Weekend Interview: Perkins&Will Southwest Region Director Tom Reisenbichler
This series gets into the heads of the decision-makers of CRE, the people shaping the industry by setting investment strategy, workplace design, diversity initiatives and more.
Tom Reisenbichler’s love for architecture stretches all the way back to his favorite childhood sitcom and its iconic family home, but his deep knowledge of medical facility design began with his role as a construction project manager for Republic Health Corp. in the 1980s and continued as he oversaw project teams delivering healthcare planning expertise for a wide range of clients, from for-profit healthcare systems to academic medical centers.
Today, Reisenbichler directs Perkins&Will’s Southwest region, responsible for development of the area’s business strategy and performance across all market sectors. He stepped into this role after his own firm, Collins Reisenbichler Architects Inc., was acquired by Perkins&Will in 2002.
In addition to his passion for healthcare design, Reisenbichler is committed to advancing sustainability through the built environment. A focus on Living Design, a framework that creates high-performing places through the promotion of human and ecological well-being, guides all of the firm's projects.
The following has been lightly edited for clarity and style.
Bisnow: Tell us about your leadership philosophy and what experiences, words of advice or mentors shaped it along the way.
Reisenbichler: I have always felt it is most important to give your team members the autonomy to shape their own path to success. The best leaders help their team develop and determine their strengths while cultivating an environment that fosters those who rise to the occasion when presented with challenges.
Perkins&Will’s global CEO, Phil Harrison, is an excellent example of a mentor who leads in this way. He provides the expectations and allows all of us to follow our path. I have to give credit to our wonderful practice leaders who do all the hard work. They make my job pretty easy!
Bisnow: How has the role of CEO/business leader changed over time — especially when considering the early days of your career to now?
Reisenbichler: This past June marked my 40th year working in architecture. The most significant change I’ve noticed is that CEOs in my early career were more managers than leaders. The world around us has changed so much that CEOs today are focused more on creating the path and vision for a company but are not as involved in the details of how that vision unfolds.
Today’s CEO guides, motivates and empowers team members to be their best selves. People coming out of school expect to move faster in their career than we did in the past. They are more eager to experiment with their job satisfaction and seek challenges. With this changing viewpoint, CEOs have had to adapt to be more in tune with what their staff members want and need out of the company and their role.
Bisnow: What will the role of CEO look like in 10 years?
Reisenbichler: We will continue to see more of a focus on different ways of doing business. We will be more flexible about when and where people work while still focusing on the quality of work. Because of these changes, we will have to see shifts in how management and leadership interact and coach their employees. Formal training can be done from the home or the office.
The bigger challenge is day-to-day mentoring for emerging professionals. As architects, junior team members want to look at drawings and sketches side-by-side with someone. This is hard to do over video. Over the next decade, we will need to ask ourselves how we continue to mentor emerging professionals in a way that is productive for them.
Bisnow: Was leading a company always a goal for you? If so, why?
Reisenbichler: I always had a goal of having my own firm. I’ve always had a passion for shaping the built environment through architecture, and I felt the path to that mission was leading a team to innovate together and design empowering spaces. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit, and I’m proud to say that I built a successful architectural firm of about 75 people.
Several firms approached my partner, David Collins, and I over the years interested in acquiring the company, but the only one that excited me was Perkins&Will. I eventually became managing director of Perkins&Will’s Dallas office. As Perkins&Will grew within the Southwest region, we added Houston through an acquisition, which incorporated the science and technology sector. Since then, we have added the Austin, Denver and Monterrey studios.
Bisnow: What has been your biggest mistake as a leader?
Reisenbichler: Ironically, my biggest success and my biggest mistake are the same things. We’ve had 11 new firms created from people who have worked for us and left to start their own businesses. This is a success in the sense that we have recruited employees who are entrepreneurial and have created a place where they have the opportunity to explore their passions. The regret is that, in some cases, we haven’t been able to fulfill their dreams fully.
Bisnow: Has your thinking changed about the workplace between 2019 and today? How? What will your office strategy be moving forward?
Reisenbichler: The past few years have tremendously changed the way we think about how we work. We’ve learned some really hard lessons but very valuable ones.
