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2013 Dynamic Dozen Top Local Executive: Geoffrey Butler

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Geoffrey Butler never had a doubt who he would work for after earning his architecture degree: himself.

“It’s your desk, your office, your business – from there, everything else is a highlight,” says Butler, president of Butler, Rosenbury & Partners Inc., which marks its 35th anniversary this year.

The Springfield native attended the University of Kansas, spending seven years in Lawrence. But that area wasn’t big enough to support Butler’s goal of self-employment, and he moved home. Butler’s father had owned the largest architecture firm in Springfield, but died in a 1971 plane crash. Butler knew he would be starting from scratch.

The financial crisis of 2008 hit Butler Rosenbury hard, and the firm went from 92 employees to a staff of 18.

“We did not plan to grow,” says Butler, who is licensed in several states. “We grew in reaction to the markets we were working in. For more than 30 years, that model worked fine – until the crash, when we found that we had an unsustainable size for the economic conditions we were facing.”

In response, Butler Rosenbury scaled the firm back during a 10-month period to a sustainable size, where quality could be better measured.

“To a certain degree, I’m a control freak. The bigger you are, the harder it is to control all that’s going on,” Butler says. “The takeaway is you need to be in a position to control what you need to control. … I don’t think I ever want to have 90 people again. It’s more collegial here. We’re more of a family.”

The firm trimmed expenses, virtually eliminated short-term debt, reduced aging accounts receivable and made sure to pay consultants as quickly as possible. All plans fly out the window when the economy tanks, Butler says.

“The priority is to secure good work, to continue to provide the high level of service and quality design and to do so with lower fees. The hurdles relate to the highly competitive market, resulting in lower fees with unchanged expectations,” he says. “Many of the perks everyone enjoyed in the good times were trimmed back. So the major effort is to try to get everyone to stay the course and to provide the type of work environment on good projects that is emotionally rewarding.”

That effort is paying off. The average tenure of Butler Rosenbury staff is more than 17 years.

Butler believes in putting people in the right spot and not asking someone to do something he wouldn’t do.

“The key to management is to surround yourself with the most talented people you can find,” he says. “Then you simply give them the tools and the freedom to do their work.”

And slowly, Butler sees signs that pent-up construction demand is starting to spring forth.

“We are able to secure quality work in a competitive marketplace,” Butler says. “We have the office operational expenses in line to allow our staff to do their work well and to make their work rewarding. We are making money, which then allows us to provide the incentives for our people that makes them secure and comfortable with their career choice here.”

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