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How We Work-Office Management

Posted By Administration, Thursday, September 7, 2017
Updated: Thursday, September 7, 2017

The New York SDA Chapter held a lunchtime Round Table in July titled "How We Work - Office Management”. This was the first in a series of round tables on the types of roles our members hold in their firms.  After the event, I put together some thoughts to summarize our discussions. It is obvious that all of us, whether in a large or small firm, face similar changes in office management! Here are a few of takeaways:

  • Be firm! No process will ever be perfect. Let's face it. However, protocol is what sets the rules, keeps the order and avoids even more chaos.
  • Be in the know! - Know your 'client'. What are their needs? Current and anticipated? What can you do to meet those needs? Do you have the right processes in place?
  • Evaluate! Evaluate! Evaluate! - Continue to reevaluate your processes and protocol. Even the slightest change in the amount of staff, office space, IT configuration, can make a huge difference for the better or the worse. Always ask yourself: does what I have in place in now work? How can the process be improved?
  • Teamwork! - You can't do this on your own. And this is a good thing. Involve your team as well as other departments like Office Services, Administration, IT, and especially management. You need their backing no matter what you want to put in place.

I'm sure there are many more, so please share in the comment box below some of your office management takeaways.  


Ellie Tsakonas, CDFA, A.M.ASCE, currently serves as President of the NY SDA Chapter,

and is the International Operations Manager / Administrative Supervisor at LANGAN, in NY

Tags:  Office Management  SDA  Society for Design Administration 

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Word Nerd: When to Use e.g. or i.e.

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, August 23, 2017
Updated: Wednesday, August 23, 2017


Word Nerd: When to Use e.g. or i.e.



i.e. = clarifications

Think of the i at the beginning of i.e. as standing for the first word in the phrase “in other words,” indicating that the clause that follows will rephrase or explain what precedes the term.  It is not used for a list of examples, it is used when you want to explain what you just said in a different way.  I.e. narrows down and clarifies a statement.

  • I’ll listen to anything; i.e., I like any kind of music.
  • After work, I’ll walk over to that new sports arena (i.e., The American Airlines Center).


e.g. = examples

E.g. is a little more straightforward since e stands for exempli meaning “example.”  Use e.g. when you give one or more possible examples.  E.g. opens up more options.

  • I’ll listen to anything (e.g., country-western, rap, light jazz).
  • After work, I’ll walk over to a sports arena, e.g., The American Airlines Center, Victory Court or Mile High Stadium.

What else?

  • It is always correct to simply write out, "for example," or "that is."
  • Since these are abbreviations, they do require a period after each letter.
  • All but one main style guide recommends a comma after use: i.e., and e.g.,
  • Both e.g. and i.e. are presented in lower case when they show up in the middle of a sentence (i.e., like this).
  • You can use parentheses or commas with both. To indicate a separate clause, you can either insert a comma before "i.e." or "e.g." or you can use parentheses. If you use parentheses, open them right before the "e.g." or "i.e." and close them after you have given your example or alternate definition. Examples of both are above.


 Do you have an idea for a future Word Nerd topic? Share it in the comment box below!


Word Nerd is a quarterly feature created by members of the SDA National Membership Committee. Special thanks to Brooke Simcik, CDFA for this quarter's topic. Brooke is the Business Manager of VAI Architects, Incorporated in Dallas, Texas and currently serves as the SDA National Vice-President for the 2017-2018 term.

Tags:  SDA  Society for Design Administration  Word Nerd 

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Where Many Mergers Fail, This One Didn’t. Here’s Why.

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, August 16, 2017
Updated: Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Mergers and acquisitions are currently on the upswing in the A/E/C industry, and that activity shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. But just because it’s happening more doesn’t mean it’s happening successfully.

Depending on whose statistics you follow, the failure rate of mergers and acquisitions as a whole ranges from 70% to 90%, and the A/E/C industry is no different. There is no magic formula for success, but there are factors that will enhance your chances. In this article, we talk to two firm leaders about their successful merger—and the lessons they learned from doing it right (and from an acquisition that didn’t fare as well).

Know your potential match

While some firms go through extensive searches to find the right partner, Willy Stewart, P.E., and George Stanziale, Jr., ASLA, CLARB, of 200-person engineering, planning and landscape architecture firm Stewart (Raleigh, NC) have known each other personally and professionally since the late 1980s. Their kids played soccer together, and due to their firms’ similar clientele, had worked together on projects throughout North Carolina’s Triangle area for years.

