Cannon Design

Investing in professional education

May 01, 2007 |

Since its founding in 1945 by John D. and Will A. Cannon, Cannon Design (originally known as Cannon Corporation) has evolved into a leading architecture and engineering firm in the areas of healthcare (which accounts for nearly half its revenues), public buildings (such as the $95 million Lloyd D. George Federal Building and Courthouse in Las Vegas), higher education (notably Turkey’s Sabanci University), academic research facilities (such as Saint Louis University’s Edward A. Doisy Research Center), and sports complexes (including the $150 million City of Richmond Speed Skating Oval for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver).

Ranked #10 among architecture/engineering “Giants” by Building Design+Construction last year (with 2005 revenues of $102.4 million) and #6 among healthcare design firms, Cannon Design has gained a solid reputation for design excellence and project execution with the firm’s 150 or so active clients. Among many honors the firm has received is the Presidential Award for Design Excellence.

In recent years, the firm has grown both organically and through targeted mergers and acquisitions—in 2000, the Los Angeles firm of Dworsky Associates, and in 2002, Johnston Sport Architecture of Victoria, B.C. Two years ago, Moffat Kinoshita Architects of Toronto joined the Cannon Design team.

Today, in addition to the founding office in Grand Island (Buffalo), N.Y., Cannon Design has offices in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, St. Louis, San Francisco, New York, and Washington, D.C., as well as in Canada (Calgary, Toronto, Vancouver, and Victoria) and China (Shanghai).

Passion for learning

The key to Cannon Design’s success—and what separates it from many other A/E firms of equal or greater size—is the firm’s almost manic passion for professional education. Under CEO Gary R. Miller, Cannon Design has developed and executed an elaborate continuing education program, in the form of the Cannon Design Academy, which provides in-house and online training and education to the firm’s more than 700 employees.

Cannon Associates logged more than 6,000 AIA learning units in sessions just like this one.

Coupled with the continuing education program is an intensive mentoring program, which includes a month-long program (in May) to call attention to the firm’s emphasis on this career development practice. The firm achieves 60% participation in its mentoring program.

Performance results for education, service, program, and licensure compliance include:

• More than 30 seminars and forums offered firm-wide, many of which are specifically targeted as tutorials for the Architecture Registration Examination.

• More than 6,000 AIA learning units were provided.

• Over 75% of AIA learning units offered qualified for health, safety, and welfare credit.

• 90% of employees participated in at least one Academy offering.

• The firm is also a Practicing Institute of Engineering (PIE) provider.

Among the courses offered are technical sessions on ADA requirements, building codes, telemetry in healthcare, seismic design for architects, fast tracking projects, and the basics of lighting design. Also available are professional and personal development courses, such as one on Myers-Briggs team building concepts.

Cannon Design has also been a leader in online education, offering many courses as webinars, so that employees can learn from them no matter what their location. A cost-benefit analysis showed that the firm could produce online training content for $20 per participant per program, a considerable savings compared to using outside sources.

Cannon Design’s devotion to continuing education and career development has not gone unnoticed by the AEC industry. Last year, the American Institute of Architects singled out the firm for two prestigious awards: the National AIA Internship Development Program Outstanding Firm Award and the AIA/CES Award for Excellence in continuing education (for large firms).

Even with these accolades, Cannon Design continues to innovate in providing learning opportunities for its employees. Two years ago, Michael Pukszta, AIA, and Elizabeth Rack, AIA, both principals in the St. Louis office, launched the Healthcare Planning Fellowship to put the careers of selected young healthcare architects on a fast track. The first two graduates of this program, Natalie R. Petzoldt, AIA, and Lori Epler, studied 2,000 pages of technical materials on healthcare design and had to complete a comprehensive set of training modules over an 18-month period. Each worked on projects in multiple offices as part of Cannon’s “Single Firm, Multi Office” (SFMO) concept.

Upon completion of the program, Petzoldt and Epler were presented Waterford Crystal Stars at a meeting of the firm’s board of directors. Petzoldt, an associate vice president and one of Cannon Design’s youngest officers, also was named to the inaugural class of BD+C’s “40 Under 40” rising stars of the AEC profession in 2006.

Looking to the future

As successful as the Cannon Design Academy has been, the firm’s management continues to press for more ways to enhance its education programs. The firm’s 2006-2010 Business Plan sets out a whole new set of education needs to be addressed, notably:

• Overseeing international expansion with enhancements in language, culture, customs, currency, and codes.

• Developing programs to enhance skill sets for new technology models, managing change, and working in a more synergistic way.

• Working with a new organizational structure that focuses on new leadership, interpersonal communication, and teaming skills.

• As is usually the case at Cannon Design, implementing these action items surely will be a learning experience for everyone.

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