Kip Daniel, FAIA, LEED AP and Managing Director of The Beck Group, discusses the many instances in his career where he has had to make hard decisions and rely on his faith to carry him and his teams through
We’ve all heard the phrase “sink or swim.” Few of us are called upon to make that stark choice; fewer still could use it as a professional motto.
Kip Daniel, FAIA, LEED AP — Managing Director of The Beck Group, a full-service design and build firm with international reach – is among those few.
Birth of a career
A multi-faceted aptitude test in high school indicated strengths in math, science, structural logic and creative areas – a good combination for the study of architecture. After graduation, another aptitude test at Rice University paved his way into its architecture program – even though Daniel had taken no program-related courses in high school and had little idea of what architects actually did.
He received his B. A. in architecture in 1976 and his professional degree in 1978, both at Rice. Between degrees, he expected to work in a one-year preceptorship in Chicago – until the offer fell through due to the economy.
So he approached every architecture firm listed in the Houston Yellow Pages. Forty stops later, he discovered Urban Architecture – a two-person shop that had been open only six months. And they hired him.
He returned there after his second degree. Urban Architecture now had 18 employees and the Houston scene was booming. In 1981, the owners opened a branch in Dallas…and put him in charge. His lack of real-world experience and knowledge of business practices might have deterred others, but he dove in.
Into the deep end
In early 1982, the parent company was on the ropes. In December, the other shoe dropped. “I had just brought my wife and our new daughter home from the hospital, when I learned the firm was closing. I was really left out on a limb,” Daniel recalls.
So he jumped into the deep end. “I hadn’t developed much business myself, but I liked running my own show. I got a line of credit from my father, and bought the Dallas office of Urban Architecture.”
A key challenge was handling the company’s finances, staffing, direction and other activities. “My schooling was focused on design, not on running a business. But I also had a bad mindset at the beginning. I thought all other architects were ‘the competition,’ instead of people who could teach me,” Daniel says.
Books and seminars helped, but his membership in Vistage, an international corps of peer advisors from varied backgrounds, proved invaluable. “I realized that I could have jump-started my career simply by asking questions,” he says.
Their input paid off, and Urban Architecture expanded rapidly – until the recession of the late ‘80s.
“That was a brutal time. Our big possibilities were gone; people owed us money, but wouldn’t pay. I even had to ask my father for a loan so I could make payroll,” he says.
The power of prayer
“I’ve long been a devout Christian, with deep faith,” Daniel says. “One morning during this rough economic time during 1987, I was praying out loud, asking the Lord for work. At noon, I got a really unexpected phone call.” A long-dormant, and very difficult, client was offering $10,000, in cash up front, for a project. “To me, this was a miracle. And all I could think was, ‘God, you sure have a sense of humor.’”
A few months later, Urban Architecture was introduced to Cinemark USA, a major movie theater chain. “Over the last 27 years, we’ve designed over 2,000 screens for their multiplexes,” he says. “A few months after starting with them, I was able to start hiring again.”
Merging and clashing
Six years later, HCBeck, Ltd., now known as The Beck Group, approached Urban Architecture. “Beck wanted an in-house architecture department,” Daniel says. “We had worked on several projects together and a merger seemed like a good fit – even though it was the last thing on my mind.”
One of executive chairman Peter Beck’s conditions was a cultural assessment of the century-old company and the decades-old upstart.
The firms meshed well on basic business ethics, core values, and respect for individuals. Urban’s nimble, entrepreneurial approach, while far different from HCBeck’s, was highly desirable.
“People often migrate to roles and careers that fit the way their minds work. For example, construction is full of left-brain, process-oriented, people while architecture attracts right-brain, creative and artsy, people,” Daniel explains. “Often types struggle to understand how the other operates, but you need the best of both.” That led to some post-merger culture clashes as the teams learned to work together.
“Today, we strive for an integrated mindset – controlling costs while providing the best possible design,” he says. Integrated project leaders – who have been trained internally – are key components of Beck’s process.
Planning for the future
Following the merger, Beck’s succession plan focused on seasoned executives. For over a decade, retiring equity partners were replaced with long-term Beck employees of roughly the same age.
Peter Beck realized the situation would repeat just a few years in the future and remedied that by appointing 39-year-old Fred Perpall as CEO. “Fred was an architect with Urban when we merged,” Daniel says. “Now he’s in charge of a 650-person company. Part of his efforts include identifying and developing the next generation of leaders.”
Be in charge of your life
Daniel has some simple advice for rising professionals: Don’t let your work dominate you.
“You really need to live to work, not work to live,” he says. “I missed a lot of home time with my older daughter as she grew up because of my perfectionism and drive to succeed. When my second daughter came along 10 years later, I realized that I had to change.
“Life isn’t just about business. You need to leave the office behind when you go home. Sending e-mails at 11 PM, or over a weekend, subtly pressures the recipient to reply immediately.
“Think about the example you set for other leaders.” ♦
Are Leaders Born or Made?
Some people are born leaders, others must learn how to lead. In the early part of his career, Kip Daniel was a perfectionist, who had to control every detail. He was also a self-teacher; when he lacked needed information, he dug it out on his own.
He led subordinates with the same “sink or swim” mentality (“I did it that way—why can’t you?”) After the merger, he saw a different way of operating and realized that his approach to leadership could be improved.
The transformation was sparked by a five-day “Leading Change and Organizational Renewal” seminar sponsored by Harvard Business School. LCOR immerses executives in methods of effecting transformative change without jeopardizing financial stability.
That’s where he met Dr. Peter Finkelstein, a teacher and psychiatrist who helps companies and organizations improve performance by evaluating and critiquing their internal dynamics, leadership and team practices, and culture. “During the seminar, he clearly explained why it’s important to appreciate other people’s perspectives,” he says.
“I still see him from time-to-time, for 3-day personal coaching sessions. He’s also coached some of Beck’s younger leaders, and the differences I see in them are incredible.”
Kip's Key Partners:Upstart Logic (Team Building & Leadership Development)
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