Al:

Tell us what your current role and responsibilities are at Gresham Smith.

Orlando:

Orlando LopezMy current role is Senior Vice President which entails is a mixture of things. One, from a business development point of view, it entails being over the three Florida healthcare locations and helping each office meet their individual targets.

The responsibilities include coordinating with them all under our Executive Vice President, James Langlois, and making sure that we’re taking advantage of all the inner connectivity from all offices and bring it all into play.

So that’s one piece of what I’m responsible for. The next is business development to make sure that we’re on target with respect to add to backlog.

Then I have some clients that are near and close to me, and I maintain my relationship with them. One of them, Sarasota Memorial Hospital, we just procured a project a week and a half ago and I will serve as the Principal in Charge since they have been a client for the past 20 years.

Finally there’s another Orlando that sits on our company’s board. We have four different committees within that. So in addition to sitting on the board of the firm, I also sit on the Governance Committee. What we do as the name implies, we try to look out for all the miscellaneous things that affect the ultimate running of our company.

Al:

Let me back up a little bit here as you were a key individual in starting healthcare in Florida for Gresham Smith. That’s a very daunting assignment. What did you do and what timeframe did this start? How did you assess the market? And how did you implement a strategy that would be successful in distinguishing Gresham Smith from the competition?

Orlando:

Okay. This goes back about 25 years ago with a gentleman named Joe Thompson that started the Gresham Smith practice in Florida starting first with Jacksonville. As Joe started growing, he found a Principal to start an effort in South Florida and about a year and a half later, he started querying me to see my interest to start a practice for Gresham Smith in Tampa. During that time, the focus was strictly healthcare. I say that because today the Tampa office is about 80 people in six different markets. So we’re probably the most diverse outside of the main office in Nashville, with the different service lines that we offer.

Today in Tampa, we’re providing healthcare, corporate and aviation in what we call the vertical markets. Then we are also doing the flat work, which includes the Department of Transportation, water services, structural engineering, threshold inspections and also environmental graphics.

As you can see Tampa has grown very nicely going back 24 years. Our approach was leveraging some of the clients that I had worked with during my previous life prior to Gresham Smith, and also cultivating new clients throughout the state. Florida, as we all know, is a long Peninsula, similar to California. What works in one region does not necessarily work in another region. So, it’s amazing to see how different the cultures and environments are that we work within.

Al:

What were the market differentiators for Gresham Smith and are some of those things you have identified still in place today?

Orlando:

You know, that is a great question, Al. I think that if you study the models of healthcare providers in what we do, you’d find several methods of how various firms go about it. For instance, some companies have a main shop and travel from there. For example they may be based in the Midwest or Texas or up the coast in New York. And by and large, they try to operate solely from there. Then there’s companies that take the complete opposite approach and build satellite offices in various locations with basic support staff. But when they get a big project, it gets sent back to the mothership.

What our company’s philosophy has been is that healthcare is a dynamically changing profession. Our clients are very engaging, it’s very hard to try to do things remotely. We have a distributed approach which has placed offices central to where we provide our healthcare services.  We then augment these locations with additional expertise as required that comes from our different offices if needed. But typically the group that presents to the client is ultimately the one that our client picks up the phone to call for service.

Al:

You’ve been in the industry for 40+ plus years, you had positions coming up through the ranks, to now national board level roles. What were the factors for you, that said, I can contribute more to this business than just being a guy sitting behind the desk producing drawings?

Orlando:

Well, I can take this question in a couple of different ways. You know, what’s interesting, most of us have studied architecture. It’s all about design, it’s all about the product.  Early on, as my career evolved, I found a liking towards working with owners and understanding what makes them tick. So, I basically had to learn a new trade. I had to learn what the executive management group of our hospitals were thinking. I can tell you that it’s nothing at all what architects and engineers focus on, it is a vast difference. So, I started reading the magazines and the books that they read to understand their specific parameters. Today I am able to sit with the C-suite of any of our hospital systems and understand exactly what’s going on. I do my homework and know what their competition is doing. And I think that, that is something our clients have come to expect from me and our company. Whether it is business medical, operational or clinical service lines they’re not used to seeing that typically from their architectural service providers. But knowing the end design, all the parameters, and bringing the business side together, has been to me something that has focused my practice methodology. I can tell you that the more work we do, the more things change. So, if there is anybody that thinks they know everything and they think that they got this game figured out I would caution them. To anticipate all the changes you have to constantly stay on it. That’s one of the things I most enjoy about healthcare.

Al:

Part of the focus of the series that we’re doing is really about leaders, in this case you and casting a bright light. And that is to give an identity to changes in the industry and also casting a light that illuminates a path for those coming up. What advice would you give to somebody, say at that five to 10-year point in their career that wants to travel a similar path as you?

