From technician to rainmaker: Making the leap in your career

Many AEC firms focus on training for the hard skills of the profession, not so much for business prowess, writes BD+C's David Barista.
January 21, 2015 |
David Barista

This past October, 78 young AEC professionals gathered in New York City for leadership development and networking during BD+C's Under 40 Leadership Summit.

“I’ve mastered my craft. I am ready to take the next step, but I have no idea how to get there.” These words came with a look of frustration and concern from a 30-something architect who has spent the lion’s share of her career with a large architecture firm. She loves her job, adores her firm. Yet she feels stuck.

We met at BD+C’s 4th annual Under 40 Leadership Summit in New York City this past September, where 78 young AEC professionals gathered for leadership development and networking. I was a bit surprised by the comment, considering her firm—like many Giant AEC companies—has a robust in-house professional development and career guidance program to help groom its next generation of leaders.

But her firm, she explained, was focused on training for the hard skills of the architecture profession, not so much for business prowess—business development, client relations, customer service, sales—all of the soft skills needed to keep the lights on. “I want to learn how to bring in business for my firm,” she told me. She wants to become a rainmaker.

It wasn’t the first time I had heard this sentiment from a BD+C reader. In fact, several young people at the same U40 Leadership Summit expressed similar concerns when asked about their top career aspirations. 

This gap in firm leadership training isn’t specific to the AEC world, either. A lawyer friend of mine struggled to break through the ceiling at his firm. He invested more than 20 years of his career climbing the ladder, from Associate to Associate Partner to Partner, only to realize that “I was on my own” when it came to making the giant leap to Managing Partner. Eventually, it took going off on his own for him to finally learn (in trial-by-fire fashion) how to become a rainmaker. The firm’s cultural DNA, he once told me, made it nearly impossible to make that crucial move upward.

So, what’s lacking at professional services firms that makes the road to the very top so difficult? For one, a culture of sincere mentorship and apprenticeship. Many firms have formal mentorship programs, where young staffers are paired with veteran leaders, but these relationships can seem forced, and often fizzle out after a few months. 

There’s also a lack of appreciation for the softer business skills training, as well as for a deeper understanding of how the firm wins business and ultimately makes money. In some cases, no incentive or financial reward is offered to younger employees who may have played a role in bringing in new or repeat business.

Finally, there’s a lack of belief in what some management consultants term “The Ritz-Carlton Way”—where every employee, from the concierge to the wakeup-call operator to the house cleaning staff, is trained, incentivized, and empowered to deliver a “delightful guest experience.” In short, Ritz-Carlton aims to make every one of its employees a rainmaker. 

Want to learn how to become a rainmaker at your firm? Join BD+C and 80-100 of your AEC peers at the 5th annual Under 40 Leadership Summit, October 14-16, in Chicago. One of the workshops scheduled for the 2½-day conference, “From Technician to Rainmaker: How to Make the Leap in Your Career,” will be facilitated by a group of past BD+C 40 Under 40 Award winners who have successfully made the leap. 

For more on the conference, visit the event website.

David Barista | BD+C Editors
Building Design+Construction
Editorial Director

David Barista is Editorial Director of Building Design+Construction and, properties that combined reach more than 100,000 commercial building professionals, including architects, engineers, contractors, and building owners. David has covered the U.S. construction industry for more than a decade, previously serving as Editor-in-Chief of BD+C, Professional Builder, Custom Builder, and He has won numerous editorial awards, including six Jesse H. Neal Awards and multiple honors from the Construction Writers Association and the American Society of Business Publication Editors.


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