Small Business: Company culture - Dan Heyworth

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Dan Heyworth, co-founder, of BOX, an architect practice and construction company rolled into one

BOX founders Nat Jakich, Nat Holloway, Tim Dorrington, Dan Heyworth. Photo / Nic Staveley
BOX founders Nat Jakich, Nat Holloway, Tim Dorrington, Dan Heyworth. Photo / Nic Staveley

BOX describes itself as like a house company, but really into good quality design, using modular and prefab design and build principles so that it can accurately predict the cost of a built. BOX likes the simple, clean lines of modernist architecture.

How would you describe the culture of BOX?

We're a pretty eclectic bunch. We have the "thinkers" on the design side and the "doers" on the construction side. The most important thing is communication between the teams and with our clients. We set out to create an environment that was conducive to communication, sharing of ideas, without too rigid a framework. If the office is deathly silent I get worried.

The other important thing is that everyone has a sense of responsibility. We operate a pretty flat structure where no-one and nothing is out of bounds.

Do you feel that has been maintained?

Yes it has. As we get larger, it gets noisier and sometimes you need a corner to get some work done for a bit. So we have had to think how to arrange the workspace. As the company grows and different personalities get involved, it has become more important for the founders to lead by example.

What have the challenges been?

Finding good people and investing time to bring these people up to speed in the initial stages, in terms of what we do, our processes and what we expect of them. Finding the balance between working hard and relaxing, preferably with beer in hand is something the founders are continually trying to perfect.

Why is it important to you to protect the company culture?

Because it's part of BOX's persona and brand and why people want to work for us and with us. We also spend more time with one another than we do with our family during the week, so it needs to be an interesting, innovative atmosphere.

Do clients care?

Absolutely. One of the biggest compliments people give us is that we are so approachable. A lot of people have had experiences with architects or builders and we just don't fit their stereotype. People aren't afraid to talk with any of us. We remain friends with the majority of clients after the work is done.

How do you see the business expanding and what strains do you think this might put on the company's culture?

Getting the size of the business right is very important at this stage. We believe that at around 17 people we are at an optimum size. Any larger and the ability to work together well as a team could be compromised, based on experience. If the company wants to grow we'll need to give thought to how to structure the teams so that we have the right balance of people and our work, innovation and communication does not suffer.

Do you only want to get to a certain size? Could you imagine it double or triple the size and with the same company culture?

No, I can't see it growing without affecting the company culture. At this point I can remember everyone's name and the names of their partners. The day I call Duncan "Gareth" is the day we've gone too far.

Who of brands here and overseas, do you think manages to maintain a company culture you aspire to despite their size?

One immediately think of the famous start-ups such as Facebook or Google, but without direct experience it's hard to say. Any company that manages to retain their staff, gives them a day a week to develop personal business projects, and manages to respect that magical work life balance, while consistently making money, is doing the right thing.


Next week: So often, small business owners tell me about the support they have had from family to get their new companies off the ground. Sometimes it's financial but often it's them rolling up their sleeves and getting in there and doing the donkey work too when numbers are tight in the early days. Tell me of the times your family - wife, mother, brother, father - have stepped in to save your bacon. It's an opportunity to say thanks for everything.

- NZ Herald

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