As a company grows and expands, owners are left with trying to adjust their business to the increasing number of jobs and employees. This was the challenge 10 years ago for SALA Architects based in Minneapolis when it felt the difficulty of managing its architecture firm with a singular vision.
A company of 45 employees, SALA’s administration is now structured similarly to what may be found at a law firm. “It’s a collective vision. We have 10 partners who run the company as a board. Three of those partners are managing partners with their own principal portfolio. One is in charge of fiscal affairs, the other personnel, and the third is in charge of external affairs or promotion to the external public,” says Dale Mulfinger, FAIA, principal.
The managing partner positions are up for renewal every three years, but the terms are staggered to avoid being up for renewal at the same time. “There is no limit to how many terms you can have. Commonly a partner will stay in a position for two terms,” Mulfinger says. “When one of the positions becomes available, someone may put their name up for consideration, or we may promote a candidate thinking they would be good at the position.”
The board of 10 partners meets quarterly while the managing partners meet once a month to make operational decisions. “You have to have partners who like to work together — it may not be right for everyone,” he adds.
In its tenure, this business model has been successful for SALA. “We’ve been a financially viable company during that time. The other benefit of this model that’s not fully recognized is that while we as individuals entered into architecture because we like the craft — not really to be a manager — this model allows you to do both. You are still able to practice architecture,” Mulfinger says.
An added benefit of doing business under this structure is what it offers young architects. “They don’t see a closed door,” he adds. “It’s a model where young professionals entering into the profession see an openness at the top and can potentially see their place as a managing partner.”