career.
TZL: How many years of experience – or large enough book of business – is enough to become a principal in your firm? Are you naming principals in their 20s or 30s?
ML: Principals get named when they have earned it. In most cases, this occurs when they have engrained themselves with core clients, delivered projects successfully, and driven repeat business. Motivating teams to succeed is also key. Equally important, principals of Studio+ embody the core values of Studio+ that are the foundation of the strong studio culture. That said, it seems like principals are typically in their late 30s or older.
TZL: What keeps you organized? What are your go-to tools and strategies?
ML: I rely heavily on my operations and administrative team. We work very closely daily on all things finance, HR, administration, and marketing. Our core team is cross-trained in multiple aspects of the business operations to support one another when and where support is needed. We rely on proprietary developed programs and other AEC specific software to give us the information we need to make decisions in an expedited timeframe.
TZL: In one word or phrase, what do you describe as your number one job responsibility?
ML: Maintaining a successful, efficient, and evolving operation in architecture.
TZL: A firm’s longevity is valuable. What are you doing to encourage your staff to stick around?
ML: This is especially challenging right now. Regardless of money and benefits, the work experience and studio culture is critical. Ensuring the studio has team members who others are excited to work with is vital. The overall attitudes of team members and managers lead to the type of culture that people either want to be a part of or want to leave.