President of SWBR Architects talks about the value his company gets from the millennial generation
By Ernst Lamothe Jr.
Q. Why do you think this was one of your best years?
A. You never really know sometimes what is going to make a difference because there are so many factors. I know we spent a lot of time discussing who we were today and what we wanted to be in the future. We are almost a 50-year company so you can call us a little older than middle-aged. We wanted to make sure we stayed fresh and that we had exciting initiatives. I think the main key to our success is that we have really lively and amazing people who work here who have transformed overall in such a short amount of time. It is like having a 10-year old who had gapped tooth and freckles with glasses, and all of a sudden they are 20 years old and they are incredible and dynamic. The millennials in our workforce are just incredible and I enjoy them so much. When your employees grow in such incredible ways it is not surprising when your company does the same.
Q. You have so many positive words to say about millennials. Tell me why you like them?
A. They are a lively and energetic bunch. They are young, hungry and in demand. I love working with them. A lot of people may be critical about millennials, but what I love about them is they are excited to bring new ideas and turn some things on its head and flip things around. Some of my kids are the same age as these professionals. Millennials are creative and we need to stop and listen to them in the same way where they need to listen to us who are over 60 and have wisdom too. We can find so much joy and knowledge from each other if we engage in respectful interaction. This is the group that is going to be leading the future and it is going to be exciting.
Q. Why is having a lively and energetic workforce important to you?
A. We are creative people as architects. You need people who are vibrant and think outside of a linear form. It’s difficult to be boring and visual. You need a lot of different emotions, interactions and activity to create. Some people might find our workplace too playful and noisy but I think noisy is a good thing. There can be a lot of breakthrough in a noisy environment. We have a lot of conversations going on within our building and people will walk up and connect with others if they hear something that they think might be helpful. It creates an open workplace and a feeling of overall openness to express your ideas. We don’t have tall walls separating people within cubicles because we don’t believe that really helps creativity.
Q. What made you decide you wanted to be an architect?
A. I guess I can just thank my good old guidance counselor. When I went to Pittsford [Sutherland] High School, we talked and as a freshman I just started being steered into the creative arts. I just had a large level of creativity and wanted to put it some place. I did drawing classes and just continued to explore.
Q. Tell us a little about your personal life?
A. Well, I have nine kids and 17 grandchildren. So you can imagine that a lot of my free time is spent around family. We have a farm and we just spend a lot of time doing family things which is important to us. I am an avid hunter. On our farm in Mendon, we raise a special breed of hogs. I have also been involved in sports for a long time as a coach. My children were all homeschooled — and in New York, you can participate in Section IV sports being homeschooled. Luckily there is an organization where kids can participate in and I have been a coach there and an avid supporter of the programs. I guess all of this is just part of my eclectic life.
Q. In your work as architect, you value natural light a great deal. Why is that?
A. We cannot underestimate the importance of light coming through a room. Our bodies are programmed like clocks with the sun coming up and down. There have been enough studies discussing how natural light can affect our moods. Even in my office, I have a phenomenal view of the Eastman School of Music and the YMCA. While I don’t sit looking out my window every second of the day, it does provide a good environment for me to work. I think this would be the case for a lot of people?