Who is going to take your place when you retire?

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums GENERAL DISCUSSION Who is going to take your place when you retire?

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    Wyatt Thompson, PLA

    Since they dropped the BLA, I’m not sure what the new requirement for internship/study abroad is. If the requirement is the same then I guess they have an extra year to find that company to hire them for a summer. I heard from someone in the Dean’s office a few weeks ago that Design Expo was way down in the number of firms hiring…not surprising, but confirmation that it’s tough being a student looking to fulfill the internship requirement.

    AR Coffeen

    earthworks, another truth to business is that there’s always money available, unfortunately most firm owners don’t want to grow their companies because they are happy with their existing size or they don’t have the business know how to successfully do so.

    If the current way you’re running the firm isn’t getting new projects, is struggling to pay employees, and you’re not looking at how to change this, than that’s BAD business. If you look at successful business models that have survived hard economic times and came out on top at the end you’ll learn that sitting idle and waiting for the market to turn around works but it’s better to be proactive. It’s true you can’t change the current state of the economy HOWEVER, you can position your firm to be ahead of the rest by cutting, adding, refining, training, and creating a team around you that is better than your competition, gives you a niche in the market, and allows for a formal succession as older principles retire (remember the original point of this rant). This may cost money you don’t have right now but, if you business model is solid and promising than you’ll be able to easily find investors or obtain funds to help form such a business. Also, remember it’ll cost less to do it now than it will later.

    Design is a business, we’re in it because we love it, but often times it feels like people forget that good businesses make money, it’s not a requirement but a measuring stick and unfortunately if you’re not turning a profit you can’t practice what you love, the business part of LA is a necessary evil so embrace it and maybe study it a bit if you have time as a result of the current economic conditions.



    Darn, I guess I wasn’t missing something.

    O.K. buy low sell high. I’ll buy that. I can buy a ship load of David Hasselhoff CDs right now for a penny per unit and sell them at a price to cover my overhead and make a profit – right? Slim chance. The problem is there’s no demand for those CDs right now. Just like there is very little demand for architectural and engineering services right now.

    Paying someone little to nothing or nothing whiles they work on imaginary projects. While they eat up valuable time, that the principal could be out looking for new work. It doesn’t sound like smart business. We won’t even talk about employment insurance, health insurance and payroll taxes. LA firms are suffering enough now to keep their current employees.

    And why would a smart business owner want to hire some young person right out of school to generate new business? The average person fresh out of school, their only experience is at the retail level. Yeah right, straight from the counter at Cinnabon to preparing proposals and selling complex landscape architecture projects. Besides if they do have enough cojones and skill to sell landscape architecture projects right out of school. Why would they want to work for an LA firm making next to nothing? That’s a special type of individual that could make it happen for themselves.

    Jonathan Smith, RLA

    On the other hand, internships are so short and aren’t meant to supplement a firm’s employee needs. How many entry level positions do you think an intern could really displace?

    I think internships should be seen by firms as an investment in the profession, not as a way to get work done cheaply or as a way to make it through tough times.

    I still think the good that internships can provide outweighs the bad

    …all this coming from someone who was never an inter or never has had an intern.

    Jonathan Smith, RLA

    There are federal laws that bar unpaid interns from working on billable projects. Doubt there’s any real enforcement, though


    “…another truth to business is that there’s always money available”

    Sure there is, and I believe in the tooth fairy and Santa Claus.

    I’m done.

    AR Coffeen

    i am just, mostly, playing devils advocate with you guys. I know there are no easy answers, no quick fixes. However, it does frustrate me seeing the lack of business knowledge much of the LA industry fronts. I mean seriously, if you’re going to run a business go to school for it, i mean that’s what you did for landscape architecture right?

    I guess i’ll have to open my own business now since i’ve offended everybody on here, haha.




    You make a good point. Someone who is working retail or food service is going to invite assumptions about what they’ve been doing during school or since graduation. Before I landed an internship as a E&S plan reviewer, I worked, you guessed it, in a coffee shop for three years. I wasn’t doing a lot of extra thinking about LA since I was just trying to pay rent, buy books and other design supplies. However, this time around working in a 25% design, 75% retail position, I’m able to use that no-longer-academically-aimed time towards further enrichment of skills and/or research. It does take an extra effort on the part of a non-firm employed LA grad to stay abreast of and prepared for the type of work they’ll encounter in a firm. I’m very fortunate to have a spouse that understands why I spend two or three hours a night after work reading articles or watching video tutorials for Photoshop or other softwares to position myself well for when the economy improves. I think that is one way you can encourage growth and avoid stagnancy in the upcoming crop of LA’s. I am hoping for the sake of myself and others it’s a method that works.

    Please don’t take this as my opinion as to the only path to success, I’m very much living what others are experiencing. My hope is that more of us will be moved towards action versus retreading the same territory over and over again.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    I’m less that 100 miles from Harvard, URI, and RISD. I can tell you for sure that there are several firms who roll in and roll out interns. Up until the last couple of years, they repeatedly advertised for 0-2 years experience. You can look at that as providing opportunity, or you can look at it as exploitation. Either way, most went on to seek better paying jobs and were replaced. I don’t know if they continue the practice, but I do know that there is no need to advertise to get resumes sent in. … and, yes, they only take resumes from elite schools.

    One would have to assume that they are used for plan production since there are several associates handling the design and contract administration. … and that any emails, phone calls or meetings that I had were with the associates and never an intern present.