Orlando:

You know that is also a great question. We’re not really given much of a guide in academia. Becoming a designer is what schools tend to focus on. And to become a principal focused on running a business of Architecture, that’s nothing that most schools provide. The opportunity arises on occasion with someone who puts their hand on your shoulder and invites you in, “Hey, I got a great idea, let’s put a business plan  together”. There are some people that go down the MBA path, which is heavy business focused. We have an employee in our company right now in our Tampa office that is going this way, that has a natural ability to work with clients. And you know, you can just start seeing the natural intuition that people have and abilities to work with staff, and work later with clients out there. When I speak to the youngsters, as I call them, anybody that’s half my age, and I encourage them to expand on their abilities. Have you thought about exploring new ventures? They immediately crouch back and go, Oh, no, I’m not like you, I don’t like the stage. I like my current role. We tend to be very introspective. Being on stage at times, is something that is not inherently a natural at first for most designers. And when I tell them, “Hey, I think you’d be great”. They look at me “like you’re nuts. I mean, there’s no way I can’t do that, I can’t get on stage”. My own personal trauma was, “I can’t speak up in front of an 1100 people” but I managed to for the Agency of Health Care Administration many years ago. And I tell you, all of us have incredible capabilities.  When I see the individual with potential, I start nourishing it and start giving it some opportunities that when, God waves his magic wand, things go into place.

Al:

Who do you want to highlight as personal mentors for you?

Orlando:

Oh, my gosh, it’s interesting. I remember being about 28 years old and just with what I call the “post graduate mindset”; you come out of school, it’s all about design, and it’s all about the rendering. I was working for a sole proprietor and he one day drops this book on my table. It was, “How To Make Friends and Influence People”, written by Dale Carnegie. When I flipped through the book and I didn’t see any pictures in it. My boss told me to read it, I was like – read?  There’s no pictures!!! I mean, I’m an architect and having no pictures? What?!  But some of the things were very basic, people like people that are like them, right? So wow, that’s not rocket science.  The gist of that book, later as the years progressed, became a very fundamental basis for having a business mindset.  I’d say that joining the local chamber in Tampa and being one of the few architects of the city of Tampa engaged with fellow leaders such as the Mayor was another key developmental point. This provided me access to the presidents of several colleges in Tampa, and the heads of the major banking institutions along with the head of Tampa Electric for examples. All of these top people form the genesis of the local business community. As the years progressed and the more that I that I worked with these people and saw what made them tick, I started understanding the implements of business and I, of course had to adjust it to healthcare. But the basics are there. And I think though, that was very fortunate for me to come across that avenue that made it all come together for me.

Al:

Let’s talk about Gresham Smith for a moment here. You’ve been there for almost 25  years. Number one, how have they retained you throughout this time period? I’m sure you’ve had opportunities to consider leaving.

Orlando:

I started at Gresham Smith when I was 38 years old. As you work, you start getting an understanding of the mechanics of organizations. How does this company structure itself?  I wanted to be responsible for development of an office but also I never wanted to  worry about resources in order to pursue different projects.  I have been through all those experiences in my in my quest to get to a point to where I launched into Gresham Smith. And over the years, I never, never envisioned working for somebody for almost a quarter of a century. The company has been very good to me, and always given me opportunities to develop. I kept growing and growing and growing until I reached a point to where I served as the Executive Vice President of Healthcare which is our company’s largest market. Other than the Executive level (CEO, COO, CFO) this is as high as you can get.  Additionally I’ve served on the firm’s board for over a decade.  Being part of the running of the firm but also involved with the concepts of what our company is going to be in the future. So that hopefully gives you kind of a quick overview, my mindset on that question.

Al:

So 2021 is just a month or so two months ahead of us here. We’ve all endured 2020 and COVID-19. There’s been major differences of approach to business. Anything that you think is going to carry over into the New Year that Gresham Smith has adopted as new procedures, policies that we never knew would it be a part of our business plan prior to COVID-19?

Orlando:

Absolutely. You know back in mid-March when President Trump asked the country to take a six week break from working from their offices we asked everybody to work from home.  Shortly thereafter we’re having conversations about pushing it past Memorial weekend. Soon we’re talking about re-opening after Labor Day and then we’re talking about Christmas… The latest development has been that our CEO, Al Pramuk, put out a message to our staff, that we’re going to extend the flexibility of working remotely through March of next year (because the COVID season is picking up and as of yesterday’s news, we had over 100,000 cases in this country with things not showing any signs of slowing down). There’s so many changes going on for example: 1- construction firms that are bringing design services within, 2- firms which are splitting the production of their projects with companies located in Malaysia or China, and clients which are providing a full range of design services internally. That said the COVID pandemic has just put the need for additional change it in a different drive. For example we’re having conversations right now as we speak about the future need of office space for all our employees with our present 25 locations?  When the Nashville  office was designed (which we moved into almost three years ago)  COVID wasn’t an issue.  But at the time the company made a decision to put 300 locations for fixed locations for our 400 total staff. The decision was based on allowing for 100 free range employees.  It was determined that there was a considerable amount of staff  that all they needed was Wi-Fi access. They have the options of sitting down in the cafeteria, or a conference room for one, or at any open station within the many departments, and plug into our intranet and off they go. So, the Nashville Corporate office was the pioneer, prior to any of this craziness that we’ve all been experiencing. And today, we’re starting to have conversations about our 24 other locations, as their respective leases are coming up, what do we really need? You know, architecture and engineering is a working communal experience and not meant to be designed in isolation.   It really needs to have the joinery of all our different personnel. Though we’ve been able to survive for almost 9 months ultimately, we need to have a mix of working together and working apart. I think that looking forward, how we come out of this is going to have a whole different spin than any of us could have foreseen. Right now, our company along with everyone else is trying to reimagine what the near future is going to entail and what it’s going to take for us to play in that game.

Al:

Thanks Orlando for providing great insights into your career and your contributions to the industry. You will forever be remembered as the first interview of our Leaders Series.