Gramann and Zhu Share Strategies for Growing a Global Practice at AIA National Convention

Jervy Zhu

Robert Gramann, FAIA, and Jervy Zhu, AIA share the firm's strategies for growing and sustaining a global practice at the AIA National Convention in Denver. 

Driven by the "Designing for Life" philosophy, GBBN Architects has expanded its business globally over the past decade. The firm expanded its practice to China 10 years ago, focusing primarily on architectural design for the community development market. Since then, it has expanded services as well as markets. The growth has been remarkable, increasing sales and adding staff every year. In the past three years alone, GBBN has doubled its staff and nearly doubled its revenue. The firm has also been recognized for its proficient international business through numerous awards. The following strategies used to grow and sustain the business will be presented:

• Have a realistic, detailed global business strategy and clearly defined goals. Expand expertise within determined core markets and expand geographically in order to meet core client needs.

• Define the international perspective. Companies must first thoroughly understand the nature of the market they are entering before the commitment of staff, and prepare their staff to ensure success. Principal in this homework is to verify that your firm's differentiation is relevant and sustainable in the market; understand the "buy-triggers," "buy-habits," and buying process of the market; and familiarize yourself with the competition.

• Commit to "boots on the ground." Commit to leadership presence in the country in which you choose to work. You can't phone it in from the US. Consider localizing your business operations.

• Understand and leverage third party relationships. Government agencies and chambers of commerce can be very helpful in expanding your business globally, providing guidance on regulations as well as opening doors to companies who may be good business partners.

• Invest in competitions. You have to be willing to make the investment in order to be considered. Be selective in your competitions, though. Design competitions can be expensive with little return on your invest unless you're selective.

• Collaborate. Look for strategic partnerships to enable growth. Strategic partnerships offer existing relationships and local wisdom that wouldn't be possible without them.

• Develop a Fellowship to Strengthen Relationships.