    But, any direct experience is better than none. Even if you don’t directly participate in everything, you hear and see a lot that you’ll never get from school or by being isolated on your own.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    We just had a free engineering intern over the summer. The only thing that we could give him for work was to send him out as part of a survey crew.

    Everyone thinks that you’d be stupid not to take free help. I can tell you that I saw a totally different side of that. You can’t just give an inexperienced person work and expect them to get it done. Even if they have skills and brains, you still have to go over the project with them, show them how you want it done, train them on the office drafting standards, …… You lose three hours a day of your own production time in order to get five hours of rookie production work done. That is very tough when you are keeping your prices down in order to stay busy.

    It was a very short discussion on what we could do for the intern. The only reason why we took him at all is because both our survey crews are one man. Having an extra guy did not displace anyone and a 23 year old can dig in bounds a lot faster than a 60 year old.

    It would have been nice to have him in the office and learning, but we could not take on the added burden. He was happy as hell that he finally landed an internship and never complained one bit.



    The impression I get from your post is that you are a person that won’t be denied. I guarantee that your tenacity will pay off. You’re just playing the hand that was dealt to you.

    It’s that kind of attitude from you and others on this site that inspires me to make cold calls and go to networking events (picture: smiling, shaking hands, passing out cards, making small talk with strangers as efficiently as you can, etc.), while feeding myself positive affirmations. When the reality is, I have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting a project out of all this effort. But, I know it’s what I have to do to build my business. That’s just the way it is.

    Being on this thread will at least help you know the common issues. Keep on trying to absorb as much knowledge as you can about the business.



    I like where you’re taking this thread. I’ve been thinking, for a while now, that landscape architecture really needs a new business model. This industry swoons whenever the housing industry catches a cold. I’ve been doing a lot of reading on business and economics and am considering going back to school for some courses. It would be an interesting project for some MBA candidates – “How would you plan this business so that it can remain more a viable source of income through recessions?” For personal investing, they say diversify, diversify. Don’t have all your money in one sector of the economy. How can a landscape architect diversify? A lot of firms were doing work that was related to the housing boom, then that disappeared, and they were left high and dry. Should one try to develop a side career, a “Day job” so to speak? Should you try to develop long-term contracts that include maintenance advice? The father of a friend of mine was an architect who worked for Louis Kahn, and even went to Bangladesh to work on Chandigargh…its a famous building that’s on their paper money. In his later years he owned a couple of boardwalk amusements in Wildwood, NJ that he would run in the summer. We need to develop services that aren’t connected to new construction, but new construction and design is what we are taught and what we get paid to do when times are good.


    There is some validity to what he’s saying.

    Landscape Architects are creative folks. We want to design and not worry about the nuts and bolts, and numbers aspects of business.

    I had the advantage of getting lots of experience before I went out on my own. I learned more of what not to do to have a successful business. The not so successful businesses that I worked for in the past made mistakes like:
    1. Hiring staff that they could keep busy with billable hours.
    2. Renting fancy office space and buying furnishings that they really couldn’t afford.
    3. Refusing take advantage of current technology like computer aided design.
    4. Micro-managing senior staff, while not paying attention to the big picture.
    5. Giving too much responsibility to junior staff.
    6. Being weaklings or too proud when it came to collecting money.
    7. Having their business based around two or three sources (i.e. architecture firms).
    8. Personal relationships with employees.
    9. Not knowing what their real cost to do business.
    10. Not valuing loyal, competent employees.
    11. Using the business to stroke their fragile egos, thus making bad decisions.

    I went out on my own a couple of years ago following a layoff. I’ve managed to stay afloat when there is very little work right now by staying lean and mean. I don’t buy anything unless I have to have it. I plan on remaining frugal even when times get better again.

    I agree with a certain amount of diverseness, but there is only so much you can do. You don’t want to spread yourself too thin and be a jack of all trades and a master of none. There has to be balance.

    There are people that don’t have college degrees that have made millions by using common sense and understanding their customers.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    Someone mentioned retooling and restaffing in a down economy makes good business sense. I’m not sure how that relates in a big way to landscape architecture. We don’t make products or parts that we can invest in now and sell later.

    The beauty and the beast in our lives is that most everything is done in real time. It is a beauty because as soon as there is work to do staff gets hired. It is a beast because when there is less work, staff is let go. If you think about it, there is not a lot of overhead that small or medium sized firm can manage to control costs as business slows down other than staff. You can not easily sell computers, software, and office equipment and get enough for it. You still need a roof over your head, you have more need for marketing, you need the same insurance, …. what can you change to reduce costs? Staff is about it.

    Why do you hire staff? Because you need to increase production beyond what you can do without hiring. Once that is gone, like it or not, you have to reduce staff. What else can you do? … pay them anyway?

    Are landscape architects bad businessmen? No more so than any other profession. You can load up on capability all you want and market more than anyone else, but in the end you need a market that has a need for your services. That is beyond your control. Good business is to know what IS in the market right now and find a way to be needed by it.Too many people on this board talk about how to change the market to get them to want us. That is fantasy. We, those of us not already doing it, have to change to address the needs of the existing demands of the market. I believe that is exactly what is going on and that it is good business. Unfortunately, that means they don’t need, or just can’t have, a lot of staff. It also means a lot of consolidation of bigger firms (buy outs) to further cut overhead.

    Jonathan Smith, RLA

    See, Craig, this kind of knowledge is why I should be working for someone else first…

    …I think I take a bit of time this winter and go visit firms again, see if I can land a job…

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