Despite fewer support networks, less access to supplies, and an unrelenting global pandemic, many black-owned businesses have made incredible progress over the past ten years. They keep growing and prospering despite a weak economy. Black business owners are breaking down barriers, celebrating diversity, and leading the way for the next generation of black-owned companies in all sectors of the economy.
The great designer Lou Switzer, is the Founder, Chairman, and Chief Executive Officer of The Switzer Group, one of the most prestigious interior architecture companies in the nation and consistently ranked among America’s 100 Design Giants in annual revenues. He founded one of the first minority-owned design firms in the nation on his own and is regarded as a business pioneer, cultural innovator, and renowned interior designer. The Switzer Group’s reputation for excellence has been guided by Lou.
The Switzer Group is founded on analysis, exploration, and transformation. Since its inception in 1975 by Lou Switzer, the practice has been providing workplace solutions through conceptually driven, community-engaging, and technologically innovative design work.
The Switzer Group is one of the largest, 100 percent minority-owned business enterprises in the design industry. The Switzer Group designs interiors for so many prominent organizations and Fortune 500 companies, including IBM, Wells Fargo Bank, JP Morgan Chase, MasterCard, Goldman Sachs, District Council – 37, Metropolitan Commercial Bank, Global Relay, IPG, Columbia University, Weill Cornell Medical College, St. John’s University, AMC Networks, and Vice Media.
Here are some of Lou Switzer’s career highlights as a visionary for transformational design, an outstanding designer and a leader:
Brief our audience about your journey as a business leader until your current position at The Switzer Group. What challenges have you had to overcome to reach where you are today?
I have been fascinated with design since I was ten years old, and my focus has always been on becoming a design professional. When I was 17, I moved to NYC right out of high school and began working in the mail room of a design firm, where I was quickly promoted to draftsman. I enrolled in night school at the Pratt Institute, studied design, and eventually worked for a number of design businesses, eventually holding the role of assistant director of facilities planning at a Wall Street financial firm.
I collaborated with a wide range of professionals in this role, including architects, contractors, developers, landlords, engineers, and furniture vendors. This influenced my leadership style and deepened my understanding of how important careful governance is. Respect for others was one of the most important lessons while maintaining a strong focus on clear communication.
Eventually, I had the opportunity to take a leap of faith, bolstered by my belief in my abilities and hard work, and strike out on my own. This was at a time when there were very few minority architects or designers, and I embraced this challenge wholeheartedly while staying true to my vision.
Additionally, the competition was and remains fierce, and my daily goal is to stay one step ahead with the immense contribution of a talented staff. My ethos has always been to work hard and never give up, and this has been the bedrock of my success.
Tell us something more about your company and its mission and vision.
The Switzer Group is an interior planning, design, and workplace strategy company that provides comprehensive services in design and documentation, construction, strategic planning and analysis. We are a cohesive group of 70+ talented, creative, and collaborative people.
For 48 years, we have been designing and delivering workplace solutions that exemplify the values and brand of our clients, which directly impact their productivity and satisfaction. We are dedicated to design quality, sustainability, diversity, equity, and inclusion and their defining characteristics. We are constantly exploring new ways to grow and innovate.
Our core values consist of integrity, teamwork, excellence, respect, and dignity. Our design intent dictates that we are not bound by one design style or direction and are always challenging ourselves to push beyond the accepted parameters to arrive at innovative solutions.
Enlighten us on how you have impacted the Interior Architecture and Planning niche through your expertise in the market.
The Switzer Group understands that there is a key link between workplace design and higher levels of creativity and innovation. Given what we know about the growing importance of innovation in today’s economy, this has significant implications for workplaces, communities, cities, and countries. We believe that design not only influences the innovative process but also that, done correctly, design has the power to drive new innovation forward in a direct and measurable way. Over the past 48 years, we have been on the forefront of the ever-changing landscape in the workplace. We were one of the first to implement “hoteling” and are currently at the forefront of the hybrid workplace model that requires seamless and intuitive interaction and interconnectedness among all staff, while respecting privacy, functionality, and flexibility.
Describe in detail the values and the work culture that drives your organization.
My personal standards play a large part in my firm’s culture. Integrity is paramount. Subsequently, I value those who embody integrity, creativity, hard work, and innovation, and I try to encourage this daily in my practice. We are proud of our history in design, but we are particularly proud of our ability to be outstanding listeners. Our design process is rooted in our philosophy of listening, dialogue, and providing options in the process of discovery with the client. The goal is to give each client a finished product that reflects their own unique imagination and identity, and we believe our commitment to active listening awakens possibilities, enhances collaboration, and gains alignment.
Undeniably, technology is playing a significant role in almost every sector. How are you leveraging technological advancements to make your solutions resourceful?
The Switzer Group has long been at the forefront of technological changes in the design industry. We were one of the first firms to migrate to an all-CAD environment and were cited for our early use of 3-D walk-through animation to demonstrate our designs. Presently, the entire industry is experiencing major changes, not only in terms of new computer-aided design software and BIM but also in terms of the affect these have on project management, project processes, staffing, and coordination with consultants, contractors, and owners.
We have a core technology team that continually researches changes in technology and design strategies. Working with our technology vendors and suppliers, we network with our peers, test new software, study its benefits and drawbacks, verify compatibility with other software in use, and implement only when the firm is satisfied that the new software technology works for our clients’ projects.
Our technology team updates templates and draws standards within the implemented software parameters. Senior Management Leadership oversees the entire process to ensure that project design, management, project teams, and personnel are in place to properly and seamlessly serve our clientele.
Smart tech in the workplace, with the rise of telepresence and digital collaboration tools, collaborative office layouts, integrated technology, smart security, virtual meetings, and flexible working policies, is contributing to shaping the workplace of today and tomorrow.
What change would you like to bring to the Design industry if given a chance?
I think the only aspect that I would change or influence would be to create a more seamless process in procurement. There are many different players – “lots of cooks”—that can complicate the process.
What, according to you, could be the next significant change in the architectural sector? How is your company preparing to be a part of that change?
I think we are in the midst of the next significant change—the agile workplace. This trend will grow and mature over the next few years and beyond. This shift is influencing the design of the future office. Workplace design is becoming increasingly community-based, whether virtual or physical, and supports comfort, creativity, productivity, and job satisfaction. With high-quality digital conferencing facilities to connect remote workers with in-office workers, breakout spaces where employees can work together, informal soft seating areas that can overflow to socializing, and private booths for concentrated work, the future workplace with its new technologies will help make collaboration and individual work even more efficient.
I believe we are already part of this change as we respond, innovate, and discover, along with our clients, the best ways to meet their needs and aspirations. We have always approached our work with an open mind so that we are continuously learning, growing, and initiating best practices and solutions while pushing the boundaries of possibilities.
Where do you envision yourself to be in the long run, and what are your future goals for The Switzer Group?
In two years, The Switzer Group will celebrate its 50th anniversary. I think that might be a good time for me to revise my work schedule to a more remote pace. My goal is to see the firm continue as The Switzer Group. We have many team members who have helped this firm achieve great success. A few members have been here for decades. Subsequently, I feel confident that we have the next generation in place to make this goal a reality.
What would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs who aspire to venture into the architectural sector?
I would advise budding entrepreneurs to hold tight to their vision, surround themselves with good people, never give up, work hard, and never stop learning!