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Jack Bialosky of Bialosky and Partners Architects

Meet Jack Bialosky, Sr., founder of Bialosky and Partners Architects, a family-run architecture firm specializing in residential, commercial, cultural and religious architecture with 40 employees in Cleveland and six in New York. In 2009, the firm was recognized by the American Institute of Architects as a Gold Medal Firm, the highest honor awarded by its peers. Jack Bialosky, Jr., senior principal at the firm, also weighs in.
Did you always know you wanted to go into business for yourself?
Jack Sr.: No, never planned on it. I just wanted to sit behind a desk and draw. I had just hoped to make a family-man’s salary by drafting.
How did you come to start Bialosky and Partners?
Jack Sr.: I started Bialosky and Partners after returning from the service in World War II and working for a few years for Charles Coleman, a well-respected sole practitioner. He repeatedly turned down new work that I was bringing in. Coleman told me if I couldn’t handle the way things were, to open my own practice.
Too young to be afraid of failure, and with a bed-ridden wife (pregnant with Jack Jr.), I opened shop in her bedroom. The first projects were primarily residential, but I soon began to do religious and institutional work as well. We have maintained a residential practice to this day, although the majority of our work is institutional and commercial.
What is the key to running a successful firm for more than 60 years?
Jack Jr.: The most succinct way to discuss this is to tell you our core values: Family; integrity; making a good living; culture of collaboration; Commitment to pursuing design and technical excellence; treading lightly on the planet; giving back to community; lifelong learning; and having fun.
Can you share a funny or amazing entrepreneurial experience with our readers?
Jack Sr.: Soon after I started our firm in 1951, my wife, Marilyn, read in the paper that the May Company was going to build an extremely large commercial project in Cleveland. The head of the company, Sam Rosenberg, agreed to meet with me and we had a very pleasant conversation. But it became apparent that he had no intention of hiring me, as young and inexperienced as I was. I got up enough nerve to ask him why he had agreed to meet me in the first place. Rosenberg told me that he liked to meet nice people and began to usher me out the door.
I returned to my office where I had a meeting with another client, Leroy Kendis, who asked me who I would hire if I were Rosenberg. I answered Victor Gruen, the biggest commercial architect in the country. Kendis said call him right now while I’m here. I called Gruen, who came in and made the sale. I ended up, at the tender age of 27, designing and producing the largest commercial project in the U.S. the next year.
How does collaboration play a role in your firm?
Jack Jr.: Architects are often accused of being egomaniacs, but building projects are large, complex, long time frame undertakings that require the cooperation and input of many people, so we like to nurture a different type of culture in our firm. We do it very mindfully. Naturally we seek people who are bright and talented, but in addition we want people who are confident enough in their own abilities to not care where a good idea comes from. We realize that the longer we work together, the better we become at it.
I guess we look at the firm as something of a “hive” brain and this seems to be a virtuous circle because we have attracted and retained extraordinary talent with a very high average longevity of service, an 80 percent repeat rate for clients, and numerous outside collaborations.

Interview by Karin Connelly

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