Growth Through Flexibility

Flexibility is key when it comes to establishing new contacts and expanding local business, says Peter Schäfer, Senior Associate at architecture and consulting giant Gensler. The company’s newly established German office is currently based in a coworking space – and embraces the chances this has to offer.
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Gensler stands for exceptional design with an unbelievable market dominance worldwide. The company is much more than an architecture firm. Research, strategy and design successfully go hand in hand here: With 48 branches and 3,500 clients from all sectors, Gensler operates within a global network. Architect and Senior AssociatePeter Schäfer talks with editor Rosa Schaberl about the first steps into the German market.

Gensler is very strong in America and Asia while merely operating three offices in Europe – two in the UK and now one in Germany. Why did you decide in favor of Germany?

Germany plays a massive role within the European economic group, due to the many regional, but also global corporations that are based here. We’ve already had the privilege of working with some of them, but always from our London office. In recent years we have noticed that it is still an obstacle, especially in Western Europe, when the architect is not on site. Gensler is very customer-oriented, you could almost say, customer-focused. The fact that we couldn’t just pop by in case of difficulties became a real hurdle for us. Our main thought was: We go to wherever our clients need us. With the presence we have built up in Germany over the past years, this step was not just logical, but necessary indeed.

"Our main thought was: We go to wherever our clients need us."
— Peter Schäfer

… and why specifically Munich?

 We looked at several cities in Germany, but the southern region in particular has an exciting economic focus for us. In addition, many of our existing clients are based here and we appreciate the proximity to Switzerland. In Basel, we are currently working on a number of projects with pharmaceutical companies. We can look after them well from Munich.

You have been working in Munich since October 2018 – not based in your own facilities, but in a coworking space, which is rather unusual for a major design company. What advantages do you see in this?

Compared to America or Asia, Gensler is still relatively unknown in Europe. For this reason, marketing, the presentation of our work and personal discussions with potential clients have a certain priority. A coworking space offers great opportunities to meet new people and establish new contacts. In addition, the space operates several offices in Germany and – for the reasons mentioned above – we currently travel quite a lot. No matter if we have appointments in Berlin, Hamburg or Cologne, we can always stop by at “our” workplace afterwards. Of course, it is also a great advantage that the required technical infrastructure is already in place. This flexibility allows us to grow.

"A coworking space offers great opportunities to establish new contacts."
— Peter Schäfer

Talking of growth: How many employees are currently working in Munich?

We started really small in October. Now it’s already ten of us. We often joke about being Germany’s biggest start-up: Ten people in the office, but 6,000 employees worldwide. We get a lot of support from the other Gensler branches. This is not only helpful but also a great feeling. It’s actually quite unbelievable how many people stand behind us.

With such rapid growth, your own workspace is certainly on the horizon. Are there any plans?

Yes, we just started looking around. In London, the employees have recently moved into their new premises. A really nice and representative office – we can identify with every single room. It is not only a good example of what Gensler offers as a company, but also for what we are looking for in Munich, an office that provides a high degree of both identification and representation.

"We often joke about being Germany’s biggest start-up: Ten people in the office, but 6,000 employees worldwide."
— Peter Schäfer

You still spend quite a lot of time in the London office – can you tell us more about the new premises?

There are currently around 250 employees in London, but far less desks in the office. Flexibility is the keyword here and mobile working a big topic. There are many temporary stations and different functional areas. Add to that the labs: The new technologies not only invite you to “go for it”, we also have the opportunity to test many things on site. In addition to flexibility, communication is a key issue – here and in fact in all our projects. From my own experience, I have already noticed the difference between talking to the same colleagues in the same way every day about the same topics, and exploring new ways of thinking with new people.

 Traveling between the coworking space in Munich and the office in London – what does your personal workplace look like?

As flexible as possible. At the moment, I certainly spend more time on the train than at my desk, as visiting new clients takes up most of my time. This can be exhausting, but there are also many positives.

In addition to designing, Gensler is known for extensive studies. Will both of these fields be continued in Munich as well?

Yes, as this is exactly what sets us apart from many architectural firms. We offer a wide range of services, comprising studies and research as well as consulting and design. This allows us to truly understand the customer, long before the actual designing process begins. All steps go hand in hand, as we do not just collect data but also use these data immediately – nothing gets lost. We would like to continue this in Germany and have already assembled a great team of architects, strategists, analysts, and change managers.

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