Q&A: Louis Ray, Principal
Our Q&A series explores the people that play an active role in steering Valerio Dewalt Train toward success in the field of architecture and design. Read on for an insider's look into the talent behind our most influential work.
Tell me about your role here.
A majority of my time is dedicated to assisting our California offices in various capacities. I manage several large Silicon Valley tech clients as well as support the office management on the west coast. Business development is also a large responsibility of mine in this region.
What does that entail?
Broadly, making connections and nurturing relationships. Ninety-percent of our work is from repeat clients or referrals. We’re very proud of that. We never make cold calls and we do very little direct marketing. If you do your job and keep your clients happy, the rest will take care of itself.
If you do your job and keep your clients happy, the rest will take care of itself.
So you manage clients, but you’re also an architect. Which part of the job do you prefer?
That’s a good question. They’re really two sides of the same coin. I enjoy building and managing relationships with clients, but I am able to do that well because I understand the work from the ground up, literally. The work fosters relationships, which leads to the business development, not the other way around.
So one job leads to another, leads to another?
Yes, actually a large number of our clients can be traced back to one client–US Robotics, the company that invented the dial-up modem.
How is that?
US Robotics was based in a suburb of Chicago. We built probably 30-plus offices around the country for them between 1995 and ‘97. Actually, my first project when I started here in ‘95 was for a US Robotics U-Net facility. Anyway, In 1997, 3Com bought US Robotics. We were scared that we had lost our biggest client. We went out to California to meet the powers-that-be at 3Com, and we convinced them to allow us to finish a project in Rolling Meadows that was already underway. We did such a good job that they kept hiring us. That lasted until 2001 when the company began to break into smaller businesses. However, there were about 20 people in their real estate department, they all went to 20 different companies, and they all continued to hire us. So, we instantly went from one big client to 20 smaller clients, which led to relationships with several tech companies including eBay, Covad, Juniper, Adobe, Mesa Development, SanDisk, VMware, Google…
Interesting. That’s a lucrative web of connections. Anything you are currently working that can be connected back to US Robotics Source?
Definitely. I’m currently engaged with a project for Glassdoor. Our relationship with them can be traced all the way back to US Robotics. It’s like a big client family tree. Six degrees of US Robotics.
You said you started here in 1995. How has the industry changed in the last 20 years?
A lot of the changes are on the clients’ side. The tech industry has changed, and continues to change so quickly, it has affected the nature and scope of our work with them. We are involved in much more than the architecture. We’re often shooting from the hip to respond to their needs. Keeps it exciting.
Can you be more specific?
For one thing, we’re more involved in all aspects of the development. Many companies used to have robust strategic development and real estate departments, but due to the rapidly changing nature of the industry, that is no longer the case, so we jump in and do those jobs. We’re not just designing the spaces, but consulting on real estate strategy and growth development. The fact that we can perform all those roles, while also doing architecture, is one of the reasons our clients value our relationship.
Any recent projects that have worked that way?
For sure. With VMware, a client that provides cloud and virtualization software and services, we were the first architectural firm they worked with that concurrently served as project manager, architect of record, and design architect. They had previously divided the roles between several firms.
Was that successful?
Well, first we had to convince them that we could do it. But yes, we were extremely successful. So much so that they adopted a new development model that integrates design and project management across departments and locations.
What is the advantage of working that way, overseeing all aspects of a project?
We can just run the show, not allowing anything to fall through the cracks. It’s much more efficient and economical if done correctly. With VMware, we came in on time and on budget.
Really? Does that ever happen? Isn’t the saying to always expect your project to be double the budget and triple the time?
Sure, but sometimes they do. If the client is clear and realistic about their needs and expectations, like VMware was, it’s definitely possible to meet budgetary and time constraints.
That’s impressive. Changing the subject, I heard you’re a big foodie. What are your favorite Chicago restaurants?
There are so many great ones, but I have to say right now Momotaro, Lena Brava, and Nico Osteria are my current favorites. Mia Francesca is always great, especially before a Cubs game.
Ok, if you had to choose, what would be your fantasy last meal/last architecture?
A bowl of pasta carbonara on the Campo de’ Fiori.