In September, 2016, Huntsman AG launched the firm’s third office in downtown Chicago, with the goals of better supporting its national clients and building a regional presence in the Midwest. One significant advantage in the expansion effort was that Chicago team leaders - Senior Associate, Andrew Volckens and Associate, Karie Vagedes - both have deep roots in the Windy City. Within one short year, they have successfully elevated the firm's presence in the Chicago business community, landed several exciting project commissions, and are expanding their team. Andrew and Karie share their thoughts on the thrills and challenges of starting a new office and building a bright future for Huntsman Chicago.
Q: Andrew and Karie, it's been one year since you started the Chicago office. How has the journey been so far?
It has been a wild ride but more than anything, it has been fun. The two of us had not worked together before but it didn’t take long for us to realize that we would get along just fine. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t have made it a year. We learned early on that open communication and trust was going to be required to make it work. We also learned that making friendly jabs at each other to keep the mood light and the laughs a plenty is similarly important.
Q: Anything that has surprised you in the office start-up?
Just how welcoming and friendly the community has been to us. Everyone we have reached out to have been willing to meet with us and link us up with a few other contacts they consider a good fit. We’ve had countless breakfast meetings, coffees, smoothie get-togethers, lunches, happy hours, and dinners in the last year to build up our network. We truly value the friendships we have made and we are forever grateful to our first clients taking a chance on us. We are hopeful that our relationships with them continue to grow as we expand here.
Q: Both of you originally started in our San Francisco office. What is the most important thing you’ve brought to Chicago from that experience?
We have tried to bring the same culture and work ethic we both cherished from the San Francisco office to Chicago. We’re also leveraging our workplace expertise. In San Francisco, we were fortunate to work for clients such as Google, YouTube, and Quantcast and developing cutting-edge standards for technology-focused office spaces. Bringing this knowledge to Chicago has been very helpful when it comes to talking about workplace trends and the amenities that building owners and companies are building to attract and retain tenants and employees.
Q: What makes the Chicago market unique in terms of practicing Architecture and Design?
Chicago is rooted in such a rich architectural history that people know the importance of good design. It’s also a forward-thinking market, where clients realize how new ideas about how people work can be a game changer for an organization’s success strategy.
Q: Because of your tenacious business development skills the office already has several larger projects underway and your plates are full! How has the addition of the office's first hire, designer, Macaria Isip, helped support each of your efforts in growing the office?
Macaria is extremely self-motivated and she has the skillset to take a job from conceptual design through construction. She has been an incredible addition to the team. We also just welcomed a former Huntsman intern, Madison George to the Chicago crew. Building a team has taken some of the work load and pressure off the two of us and allowed us to spend more time working directly with our clients.
Again, I think it comes back to relationships. The client and the GC were both wonderful to work with and it was a total team effort from start to finish. The award at the end was sharing a beer with the client the last day of Neocon on the grand stair while watching everyone that visited the showroom using the space exactly as we had envisioned it.
I don’t think we were the only ones focusing on the Cubs. It seemed like 80% of the city basically shut down for the playoff run and eventually the World Series. It was a long wait, but well worth it!
Q: What other exciting projects are currently in progress?
We currently have a number of great projects on the boards, two of which really stand out for us. On the building owner side, we are working on a lobby and exterior renovation project with Golub at 300 S Wacker. As part of the building repositioning, we are designing a new tenant lounge and private riverfront club for the building tenants as well as a series of spec suites rolling out to attract new tenants.
On the tenant side, we are working with kCura on a 48,000 SF tenant improvement project at 231 S LaSalle. It’s nice to be able to leverage our expertise in working with fast-growing technology companies on this project. Our goal is to design a meaningful space for them that aligns their business drivers with their spatial needs.
Q: What do each of you look forward to as Huntsman Chicago continues to grow and flourish?
We think keeping perspective is going to be important. We want to build a similar environment and culture that Dan Huntsman started building in San Francisco 37 years ago. We think it’s more about growing with the right people than growing at an accelerated pace. That said, we’re already looking forward to our next hires.