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AB Exec of ’09 Joe Stanley On Building One Architecture Firm Out of Two

3 min read

A graduate of the Jones School of Architecture at the University of Arkansas, Joe Stanley started his architectural career in 1971 in Memphis. In 1977, he moved back to Arkansas to start Polk Stanley. In 2009, after a merger with The Wilcox Group, Stanley was named CEO.

He has received the UA Architecture School’s Career Distinguished Service award and the Business Executive of the Year award from Arkansas Business and is a member of the Arkansas Construction Hall of Fame.

The Architect magazine recently named Polk Stanley Wilcox No. 28 on the Top 50 Best in Design Firms in the United States for 2014, the only Arkansas architecture firm on the list.

You’re moving into a new role at Polk Stanley Wilcox. Tell us a little about that.

In 2013, I stepped down as CEO and am in the process of selling my stock back to the company. My primary responsibility now is to be “of counsel” to the firm, with a focus on business development, research and strategic planning. I am also a founding board member and very active in the volunteer design collaborative studioMAIN.

When you were named Arkansas Business Executive of the Year for 2009, the economy was still in the doldrums. What did you learn from having experienced the Great Recession as the CEO of one of the state’s pre-eminent architecture firms?

Never take any aspect of a client relationship for granted, push the mantra every day throughout the firm to “under-promise and over-deliver” and surround yourself with people who are smarter, more talented — and younger — than you are.

The merger of Polk Stanley Rowland Curzon Porter Architects with The Wilcox Group in 2009 was big news. Did it accomplish everything you hoped it would?

Yes, we believe it has been very successful. One key to the almost seamless integration and evolution into a single entity has been that the cultures of the two former companies were very similar. Also, the two separate firms had expertise in different building types, which helped broaden our market potential when we combined forces to avoid, in effect, competing against ourselves post-merger. Nearly two years were spent in negotiating and “vetting” through all aspects of what the new combined business would become before we actually merged. That careful, deliberate and unrushed effort has certainly paid off.

You’ve worked on some huge projects like the UAMS expansion and the Clinton Library. I know that projects are like children and it’s hard to choose a favorite, but which of yours will architects 100 years from now regard and say: “That was good work”?

I have been incredibly lucky to be involved with so many great clients (and great clients make for great projects), so it is a difficult question to answer. That said, there are two, “1A” and “1B” projects that I would list: the Heifer International Headquarters & Education Center in Little Rock is a particular favorite given the mission of the client and the commitment to sustainable architecture exemplified in the design, and then the library work we have done for Dr. Bobby Roberts of CALS, especially the Arkansas Studies Institute and the Hillary Clinton Children’s Library, both in Little Rock.

Your daughter is an architect. What’s the most important lesson you’ve sought to impart about leadership in your field?

Always take personal and professional responsibility for the decisions you make in the practice of architecture to serve the best interests of the client, respectfully collaborate with design consultants and work proactively with contractors to construct the project.

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