Envision Design Founder Ken Wilson Breaks Down Perkins + Will Acquisition

It seems nary a week (or two) goes by without news of yet another “strategic partnership” or acquisition involving Perkins + Will (P+W).  Last week brought news that Envision Design—the Washington, D.C.-based architecture firm founded by Ken Wilson and Diana Horvat—had joined the P+W fold. For 13 years, Envision carved out a rather impressive niche as green interiors specialists. They designed offices for Greenpeace, the Environmental Defense Fund, and, three years ago, the LEED Platinum headquarters for the U.S. Green Buildings Council (USGBC) in Washington. We did a major story on the USGBC offices and got to know the firm well. So last week I called Wilson and asked him about the process of being acquired by such a savvy-acquirer. P+W’s approach can be best described as that of a quietly persistent, strategically patient suitor:

On the long courtship: “They first reached out to us about eight years ago. They sent an emissary up from Atlanta. Someone whose firm had recently been acquired by Perkins + Will, who basically said, ‘We did it and it worked out for us.’ We met with them. We drank a lot of very expensive wine. But both Diana and I felt the timing wasn’t right.”

On why they said yes now: “It’s a bitch to run an architecture office these days. And we thought, if we could work something out where we could do less of what we don’t like doing, which is managing the day to day, and more of what we like to do, then we would be interested.”

On making an honest self-assessment: “We’re a boutique firm. We have no marketing department, no art department, we do all of that ourselves. But we took a hard look at ourselves, and really analyzed the projects that we didn’t get, that we thought we should have gotten, and we realized all of our major competitors were the big firms. Because of our size, we realized that for some jobs, we weren’t the ‘safe’ choice. Gensler was the safe choice.”

On doing your due-diligence: “We called Eva Maddox, Eileen Jones, and Peter Busbee. All of them had significant practices before joining Perkins + Will. Eileen said to us, ‘Perkins + Will is a collection of entrepreneurial firms,’ and that really resonated with Diana and me.”

On letting the Envision name go: “I had a hard time with that one. I loved the name. It wasn’t my name or Diana’s. But there’s already a Perkins + Will office in Washington. At the beginning we’ll have our projects, and they’ll have theirs, but ultimately we do want to integrate with them.”

On the reaction of staff: “When we first told them, their jaws dropped. Some of them were really excited about the chance to branch out. I also think some of them, quite frankly, thought: ‘I didn’t sign on here to be at a big firm.’ But they’re all committed to making it work.”

Categories: Architecture