Women Have "No Regrets" Over Buying Former Employer
September 5, 2011 - The Hartford Business Journal
By Brian Straight - As the Connecticut economy continues to lag behind the nation in its recovery, there are not as many hopeful signs that things are about to turn around as economists would like. But Stevanie Demko and Kathyann Cowles see nothing but great things ahead.
Back in March, the pair reached agreement with Perkins+Will, a global architecture and design firm, to acquire the assets of that firm’s Glastonbury office. Along with that acquisition came most of the clients with whom both Demko and Cowles had already built a relationship, creating a seamless transition for both women and their clients.
“It was a strategic decision as to why we wanted to start our own practice,” Demko said. “It was an open conversation with our clients and over 90 percent chose to stay with us.”
“We have quite a few clients that we’re in the midst of projects [with],” said Cowles, noting that the whole transition of ownership has been quite smooth.
Demko and Cowles named the business ID3A, with the letters representing interior design, and architectural. The number 3 represents the guiding principles of the new firm — adaptive, innovative, and collaborative, Cowles said.
Even as the American Institute of Architects is reporting a 6.5 percent decline in commercial facility construction this year, Demko believes the timing was right for the duo to embrace the challenges of a full-service interior design and architectural design firm.
“We do enjoy working with our clients so much that [this way] we could put more focus on them,” Demko said.
ID3A was not just a spur-of-the-moment decision for Cowles, who owned her own business in Boston nearly 20 years ago. She has been a registered architect for over 30 years and sees this opportunity as a way to give back, “to serve as a mentor.”
The transition from employees to co-owners and partners has worked out well so far for the friends, who first met more than 15 years ago.
“Stevanie and I had worked together before and we’ve shared some of [our] thoughts and I think that is what has made this transition easier,” Cowles said. “It’s also kind of refreshing. We’ve both been doing this a long time … we’re looking at things as a whole new experience.”
Demko, an interior designer with over 30 years of experience, agrees. She had been managing director of the Glastonbury office for Perkins+Will and says “moving to an independent office really wasn’t that big of a change.” Among ID3A’s clients are K-12 schools and government projects, businesses involved in health care and medical offices as well as institutes of higher education. Most of the clients are regionally based with the bulk located in Connecticut, although the projects the company works on can span the East Coast.
“The long-term plan is just to continue to be successful,” Demko said. “As far as the size of the firm, we’re not looking to be 50 people; I think I’d like to [employ] about 25.”
ID3A has approximately 20 today, she said.
When asked the big change between working for Perkins+Will and owning their own businesses, both women agreed — it’s the ability to quickly enact change.
“We’ve challenged things, [both] what was working and what wasn’t working,” Demko said. “We’ve been able to make decisions quicker.”
Declining to reveal the price they paid for the assets and client list, the pair did say they are in the process of filing for women-owned business status, and they’ve been pleased with the reaction of the clients overall. “I think we felt secure [buying the business] because our clients are very loyal,” Demko said. “We just feel confident. No regrets.”