NW Vietnamese News

Business success boils down to relationships, says architect

August 21
00:39 2010

Donald King, president and CEO of DKA Architecture, started planning his first city when he was 12. He envisioned his metropolis along a massive river on the edge of the Pacific and named it Kingston. For four years he labored, developing the city and designing the buildings that sprung from the valley floor. When the model was finished he started redesigning his hometown.

King, an African American, was raised in Port Huron, Mich., by a single mother. He was poor, but rich in imagination and fascinated by urban planning and building cities. At a young age he saw a magazine article about the building of a new capital city in Brazil. “Once I saw that building a whole new city could really happen, that’s when I decided that I wanted to be an architect,” King said.

His early projects earned him a full page spread in the local paper. Soon he got his first paying gig when city planners hired him to do rendering projects for the city. By his last year of high school King was working part-time for an architectural firm.

King held many jobs as he worked his way through school. He became a licensed architect after earning his master’s of architecture from UCLA. From there he was hired to work as a staff architect for the housing authority of the city of Los Angeles.

When King came to visit a friend in Seattle he decided it was time to relocate. He found a job as principal architect with Environmental Works, a non-profit community design center. In 1985, after four years with Environmental Works King started his own firm, DKA Architecture.

Like many small businesses just starting out, King had trouble funding his new endeavor. “I started [DKA Architecture] by maxing out two credit cards,” said King. That wasn’t the plan but there was a mortgage payment and food to buy and the other necessities of life.”

For the next five years King held full-time jobs while he kept DKA going on his lunch hour, in the evenings and on weekends.

In 1987, DKA won their first government contract. A former co-worker of King that worked for the Seattle School District hired DKA to help with site management for new school construction.

Initially King was wary of doing government projects. “Seeking public work was purely a business decision,” King said. “I’d heard the horror stories of working for the government and was not looking forward to it.” Despite King’s initial concerns, DKA has maintained a strong and successful relationship with Seattle Public Schools since their original project together. “I learned early that there were very few projects we could win, public or private, without an established relationship. That hasn’t changed in the twenty-five years I’ve been in business,” King said.

DKA recently celebrated its 25th year in business, with a dedication to sustainably designing community based housing, education and health-care projects. The firm is currently managing the building of five new schools for Seattle Public Schools’ Building Excellence Program and completing the renovation of 23 high-rises for the Seattle Housing Authority. DKA has maintained steady growth despite the troubled economy and had revenues of about $5 million last year, King said.

King built his firm by maintaining relationships through a client-centered focus on business development. He says small emerging businesses that struggle with getting new clients should approach their development with the same philosophy.

“Do your best work for the clients that you have and strengthen your relationships with those clients,” said King. “If you don’t have any clients, then the best way to win new clients is through a relationship. You learn about the client and how you can make what’s important to them a focus of your business.”

The passage of I-200 in 1998 nullified affirmative action by prohibiting preferential treatment or discrimination based on race, gender, color, sex or national origin by government entities in Washington state. This new policy extended to public contracting.

“Things have changed from when I started as far as [affirmative action] being the opening or way to begin your business career,” said King. “For a minority-owned business there is no advantage.”

But there are many organizations that provide resources for minority owned businesses.

JONATHAN MOORE

UW News Lab

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