Tricky business

Are we an architectural practice in business or a business that is producing architecture, wonders Mark Taylor. It’s a fine distinction

Five years of the economic downturn, now approaching its 5th year - as we celebrate our 5th birthday as 3DReid – has forced us all to think strategically about what we do, how to deliver a differentiated service and become more targeted and deliberate in generating new commissions.   

In the past, business plans have been no more than a record of activity across but now we have a five year plan that to establish our qualitative aspirations and stipulates what our income growth will be, where it will come from and the strategies to achieve it. It sets the boundaries for every decision we make. We have also appointed non-architects to the Board – a finance and a marketing director and non-executive advisors with strategic experience.

Control over the finances of the company far exceeds any previous understanding and resourcing the team, considerably smaller than that we started with, is now an exacting science.

It has to be. Our traditional place in the middle ground of mid-large sized commercial practices is disappearing as the industry polarises towards super-sized multi-disciplinary firms or specialist boutique practices with a ‘name’.  Our business philosophy is based on three key beliefs: great design informed by world class knowledge and delivered by experts will earn higher fees and enhanced profit; quality ideas, depth of knowledge and ‘best in class’ thinking will differentiate us from the competition; and stronger differentiated service to the existing and international markets that are demonstrating prosperity will deliver growth.

We have reviewed the sectors we operate in and focussed on the areas where we are strongest, aiming for excellence in fewer markets. We have given more emphasis to growing independently branded sector teams with world class knowledge growth achieved by training, mentoring, and strategic recruitment. 

This means that our transport, retail and hospitality sectors operate almost as separate businesses, with dedicated teams, their own business plans and budgets and in future, their own accounting. Our customers in these sectors are generally specialists and we have to think like specialists too. This has led to significant new wins for high profile projects that we would not have secured before. 

Ready for the client

International clients, however, are not excited by strategy: they want great British design of the highest quality so a business strategy should not only create the framework within which to develop great architecture but also build a brand and reputation from which to promote the best ideas. 

Our future will be driven by a combination of both management and reputation. With landmark projects such as the BREEAM Outstanding 1 Angel Square, Commonwealth Arena and Velodrome and new airport in Gibraltar completing soon, we are ready for the challenge.

We didn’t learn our business skills in schools of architecture.  But we’ve had to learn quickly that only by being good businesses, can we create great architecture. We have to be as imaginative about how we run our business as we are about design. 


Mark Taylor is chief executive at 3D Reid