The genesis of the Gensler studio started with two architects, a wife and a clear idea to build a small studio that focused on workplace interiors. No one had done this, it was fresh and new and to be honest probably a little scary at the time…..
It was 1965 on Kearny Street, an iconic place of influential creativity and the heartbeat of the Gensler brand. The heartbeat of their clients’ brand and space was what was important to them. They set up the studio with a ‘client first’ mentality. I’m guessing what they didn’t realise was how instrumental that client first mentality would be in the enormous growth of the company over the last 50+ years.
Art Gensler wanted to create a culture that put the client’s design needs and people at the heart of the studio….a ‘people first’ culture that meant everyone was creating, collaborating and sharing work. Sharing the emotion. This started with baby steps. A client moving to Denver meant that Gensler would expand their services to Denver. It was all about growing organically with the needs of the clients, keeping their ‘people first’ culture tight and true. They would do this over time by positioning a Gensler person in each of the growth areas, someone who would work seamlessly with the local team to enhance the whole offering.
It was during their growth that Art and the leadership team worked to find their guiding principles, really drilling down to what they believed was important for the future success of the firm: the clients and hiring and empowering the best design talent to serve the clients. They knew who they were, where they had come from and where they were going. They wanted to instill a set of values that really spoke to their creativity, values that meant they were a “one-firm firm” – a motto the firm lives by despite being in nearly 50 locations globally today.
These values are truly lived up to across every Gensler office. In some cases, like in Sydney, they are even written on the walls of the studio, really wrapping the team in a warm Gensler hug!
As a global business Gensler is certainly gender diverse. Indeed, 52% of their staff identify as female, with several of Gensler’s senior leadership positions held by women, however it isn’t even something that comes to the forefront. In his own words Art Gensler says, “I employ really good people and then I get out of their way.” How refreshing to let people bring to the table their own qualities and see the best in them. Understanding that we all learn from each other is key to the success of any business or studio, and Art’s comment attests to this.
So a culture of sharing is important in the DNA of Gensler, a “one-firm firm” culture really does mean that the end result is the best version of itself. In replicating this across the globe, Gensler’s “Co-CEO” model means two people, and ultimately the entire firm, benefit from their shared knowledge and leadership. Working together at the top of the business really trickles down into the way the culture feels across the planet.
Not only does this culture play out in Gensler’s work, but also in the accolades that walk alongside it. They are the only design firm in the ‘Glassdoor Top 100’, and have a string of awards to their name for design culture and business, including being included in Fast Company’s 2019 list of the World’s Most Innovative Companies.
So the key to the Gensler culture really is the ‘Art’ of it – the heartbeat, the pulse, the familiar feeling every Gensler employee feels, even on a global scale. Seems to be that 1965 was a great vintage.
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By Sue Davies
Level 24, Three International Towers, 300 Barangaroo Ave, Sydney, NSW 2000