publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Pat Evans
October 1, 2013
As we began the interview she wanted to focus on modular planning concepts, a sense of working in a community incorporated in their new offices (no private offices, low profile separations) as I got the grand tour of spectacular space at Sizeland Evans. She started out telling me she works a pretty conventional mon-fri routine, but when we did the math, it seems she works a typical 60+ hr. week like most business owners . . .
Pat Evans, Principal, leads the firm she and Georgi Sizeland founded. In business since 1990 - survived many ups and downs, currently running a staff of 30 (down from a peak of 51 in 2008 before the recession). Not bad for the kid from Flin Flon.
Beginnings of her firm, circa 1989/90, involved starting on a shoe string, her partner still teaching at Mount Royal helped cash flow, a husband starting a business, a 1 yr. old daughter on her hip – from humble beginnings in a market where work was scarce, emerged one of Calgary’s leading interior design firms. Incorporated in 1991 – I’m told it was a good fit of skills, getting clients, serving clients – with Georgi being the more entrepreneurial face of the firm in those days. Georgi left the firm in 2007 due to illness – and Pat has carried on strongly.
Her explanation of how her firm is organized is clearly a passion – so I sipped the kool-aid with my coffee for a while, had a tour and a talk – 4 autonomous design studios, organized around consistent groups serving clients, weekly meetings, having used a Business Coach for many years and now employing one as an HR person/coach is, she tells me, has been a significant contributor to her firm's success. I expected her to brag up her people – but this was more, stronger – a significant amount of passion getting those points across. I listened and learned.
Dad rose to be head electrician at the mill, mom was a nurse who had a stellar 40 yr. volunteering career … extended family had fine arts degrees – how did this non-rebellious 2nd child/figure skater grow to become a design leader? And why are so many design shops in Calgary led by strong women from Manitoba? Pat tells me that summers at the lake led to perusing way too many design magazines . . . which led to cutting out and re-jigging plans, which let to studies at U of M, B.Interior Design, and then going to Calgary without a job, wide eyed and ready to take on the world in 1979.
Her mantra,“We live with what is given to us”
I asked Pat how she sees the market, from an interior design business perspective, over the next 90 day?
…. I see a slight improvement. We have RFP’s out on a number of new buildings so we are hopeful. NEW WORK is the most creative work – keeps our teams motivated and fresh.
Over the next 5 years?
…I am a big believer in cycles, and we seem to see substantial corrections at the end of decades. I see things flattening out by 2015. We see some firms taking their facility work in-house. I am highly passionate about the future of the full service stand-alone specialty service – independent interior design specialists.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… #1 attitude, # 2 working well with teams, #3 skills. People who keep an ongoing relationship (not just on a project), who consistently deliver on time/on budget, accuracy, detail. For a personal example, I have a fantastic dry-cleaner who knows his customers, takes care of details, goes the extra mile . . .
What distinguishes you that causes people choose you and what you are selling over your competitors, why did you get selected and retained?
… strong processes lead to good solutions. I, we, approach our work as long-term relationship business. Creativity. Service. We are moving from FM Space toward REVIT - important software tools to support managing the relationships between design and working drawings. What loses clients, for any business, is failure to maintain relationships, so we work very hard on that.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… keeping enough work coming in, keeping staff motivated. My kids getting going in their careers.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… influence of grandparents – on both sides of the family – they lost everything in the depression, they made the best of their situation and never gave up. Helping my mom plan and design ‘grand balls’ during those summers at the lake. Before coming to Calgary, after finishing school, traveling around Europe – seeing the real thing, not just art and theory. In the early 80’s I was laid off 4 times – best thing that could have happened to me, taught me survival skills. I recover pretty quick! Peter Rice, former employer and later a mentor on conceptual design and how he grew his firm inspired us to build a design firm run like any other business – not just a collection of creative types . . .
Work life balance?
… my husband and I are both workaholics. I work long days – take evenings and weekends off. Housework (we are between cleaning ladies). We have a 2nd house in Victoria – we get out there for 4-day weekends a few times a year. I took flamenco dancing lessons once. Weekend breakfasts out (1886 Café is a favourite) ...
What are you reading?
… lots of work reading, design publications, FAST Company
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