When we first started working remotely, our productivity increased because people had more opportunities for heads-down work. As we moved into new projects, the productivity dropped off because the path to success wasn’t as clear.
There is a value to being in the studio or the office, but it doesn’t need to be all the time. One of the biggest lessons everyone has learned is that if you are commuting to and from work for two hours every day, you are losing quality time both with your family and in the office. We want to maintain interaction in the studio but will likely open satellite offices in areas across North Texas. That way, we can minimize commute times and increase opportunities for mentorship and interactions without requiring everyone to come to one centralized office in Dallas.
Bisnow: There is a massive conversation underway regarding advancing more people of color and women into the C-suite. What are you doing to address those voices and that movement within your own organization?
Reisenbichler: Perkins&Will as a global firm has a very robust Justice, Equity, Engagement, Diversity and Inclusion (J.E.D.I.) program. Compared to other architectural firms, we have a greater range of diverse employees, including women and people of color.
Perkins&Will’s Diversity Council, developed in 2015, is an industry-first, firmwide cross-section of Perkins&Will staff with varying backgrounds and expertise that helps build and sustain a culture and practice that celebrates human differences by providing valuable opportunities to elevate the design process through dialogue. I feel very fortunate to work in a group that has been at the forefront of this change.
In Dallas, we have a larger percentage of female staff members than any other Perkins&Will studio in the U.S. Equity and inclusion means making an effort to not overlook anyone. Pay attention to each person’s skill set and notice who is being successful and contributing to the success of the studio.
Bisnow: What do you think about the recent focus on sustainability and climate change? Is it overblown? Insufficient? Is your company tackling climate change in any way or taking it under consideration in your planning?
Reisenbichler: It is certainly not overblown. We can see the climatic impact of global warming through the tornados, hurricanes, mudslides, etc. that are occurring at a greater scale and in places that should not be experiencing these natural disasters.
It is imperative that architecture and design firms keep climate change at the forefront of the conversation. Those of us who work in urban planning, architecture, landscaping and engineering are in a unique position to make positive change. We are consistently finding new ways to build that aren’t as carbon-intensive. Perkins&Will has a deep focus on what we call Living Design, meaning that we are always looking intensely at the environment and how to improve it.
Bisnow: What is something CRE gets wrong in your eyes?
Reisenbichler: The CRE industry needs to place a much greater emphasis on energy conservation and occupant health.
The pandemic highlighted the importance of considering occupant health when creating spaces. We can prioritize occupant health through air filtration systems, material selections and considering the socialization of people in the building.
Perkins&Will’s Material Performance Lab is an excellent resource and initiative that delves into the life cycles of building materials and their impacts on our health, well-being and environmental footprint. Some of the solutions for occupant health, such as air filtration systems, will naturally consume more energy, so we need to strike a balance between energy performance and occupant health. There is no need to sacrifice one over the other.
Bisnow: What asset class or location will perform best over the next five years? Why?
Reisenbichler: Business opportunities in Texas are going to continue to grow across markets. I generally believe that all markets — particularly anything that has to do with technology and taking care of people, such as hospitals and education — will perform better in the Southwest.
We’ve also seen a tremendous amount of growth within the multifamily sector here in Texas as the demand for housing continues to rise. For many years, Texas was not considered a technology center, but now there are so many people living here who can support all types of businesses. The opportunities for work in Texas are ever-increasing, which naturally leads to an influx of passionate, intelligent people.
Bisnow: What book, article or TedTalk meant the most to you? Why?
Reisenbichler: Motivational speaker Simon Sinek did a talk on “Why”—essentially discussing the why of what you do, rather than the how or what.
Simon says, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.” After listening, it made me realize that our role is to help our clients deliver on their “why” and provide them with the tools they need to create impactful spaces. The architecture and design industry is driven by why people do things and how we can help them do those things better.
Bisnow: What is your all-time favorite TV show? Why?
Reisenbichler: One of the reasons I became an architect was because of The Brady Bunch. The father was an architect and had an incredible family and a fantastic house! The show exposed me to architecture and design at a young age and opened my eyes to the industry.
Bisnow: How do you spend your Saturdays?
Reisenbichler: I’m usually out on the golf course or riding my bike, and at night, I like to go out and socialize with friends.