Growth of architecture/interior design firm’s leadership fueled by diversity of perspectives
Fifteen years ago, Legat Architects’ then president/CEO Wayne Machnich gave Patrick Brosnan some advice on building a strong leadership team—surround yourself with people who think differently than you.
Since his appointment to President/CEO in 2007, Brosnan has kept that advice close to heart and encouraged the firm’s leaders to do the same. It is with this focus on diversity of perspectives that the firm announces its newest principals: Susan Jahn, Tom Kikta, Sylvia Kowalk, Robin Randall, and Vuk Vujovic each bring distinct skills to Legat’s board of principals. They join existing principals Brosnan, Berry DeSimone, Casey Frankiewicz, Ted Haug, Jay Johnson, Michael Lundeen, Scot Parker, and Jeffrey Sronkoski. These individuals make decisions regarding everything from changing technologies to responding to market conditions and effectively investing the firm’s assets.
Additionally, Susan Jahn joins Brosnan and Chief Operating Officer DeSimone as a managing principal. This leadership team makes day-to-day decisions regarding finance, operations, and setting the overall firm direction. The firm’s founding principals (i.e., Frankiewicz, Haug, Sronkoski) will continue to lead development of the corporation’s creative design and market segments.
Legat’s clientele covers a broad spectrum—on any given day, its architects and interior designers might be working with public works providers, law enforcement professionals, early learning center teachers, college administrators, healthcare clinicians, hotel operators, and many others.
Brosnan said, “A variety of perspectives at the principals’ table helps us respond to the many points of view both within our firm and within the diverse communities we serve.”
Additional Legat employee news includes the following:
- Tom Kikta appointed director of Legat’s Chicago studio
- Nicole Klosowski appointed director of marketing
- Ann Tranter appointed director of business development
- Vuk Vujovic appointed to an additional role focused on higher education business development and project management. Vujovic will continue in his role as director of sustainability & energy.
- Steve Blye, Sylvia Kowalk, Robin Randall, Jeff Sandberg, and Zach Wiese named company shareholders
Since its inception in 1964, Legat has emphasized giving employees opportunities to grow and lead. Unique among mid/large-sized architecture firms, Legat is 100% employee owned. A significant number of its employees (approximately 30%) owns shares in the company.
“Employee ownership is an important aspect of our culture,” said Brosnan. “We make decisions that benefit our clients, employees, and shareholders on a long-term basis. Our employees are our shareholders, so we don’t have outside investors and we are not driven by short-term profits. We look to invest in long-term relationships to grow and advance our people and our firm.”
Below is more information about each of the new principals:
Susan Jahn, a certified public accountant, came to Legat in 2009 after working as a risk management and audit specialist for a major financial institution. She quickly learned Legat’s history, accounting systems, and the business of architecture.
As director of finance and controller, Jahn manages Legat’s business department, which includes accounting and human resources. She led the firm’s transition to a new accounting software that gives project managers immediate feedback on project progress and work projections, so they can efficiently plan and respond to Legat’s clients. Jahn provided valuable input in the creation of a dedicated space for the firm’s business department with Legat’s 2016 Gurnee studio buildout.
“Susan’s approachability and positive attitude have helped us vastly improve our operational efficiency,” said Brosnan. “She brings a strong system of accountability and ensures the business processes are in place while minimizing bureaucracy.”
Many architects throughout Chicago and beyond have built their foundational skills under the wing of longtime project manager Tom Kikta. He joined Legat’s Schaumburg studio in 1990 and two years later, moved to the firm’s new Oak Brook location. In 2002, he joined the Chicago studio, where he led various odd jobs (e.g., window replacements, pool liners, and modular unit installation) for Chicago Public Schools (CPS).
Today, Kikta continues to work with CPS, and his portfolio for the district includes work at over 30 schools. Examples include minor upgrades, bringing air conditioning to eight schools over one summer, major additions, and historic restorations. Kikta was also project manager for CPS’s Mariano Azuela Elementary School, where he has led an architecture club since the facility was completed in 2010.
Because of Kikta’s successes with CPS, the Public Building Commission of Chicago (PBC) recently expanded Legat’s responsibility to “design architect.” This allows Kikta and his senior level coworkers to mentor firms new to PBC, particularly firms qualified in Chicago’s Minority and Women-Owned Business (M/WBE) Certification Program.
Kikta’s portfolio also includes projects at more than 25 school districts and 15 higher education institutions, as well as projects for healthcare, corporate, and governmental clients.
Brosnan said, “Tom has been a model of patience and dedication, whether he’s communicating with a summer intern, a project manager, or a client.”
When Legat’s Director of Interior Design Sylvia Kowalk is at a conference booth, she enjoys meeting new people. It’s typical for clients and industry leaders to seek her out, share a story, and spend time learning. Kowalk’s love of interaction and challenges has fueled many successes, ranging from integrating Legat’s architecture and interior design studios to gathering stakeholder input for projects.
Though Kowalk came to Legat in 2011, she has collaborated with the firm for over 15 years. Her leadership has resulted in a core group of talented interior designers who participate in a growing number of the firm’s projects.
Sylvia focuses on brand- and culture-sensitive interior environments that elevate mind, body, and spirit. Among her notable projects are Erie Family Health Center’s Evanston and Waukegan retrofits, as well as Oakton Community College’s Lee Center for Science and Health Careers.
Brosnan said, “Sylvia’s forward-looking approach to interiors has made her an in-demand speaker within the interior design community and within the markets we serve. Though her heart is in the development of projects, she has also been valuable to firm’s business development and marketing efforts.”
Robin Randall, leader of Legat’s preK-12 segment, joined the firm in 2013. Her focus on building relationships has expanded the firm’s reputation for educational design. A leading voice the industry, Randall has helped preK-12 providers explore new territory in areas such as sustainability, safety, STEM labs, early learning environments, and outdoor learning spaces. She has also led many design charrettes and community engagement sessions to help uncover needs and create programs that reflect school districts’ histories and identities.
Randall initiated Legat’s annual Think Tank, which unites individuals from many different industries to consider the future of design and architecture.
“Robin is a global thinker with a unique perspective on learning environments and design,” said Brosnan. “She brings passion to everything she does and has inspired many people within and outside the company.”
Vuk Vujovic joined Legat in 2000. As director of sustainability & energy, he led the firmwide integration of sustainability, renewable energy, and resiliency, and has been a pivotal figure in Chicago’s sustainability movement. His expertise ranges from green building design, sustainable campus master planning, and climate action plans to the Living Building Challenge, as well as LEED and WELL Building Standard integration. He has contributed articles and white papers for industry publications, and spoken on sustainable topics in conferences and events in the US and around the world.
At Legat, Vujovic navigated the integration of renewable energy- and environmentally-conscious design into all project types. Many of the resulting projects achieved national recognition for their advancements. Examples include Hubble Middle School, one of the first LEED Gold certified middle schools in the nation, and the IBEW/IN-TECH Renewable Energy Training Field, a one-of-a-kind training and demonstration solar campus in Alsip, Illinois. Vujovic also took the firm’s sustainable expertise beyond building design by leading the development of climate action plans for several of Illinois’ largest community college campuses.
Vujovic served as director of Legat’s Chicago studio for ten years, during which he introduced new processes that resulted in more efficient operations.
Brosnan said, “Vuk’s strong organizational skills and business acumen have made our firm more resourceful and profitable. Additionally, building owners appreciate his pragmatic approach to sustainability, whether he’s helping them explore grant opportunities or understand return on investment for sustainable features.”
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