Women Mean Business: From office manager to partner

Lisa VandeVoort was hired by Architecture Incorporated as their office manager in 1990. Nine years later, she became the firm’s seventh partner. Submitted photo

VandeVoort wears many hats in world of architecture

Editor’s note: The Brandon Valley Journal recently sat down with Architecture Incorporated business manager and partner Lisa VandeVoort to talk about the joys and challenges of being a woman in business, and how VandeVoort’s role in the business world all came together. 
BVJ: What is your background prior to joining Architecture Incorporated? 
LV: I grew up in Moorhead, Minn., and graduated from Moorhead State University in 1987 with a Bachelor’s degree in business administration/marketing. After graduation, I wanted to live in a big city, so I moved to Minneapolis. My first job out of college, I worked as an office manager for a husband and wife who had an engineering consulting business. They designed clean rooms for computer manufacturing companies. I had the great fortune to help them set up a small manufacturing business and gained some great business experience from that. During that time, I married my husband, Tom VandeVoort. 
BVJ: When did you join Architecture Incorporated, and how has the firm evolved?
LV: In 1990 my husband was given a job opportunity in Sioux Falls, so we made the move from Minneapolis, and I was hired by Architecture Incorporated as their office manager. At that time, the company had been in business for 14 years and was led by founding partners Dick Dempster, Mark Aspaas, and Steve Jastram. At that time, architecture was a male-dominated field, and Architecture Incorporated had a staff equally split male and female. In 1999, I became the firm’s seventh partner. What I admire about our founding partners is they have always been an equal opportunity employer. They hire the best candidate for a position based on the candidate’s experience, talent and potential. 
Architecture Incorporated has now been in business for 43 years and has grown to a staff of 27 with offices in Sioux Falls and Rapid City. We have a great staff comprised of 13 architects, two architectural graduates, four interior designers, three BIM specialists/project coordinators and an administrative team of four. It is interesting to note our staff is currently comprised of 18 women and nine men. Of the 18 women, six are architects, two are in the process of becoming licensed, four are interior designers and two are BIM specialists/project coordinator.
BVJ: What does a typical day at work look like for you? 
LV: As business manager for the firm, I wear a lot of different hats. I am responsible for the day to day business operations, which includes finances, contracts, human resources and facilities management. I have a great administrative team that helps me make sure the business side runs smoothly and that we support our technical team so that they can do what they do best. With that responsibility comes some long hours, but I receive a lot of support and encouragement from my husband. Without his support, I would not have been able to manage a busy career. We have always equally shared in raising our daughter and managing our home.    
BVJ: What types of projects does Architecture Incorporated do? 
LV: In South Dakota, you have to be able to serve a diverse range of clientele. A large portion of our business is in education: K-12/higher education and medical, but we also work on a lot of commercial, historical and religious projects as well. 
All projects are special in their own way, whether it is a new school, a new clinic, church, library, bank, public facility, office building, or we are performing an initial study for a client. The best part of a project is when the project is finished and you have a satisfied client. It is fun to see the pride on the faces of the owner/end user and to hear the excitement of those using the new or remodeled spaces. We are also very proud of the relationships we have built over the years with our clients and the repeat business that we have established. We do not take those special relationships for granted and are always looking for ways to improve upon our services.
 BVJ: What do you enjoy most about your job?  
LV: I am very fortunate to work with a great group of hardworking and talented people who want to make a difference in our community. I enjoy everything I do because of the people I work with and the field of architecture is very interesting. I have never had a dull day in my 29-year career.
BVJ: Have computer programs/technology changed the industry for you?  
LV: The computer and software industry has greatly changed our business over the years. When our firm started in 1976, plans were drawn by hand on a mylar film and printed on a blueprint machine. Specifications were typed on a typewriter and were printed on a copy machine. It would take several days to produce the plans and specifications. In 1985, the firm started to use ACAD software and producing drawings by computer. On average we would run 80 to 100 sets of plans for a bigger project. In the mid 90s, a business management software was developed for architects and engineers so we purchased the software and began managing our books in house.
In 2002, we made another big leap from using ACAD to a new software called REVIT. REVIT is a sophisticated building information modelling software that allows users to develop drawings in 3D. It allows the user to make changes instantly and adjust components in the drawing that are affected by the change. It has greatly changed the way we are able to share information with our project team, other disciplines, contractors and the owner. 
The printing of plans has gradually decreased over the years, and most drawings are now shared electronically. As a firm, we have always tried to be on the cutting edge of technology and provide our staff with the latest tools of the trade.


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