Vision and goals: Joe Furey

Jun 11, 2023

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President of Michael Graves Architecture, an innovative architecture and design company that provide services around the world for clients in multiple industries.

By Liisa Andreassen

Furey is a CPA with more than 30 years of experience in the AEC industry leading business operations, M&A, strategic and financial planning, and succession planning. Although not an architect, he’s been placed in the unique position of leading Michael Graves Architecture (Princeton, NJ) through the financial and strategic side of things, thus allowing his peers at the firm to focus on the creative side of the business. The firm currently has clients ranging from Fortune 100 companies and global manufacturers to start-ups in multiple industries.

A conversation with Joe Furey.

The Zweig Letter: When you first started with Michael Graves Architecture in 2008, you were hired as the CFO. In 2018, you became the president. Do you feel being CFO first better prepared you for being president, and what do you like better about this role?

Joe Furey: Absolutely. There’s no doubt that the finance experience gave me a better feel for how a business functions, what investments are needed, where to take some risk and when to avoid it. Finance professionals and CFOs can be under-valued in many organizations, but I was fortunate to work in several companies throughout my career where that was not the case. In fact, I was not only valued, but was exposed to other parts of the business which provided a healthy balance of skills.

At MG, I love that we have set our vision and goals, and I can focus on taking the steps to allow us to achieve them. There is a routine in finance roles, and I succeeded in that structure. Now, I don’t have that strict of a schedule, and it’s somewhat liberating. That said, I will always value the discipline and structure of the finance roles; that’s what helps me keep things on task.

TZL: American Building is a podcast series that your firm hosts. Tell me a little about your audience and feedback you’ve gotten about it.

JF: The listener base is educated, informed, and growing. It reaches deeply and widely in the intertwined real estate, financial services, design, tech, government and public policy, and nonprofit and philanthropy sectors. We’ve had 10,000 all-time downloads; 9,100 LinkedIn followers on the host’s page with posts getting 500 to 64,000 impressions each; 6,600 real estate industry experts on our mailing list; and six countries where American Building ranked in the Top 25 in the Design Category on Apple Podcasts. Across the industry, an estimated 93 percent of podcast audiences listen to most or all of an episode, which makes a podcast like this one especially powerful.

TZL: Diversity and inclusion are lacking. What steps are you taking to address the issue?

JF: We track where we are on demographics, and if something is out of balance, we work to address it. I often say we don’t try that hard, and frankly we shouldn’t have to try hard to do the right thing. We’ve always been a diverse company and will continue down that path. With growth through acquisition, the numbers could change in either direction. For us, after the first few acquisitions, our diversity numbers improved in a few areas. We didn’t seek to acquire any firms on that basis; we look for good companies with good people and whose core values align with ours. And therefore, it was not a surprise that we didn’t go backward with our diversity statistics after the four acquisitions.

TZL: Michael Graves has acquired four companies in the past two years. What’s behind all these acquisitions? Is it part of a strategic plan?

JF: Yes. We developed our strategic plan several years ago, and one key component of that plan was to grow through acquisition. Like every company, we have our strengths and weaknesses. We have an internationally-renowned brand, incredible history and portfolio, and talented employees. We work in almost every building type across the country and globe. By growth through acquisition, we add more projects to the portfolio, more talented employees, a broader geographic footprint, and access to additional quality clients.

TZL: What type of leader do you consider yourself to be?

JF: I’m unsure of the word I would use, but I always try to set out a clear plan and path to growth, communicate progress regularly and work to keep us focused and on track. I believe delegating, and holding people accountable for results – not effort – is important and I try to stay true to that. Through this approach, every partner and employee can learn and grow by stretching themselves, and occasionally failing. I believe pushing people and allowing them to take a chance, while possibly making a mistake, enables learning and growth.

TZL: What’s on your to-do list for the next rest of the year?

JF: In 2022, we tripled in size as we completed year one of our strategic plan. We’ll continue to focus on our growth plan and spend 2023 integrating the companies (now called business units) that we’ve acquired to date. We’re also acquiring a specialty Revit consultant and that will help us to focus on integrating each of those business units.

TZL: Technology seems like it takes top priority at Michael Graves. With a dedicated in-house team that focuses on researching and developing innovative visualization and design tools, tell me about a recent development and how it will affect project work moving forward?

JF: Technology is a key focus in our daily work and was one of several focal points in our strategic plan. As I mentioned, we’re about to close on a specialty consultant, a tech company. This acquisition will enable even more growth, productivity, and results as we roll them in. There are many projects where our technology-enabled design process allows us to collaborate with our clients early in the process, bringing our designs to life quickly. A recent example is a California project where we used the Game Engine technology to bring the experience to life, generating very high-quality renderings showcasing the vibe for the client before any significant investment on his part. We also use AI more and more each day and can generate inspirational imagery.

TZL: How are you balancing investment in the next generation – which is at an all-time high – with rewards for tenured staff? This has always been a challenge, but seems heightened as investments in development have increased.

JF: We offer competitive compensation and strongly believe in access to the design conversation and process. Once we hire someone, he/she has a designated role and voice on their projects. Sharing collective voices, cross-generationally, creates a process of learning and mentorship that goes both ways. I’m very aware that young people bring a new and different perspective and we genuinely welcome that. We invest a lot (time and money) in our culture and sponsor, through an employee-led group (no equity owners), culture events within the company. We also have professional training and development initiatives. 

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