“I never truly realized that we were going to get here.” That was Christopher Kimm’s response when asked how it feels to be celebrating 20 years as a business owner. September 1, 2016 marked the 20 Year Anniversary of WestEast Design Group, which Chris founded after feeling dissatisfied with the quality of services architecture offices provided to clients.
After spending 15 years working for both small and large firms, Chris decided to “jump ship” as he calls it and open his own practice. Chris notes that it was the frustration he felt towards the business practices and the level of service provided to clients that gave him the urge to make this major change, despite the potential risks involved. As one might assume, being a business owner isn’t easy and the last 20 years have been filled with a fair share of both highs and lows. The one thing that has remained consistent throughout, however, is the Kimms’s dedication to providing excellent service to their clients. Katherine Kimm, WestEast’s General Manager says that reaching 20 years “feels very gratifying. We never thought about reaching this point. We didn’t think about it 5 or 10 years ago.” Chris is quick to question what is more gratifying, though – celebrating 20 years in business or seeing your clients happy from the services you provided to them?
Chris and Katherine both agree that owning a business has been a great opportunity for learning and growth, though each cite different examples. In being a business owner, Chris has been able “to see both sides of the coin” as he says. “I now understand why my bosses did what they did. I now understand the things that used to frustrate me and motivated me to become a business owner.” Katherine notes that the business development and administrative roles she was thrown into have taught her a great deal about people and personal interactions. “I was a painfully shy child and being a business owner put me into situations I wasn’t comfortable with – meeting people I hadn’t met before and discussing upcoming opportunities. But once I realized that people were receptive and welcoming, I was no longer afraid to meet with potential clients. So, in that way, I feel like I’ve grown a lot by being a business owner.”
In terms of the future, opinions differ slightly in what the Kimms hope WestEast will be able to achieve. Katherine’s focus is on training young professionals. She notes that Chris had the opportunity to work on large scale and technically complex projects early in his career, which provided a different level of exposure to the architectural profession. Katherine hopes that younger staff members have the chance to work on a variety of projects, in terms of both scale and complexity. “I want projects that can really help them in their professional development so that they can know from their experiences what they like and dislike.”
For Chris, his main concern in looking towards the future is succession. “I want this office to be here longer than me and for someone to take the company and train more young professionals like Katherine mentioned. My kids didn’t want to be architects and that is okay – I’m glad they’re doing something different. But that means we have to start looking at ways to make that transition happen because I’m almost 60 and I’m starting to feel it. I can’t stay up all night the way I used to.”
Celebrating 20 years in business is an incredible achievement, especially considering the humble beginnings WestEast had. Chris started the business out of his home, using the dining room table as his office. Two decades later, WestEast employs over 20 people. Chris says, “there are a lot of memories and if you start counting the beans it does feel like a long time.”