Q & A with Brian Orter
As the 10 year anniversary of BOLD approaches, we sat down with the founder to both reflect on the past and anticipate the future.
Looking back on almost 10 years of your company, what have you learned?
The short answer... chase the client not the project. Focusing on clients that appreciate design and manage their projects properly is a big deal. That type of client generally has respect for their customers and wants to contribute to society in meaningful ways. When our goals are aligned the result is a much better project and one that meets the budget. Also, hiring the right people and letting them flourish is incredibly important.
Why did you want to start BOLD?
Three simple reasons.
1. I wanted a haven for creative people to work in a respectful and well paid environment.
2. My theatrical, architectural and photography experience contributed to a new way of sculpting space for humans.
3. I wanted to be sure lighting design became an integral part of the built environment, not a luxury.
What has been most challenging about running BOLD? Fulfilling?
As with any business, managing people and determining what is and is not crisis has been the biggest challenge. Finding ways to inspire people to have careers and not jobs is a challenge. The most fulfilling aspects are enjoying the successes of the team, looking at the incredible list of people that trust us and learning from our mistakes.
Are there any particular people you’d like to thank in helping with its success?
Certainly Krista Ninivaggi, AvroKO, SHoP Architects, David Rockwell, Greg Keffer, Craig Harvey, Martin Brudnizky and Jeffrey Beers. They were some of our earliest clients at a time when the economy was on full stop. We all helped each other through that very difficult time. Charlie Dumais, who joined as director and now Principal helped push the company into a much more successful group as well. Without him, our designs wouldn't be as good and our office would be a lot less fun. And Ryan Raica, our very first employee who took a risk and moved from Chicago. He taught me that I needed to create a real working environment if we were going to attract talent. At that time, we were renting desks from a famous interior designer, working with a couple Macs and only had our cell phones. It was VERY startup.
Why did you want to change the name from Brian Orter Lighting Design to BOLD?
It was always the plan from day one. All companies end up with their initials on drawings, submittals, RFI’s, etc. For example, if we were “The Lighting Company” we'd be truncated to "TLC" all the time. So I knew it had to be something that looked good and made sense. Additionally, In order to grow, I knew other people would need to be properly credited for their work as well which is challenging if they're under an individual's name as opposed to a firm.
Can you talk about the identity and character of the company? And does this transition have anything to do with it?
At first, during the economic depression in 2008, I banked on the name I had made for myself over the prior ten or so years. So the identity was very much about the trust people had in me personally. The transition is all about the trust people have in our group.
Do you have an overall goal? Do you feel like you’ve accomplished it? Or are getting close to it?
I originally hoped for eight to twelve people with solid, consistent and creative clients. We're now almost thirty people with offices in two cities and a list of clients students learn about in school. So that's great. The goal though... a wonderful place to work with laughter, creativity and financial success for everyone? Lighting design is being taken more seriously now, and our fees are starting to climb since 2008. Industry wide they stagnated for about nine or ten years. There is a lot of laughter in the office, we're expanding again, and our salaries are growing. So yeah, we're getting there.
As BOLD grows, in what direction do you see the company moving?
I want to work with developers and architects to start thinking about their buildings as power suppliers not users. I want people to better understand that lighting is about psychology, not technology.
If another expansion is in question, where would you like to go?
I don't know. Major cities like Madrid, Paris, San Francisco and London come to mind. But first the people, then the office.
What kind of role would you like to play in the evolution of BOLD?
I'm the guy that is our most ardent cheerleader. Of equal importance, I force change in big and small ways that keep us just slightly outside of our comfort zone. That's my job. To keep us uncomfortable but rewarded for our risks. Our designs, our policies, our people management, our risk/rewards should change as people and technology changes. I remind myself that if a lot of people are doing the same thing I should look around the mob to see what all the noise is blocking.