“We teamed together intentionally for projects and our clients also teamed us together,” says Stanziale, whose landscape architecture firm HadenStanziale was 50 people at its largest incarnation. Stewart Engineering was 130 people strong at its peak. Both firms were growing their reputations when the recession hit. While they weathered that storm by reducing size and focusing on a diverse mix of clients, the experience spurred talks about what they could achieve if they joined forces. Stanziale felt business needed to be done differently post-recession and the diversity of a multidisciplinary approach made sense.

As well as working in similar markets, the two firms had complementary staff. HadenStanziale was focused in high-level landscape architecture and urban design with engineering support and Stewart was focused on civil and structural engineering with landscape design support. The synergies made it clear that they could expand their reach and capacity as a combined firm.

Does 1+1 = 3?

Today, assessing compatibility, creating client value and building new opportunities is more important in mergers than ever before. In crafting a successful marriage, these factors can even outweigh financial considerations. For Stewart, the real value came from redefining what a combined firm could look like and building a culture to support that vision.

“So many mergers just aggregate more people to the same services,” says Stewart. “They focus on streamlining overheads to reduce cost. We knew that by coming together, we would be offering something different to our market.”

Instead of an engineering-led firm with landscape architects on board, where separate groups talk when they need to, they envisioned a firm where both professions were in equal leadership roles and where design, not discipline, was the focus.

“Design thinking is design thinking, no matter the discipline,” says Stanziale. “We wanted to create a group where engineers and landscape architects sat together, led projects together and cross-collaborated in every way. We wanted to deliver creative solutions that are both aesthetically pleasing and practically engineered— high-level design and high-level engineering.”

That group, now called Land Planning & Design, is the firm’s largest and has proved to be a differentiator that attracts both clients and new talent.

In many cases, civil firms with landscape architecture positions are not focused on landscape-architecture and design thinking, says Stanziale. “High-level designers are less interested in working in that kind of firm, but we have created a culture of design thinking across all disciplines, and as a result, we’re attracting designers who are at the top of their class.”

Setting the foundation

With a vision of the possibilities ahead, Stewart and Stanziale pulled together their second-level managers and tasked them with identifying best practices from each firm in areas ranging from project management and technology to marketing and physical workspaces and even the name itself. The intense three-month study process, with weekly presentations, was completed before any paperwork, beyond a memorandum of understanding, was signed.

Two managers in Human Resources also spearheaded the launch of Stewart University, an internal online training program to help employees better understand each of the firm’s disciplines and how they are integrated. Monthly staff meetings reinforce this integration by identifying which disciplines are working together on current projects. A new brand and the tagline Stronger by Design was developed to communicate the vision for the new collaborative, design-focused organization. “We completely re-branded the firm in every way” says Stanziale.

So much advance work was done—and with input from personnel in both firms—that when the merger and rebranding were complete in 2012, it nearly felt seamless, say both leaders.

Successes and challenges

In its first five years as a combined organization, Stewart has seen remarkable growth. They’ve also had major wins, which they credit to their collaborative, design-focused culture and the credibility that comes with being a larger firm with a stronger portfolio. Staff count has grown from 105 employees to now over 200. Share value has doubled. There are new service groups, such as Global Sports & Events Planning, and the firm recently beat a larger global firm to land a high-profile contract to master plan the overlay facilities for national PGA golf tournaments.

Yet no merger is without its challenges. There were organizational shifts in the Charlotte office, and it took time to carve out the right roles for HadenStanziale’s senior leaders. Currently, Stewart is CEO and Stanziale serves as President and Director of Design.

“We needed to look at leadership of the smaller firm coming in and where they would fit into the larger leadership,” says Stanziale. “We did not do as well as we could have in understanding how we could take advantage of our capabilities.”

Shortly after the merger, an unexpected professional liability situation arose, presenting a challenge to the newly formed leadership team. Today, with that issue mostly behind them, the team has become tight-knit, says Stewart. They prioritize trust, collaboration and continual professional growth, including participating in an intensive 12-month leadership program together.

