Competing in a World Market
Professional development? Check
Generous benefits? Check
Team building? Check
Sustained growth? Check
Founded in 1994, Designers Consultants & Associates is a 53-person design firm that specializes in hospitality (including luxurious floating hotels), restaurants, and retail—not to mention the occasional private villa.
During the judging process, it quickly became clear to the editors that Designers Consultants & Associates offers many of the same benefits, education opportunities, and employee perks as other leading firms that have won our “Best AEC Firms to Work For” honor since the inception of the program in 2006.
With one big difference: Designers Consultants & Associates is based in the ancient city of Cairo, Egypt, making the firm's forward-thinking, Western-style benefits and programs all the more impressive, and earning Designers a spot on this year's list of top design and construction firms to work for.
Let's take a look at how this progressive firm has brought fresh ideas in professional development, employee benefits, team spirit, and strong business growth to the land of the Pharaohs.
ENCOURAGING PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
The firm's in-house educational programs—the equivalent of American-style lunch-and-learns—include a monthly event hosted by the firm's information architect that touches on new materials and products, sustainable design and construction, and new design and policy issues influencing the firm's work.
A second series of monthly programs (as many as four per month) are hosted by outside experts within the local AEC industry, to discuss issues of importance to the design and engineering fields.
In addition to in-house education, employees are encouraged to take continuing education courses or pursue advanced degrees. The firm works with these staff members to reconfigure work hours and project loads to accommodate their class schedules.
Managing partners Raef Azouz and Emad Khouzam serve as mentors to the firm's senior design and engineering staff, who in turn serve as mentors to the junior staff members. The firm's close relationships with some of the country's other AEC firms allows Designers Consultants & Associates staff to form outside mentoring relationships—a nontraditional approach, but one that has worked well for Designers.
UNUSUAL EMPLOYEE BENEFITS
Under Egyptian law, employers contribute 26% of an employees' salary to social insurance, while employees contribute 14%. At Designers Consultants & Associates, the firm pays 100% of employees' social and medical insurance.
The firm also provides assistance in overcoming one of the more arduous and expensive tasks of everyday life in Egypt—opening up a bank account. The firm helps employees open such accounts, affording them the opportunity to get personal ATM cards as well as corporate credit cards. As a result of having this relationship with a bank, employees have been able to obtain personal loans to purchase housing, furniture, and vehicles.
The firm's offices are a shade of green, offering natural daylighting and two large outdoor spaces. Air conditioning—something American white-collar workers take for granted, but by no means a guaranteed amenity to those working in offices in sweltering Cairo—cools the Designers office, thus enhancing employee productivity.
Other Western-style benefits are also offered. Monetary bonuses are given in recognition of outstanding project work. And flex time—hardly a common practice in Egypt—is also available to support work/life balance, allowing employees who qualify to tend to family matters or other personal concerns.
Team building is also a major consideration. Firm-wide events and outings occur several times each year, giving employees a chance to bond while celebrating New Year's Eve together at the big bash the office hosts, or a day of bowling, or playing ping-pong and basketball during a visit to a sports club. A road trip to the historic city of Alexandria offered another chance for Designers Consultants & Associates to build on the spirit of family that makes the firm such a desirable place to work.
SUSTAINING GROWTH IN THE BUSINESS
Finally, managing partners Azouz and Khouzam have worked hard to make Designers Consultants & Associates a firm of growth and opportunity.
In just the past few years—some of the roughest for the design and construction industry worldwide—the firm grew in size by more than 50%, from 34 employees in 2007 to 53 employees currently, and they anticipate additional hires during 2010.
The firm has also expanded beyond its original markets, Egypt and Libya, to pursue work in places as diverse as Togo, Gabon, Tanzania, Eritrea, Tunisia, Rwanda, Uganda, and Guinea. — Jay W. Schneider, Senior Editor