Walking the talk: Rob Welker

Jun 18, 2023

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President and partner at Hoefer Welker (Kansas City, MO), an interdisciplinary architecture, planning, and interior design firm.

By Liisa Andreassen

Welker joined Hoefer Welker in 2008. Since then, his expertise in the design-build delivery method, mixed-use development, project performance, and client satisfaction has led to continued firm growth and enhanced community development. He’s a strong advocate of creating a sense of place that meets clients’ financial targets while establishing an emotional connection with those who use it. He shares that this is achieved in many ways that include making sustainability affordable for clients and creating a positive environment for staff that pervades from the inside out.

“I believe in a philosophy of servant leadership,” Welker says. “I’m passionate about sharing knowledge and helping people develop to be their best. It’s not about being in charge, but taking care of those in your charge.”

Affordable sustainability. Hoefer Welker is experienced in the LEED v4 rating system and this has helped to improve the firm on multiple fronts. First, it allows them to provide a greater value to their clients.

“A healthy, low-operating cost facility, that performs well is something everyone deserves,” Welker says. “We run early on analysis to make sure we can provide sustainable solutions that don’t break the bank and have fast, if not instantaneous, paybacks.”

The company tracks their design performance, as well as the cost of these strategies so they can inform clients of the actual impact of their decisions.

“This makes us different,” Welker adds. “We have the experience to meet the client where they are and help them find a solution that meets their unique needs and budget.”

Being LEED-certified also empowers their employees to allow projects to align with their own values. They aren’t just working to meet a deadline. They’re working to help save the planet, to keep occupants healthy and engaged in their spaces, and to give owners properties that will last.

“Sustainability is a substantial benefit to Hoefer Welker to those inside and outside our walls. It’s not just what we do. It’s who we are,” Welker says.

Walk the talk. Welker shares that a project he’s most proud of is their new corporate office in Kansas City.

“As a national architectural firm that specializes in design, we felt it was important to have a high-quality, Class A office where talent can flourish,” he says.

Their new space emanates the brand of who they are today as well as where they’re heading. They focused on an amenity-rich, mixed-use destination that is column free so their design could be a flexible and multi-use space that celebrates social interaction and mentorship while respecting deep focus areas.

“We have a simple belief at Hoefer Welker that the ‘Best Idea Wins,’” he says.

Their physical workplace takes that into consideration by providing a more diverse mix of unique experiences and types of spaces that promote creativity as well as a place to share knowledge. The space is composed of a living room, kitchen, two cafes, a terrace, design lab, and multiple studio collaborative area(s) to maximize creativity and innovation.

And the space is doing just that – fostering successful ideas and outcomes. Welker cites a recent example that showcases a project that exemplifies their commitment to spaces that create a sense of place while meeting financial targets – a VA clinic.

The opportunity was solicited by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) via a best-value, design excellence request for lease proposal and it selected the design-build, lease alternative in lieu of the traditional approach of buying a site and directly procuring the required services under a design-bid-build delivery method.

The actual construction delivery method used was a developer-led design-build contract with the VA wherein the developer, used a design-build contract and provided a turn-key solution, which included design, construction, furniture, fixtures, equipment, and financing under a lease procurement.

A sense of place was created that focused on healing. The 275,000 square-foot Phoenix VA Clinic will see half a million patient visits per year and was designed to consider the unique healthcare journey facing veterans and their caregivers. Ultimately, the clinic honors the region’s veterans with a healing sanctuary.

Examining the past; anticipating the future. Outside of ensuring the successful outcome of projects, Welker is tasked with daily leadership challenges. He believes the five essential duties and responsibilities include project competencies, financial responsibilities, revenue generation, cultural behaviors, and continued improvement.

“As we start out in our career path, we’ve all been trained on the ‘hard’ skills, but often lack the ‘soft’ skills. Early on, I wish I could have slowed down and listened to conversations and took my time to be selective of my words,” he says. “My first lesson in leadership – many times a quiet voice speaks the loudest.”

Over the years, Welker has earned his stripes and right now he’s tackling the business’s challenges that mostly have to do with staffing shortages, lack of intellectual capital, and technology.

“The 2008 financial crisis prompted many individuals to leave the industry, creating a significant knowledge gap between our junior staff and emerging leaders,” he says. “This knowledge gap has led to capacity issues within our industry and organization.”

The industry as a whole is also anticipating a challenge in the form of leadership approaching retirement, which could result in a knowledge vacuum, further exacerbating the shortage of expertise and capacity.

In addition to staffing issues, Welker, like many others, finds himself on the precipice of a major technological shift in how data is harnessed and used.

“Our industry has been reluctant to fully embrace data-driven decision making,” he says. “In the past 25 years alone, we’ve generated more data than in the previous 250 years, yet until recently, we lacked a comprehensive understanding of how to responsibly unleash its potential by integrating appropriate technologies into our processes.”

He’s afraid that if the industry fails to incorporate data and AI into operations to address the shortage of intellectual capital they’ll struggle to compete with those that do.

To tackle both challenges, Hoefer Welker is actively investing in technology and educational strategies. They’re looking outward to other industries, such as aerospace, big-tech, and AEC software companies, which have effectively used data for the past two decades. Through this exploration, they’ve learned that mundane or repetitive tasks are prime for being replaced by automation. Moreover, by leveraging the data they are beginning to capture, they can train machines to perform such tasks, thereby freeing up capacity for their most valuable resource: their people. 

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