But the biggest challenge – and the greatest lessons – came from the newly merged firm’s attempt to geographically expand through a small acquisition in 2015. While the business drivers for such a move may have been clear— expanding into a new region, adding capacity and opening up a new client market— there were other critical factors to weigh, says Stewart. In this case, the smaller firm was not culturally prepared for the systems, regulations and processes that come with a larger entity. After an unsuccessful trial period, Stewart sold the company back.

“Mergers are emotional and they are complex,” says Stewart. “There has to be a clear understanding and embracing at the top of both firms. You both have to know why you are doing it. It takes total commitment from the top. If you get those components on the table before anything is signed, you have a better chance of succeeding. This one was a cultural misfit.”

What’s next for Stewart? Geographic expansion makes sense for a firm that is already a regional player, says Stanziale. But their successes—and misses—have shown that intentional, organic growth is the formula that’s made them successful thus far, and what will continue to drive their firm and its culture into the future.

“We’re in small markets, but they are high-growth markets, so we are looking at how we can take what we offer out to the marketplace,” says Stewart. “But we let the leaders of our groups manage and grow very entrepreneurially. It is never going to be growth for growth’s sake.”


Special thanks to our guest blogger, Rich Friedman.  Rich is Founder and President of Friedman & Partners, a marketing and management consultancy that helps A/E/C and environmental consulting firms craft and implement successful growth strategies. 


Tags:  A/E/C Industry  Mergers and Acquisitions  SDA  Society for Design Administration 

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What SDA Means to Me

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, August 8, 2017
Updated: Wednesday, August 9, 2017

What comes to mind when you think about SDA? For me, it's education programs, conferences, networking, and people.  Mostly people.  Do you know how many people I have met through SDA?  More than I ever thought when I joined.  I figured I’d go to my first chapter program, sit in the back, hide and take notes (if it was worth it).  I laugh now at how naïve I was back then, thinking that I could be invisible in this organization.  First program ever, and everyone in the room came over and introduced themselves to me.  Really, the nicest group of people I’d ever met.  Never in my dealings with SDA have I felt awkward, or invisible.  Each of you, whether you were in my chapter or a member that I met during my membership have made an impact on my career.  I’ve been invited to other meetings, through work, and also through my personal life, and have never gotten the same reaction.  I love it.  As for my first program, it was so enticing and informative, that I never once questioned going to another one.   Oh, don’t get me wrong, sometimes I’ve wondered whether a program or convention really applied to me and my career, but I went even with that little nagging doubt that I could be wasting my time, and my firm’s money.  However, that little nagging doubt has ALWAYS been wrong.  I’ve very fortunately been able to bring something back to my firm, no matter the subject.  LOL, which is great, because it means that my boss keeps sending me! 

I’m grateful to SDA for providing me with the tools to stay current in my profession, and the individuals I can call up and ask for help when I’m stumped.  (Which has happened more than I’d like to admit at times!!)  The most wonderful thing though – everyone that I have ever called or emailed, has made themselves available to me and if for any reason they haven’t been able to answer my question, they just pointed me to someone who could.  What a great gift.  So really, what does SDA mean to me?  Our members.  Because really, there’s no way any other organization has members as awesome as ours!!!  (I mean, I guess they can, but I doubt it!)  Thanks to everyone for making this an organization that I truly feel that I belong to, and for allowing me to express my thoughts on it. 

Sooooo…….how about yall?? What does SDA mean to you??  I’d love to know!  Plus, your input would be a great way to help start conversations with non-members!  Lol, yes, I’m always needing topics to start, so help a member out and let me know what SDA means to you in the comment box below!



Susan Lankey, CDFA, is the Office Manager for DJG, Inc. in Williamsburg, Virginia.

 She currently serves as the SDA National President-Elect for the 2017-2018 term.

Tags:  Membership  New Members  SDA  Society for Design Administration 

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SDA Welcomes New Members

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, August 2, 2017

We are pleased to welcome our newest members who have recently joined SDA:

First Name Last Name Chapter
Diane Arnold San Diego
Samantha Califano New York
Chrisandrea Clark Atlanta
Karen Ellison New York
Aileen Roberts Dallas
Steffany Romero New York
Charla Roth New York
Caroline Turner Member-at-Large


Be sure to connect with your fellow SDA Members on our SocialLink platform.

Not a member? Click here to join today. You can also check out this video to learn more about opportunities that SDA membership can offer for you and your firm.

Tags:  New Members  SDA  Society for Design Administration 

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