Business history is littered with the ruins of once-mighty architecture firms that have disappeared. In Australia, think Yuncken Freeman, which designed Sidney Myer Music Bowl and BHP House in Melbourne, or Tompkins Shaw and Evans, a 100-plus-year practice that worked on renovating the MCG’s Great Southern and Northern Stands (in conjunction with Daryl Jackson Architects).
No one is immune from failure – even some “starchitects” are taking steps to secure their firm’s futures.
Len Hayball doesn’t want the same fate to befall the firm that bears his name, and that is why the retired founder has been pushing changes that will ensure the continuation of the business – of which he remains a director – long after he is gone.
Unusually for Australian architecture, the 30-year-old firm Hayball has set up an employee share ownership scheme. It has a succession plan that identifies future leaders and seeks to get younger project architects involved in activities such as client relationships from an early stage, and mentors them.
The changes introduced by Melbourne-based Hayball are hardly revolutionary in business, or even in other professions such as law or accounting. But architecture, practitioners say, is different. While law and accounting are experienced at sorting out succession, the trade that combines overt creativity with business is not. In part this is because the business model of architects is more precarious, Len Hayball says.