Knowledge Center

Banking on KC – Mariah Meyer of BRR Architecture

Listen Now or read the transcript below:

 

Kelly Scanlon:

Welcome to Banking on KC. I'm your host, Kelly Scanlon. With us on this episode is Mariah Meyer, the President and CEO of BRR Architecture. Welcome, Mariah.

Mariah Meyer:

Thank you, Kelly

Kelly Scanlon:

BRR was just named the 2022 Firm of the Year by AIA Kansas. That is a major statewide award. What does it mean for the firm to be recognized in this way?

Mariah Meyer:

This is a huge honor for us, and it's honestly quite a milestone in our company's history. Historically, most of our work has been for national clients who have real estate portfolios with multi-state footprints. So for much of our history, we were just heads down, focused on getting that work done instead of focusing on making relationships here at home.

Actually, about 10 years ago, maybe 15 years ago, we kicked off some initiatives around developing a local presence, making relationships, getting more involved in our communities, going after local projects, even if they didn't fit within our typical client base. So, we've been around for 60 years, but I really do feel like this recognition is more recent. It's more of a culmination of the work that we've done.

Kelly Scanlon:

Yeah, it really validates your decision to work in your own backyard, so to speak.

Mariah Meyer:

There have been other payoffs as well. I mean, the types of projects that we've diversified into, the people that we've gotten to know, and just the name that we've made for ourselves, it's been a real transformation for our company.

Kelly Scanlon:

This in many ways has been a year of big announcements for BRR, starting at the very first of the year in January when you were named the first female President and CEO in its 59-year, 60-year-old history. First of all, congratulations on that. I mean, that is huge.

Mariah Meyer:

Thank you.

Kelly Scanlon:

What do you hope to accomplish in this new role?

Mariah Meyer:

You might laugh because it's pretty basic, but I can sum it up by saying that my goal is to leave it better than I found it. So even though it's a simple concept, it has the potential to impact the company on so many different levels and in so many different ways. Are we better in the work that we're doing? Is our quality better? Have we continued to grow in a way that is smart and sustainable? Are our teammates better off?

Ultimately, one of my biggest jobs is to set up the company for the next CEO and the next leader. Are we going to be able to continue to build on the success that I have and ultimately leave the company in a place that's better than I found it?

Kelly Scanlon:

It's interesting that you say that, it's really very simple to leave it better than you found it. And it's easy and very simple to say that, but all of the different things you just mentioned in order to leave it in a better place than you found it, are not easy things. And so do you have some idea of how you're going to accomplish those?

Mariah Meyer:

A lot of it has to do with server leadership, that's really what our company is based on. We're here to serve our clients, we're here to help them with their objectives, but we couldn't do any of that without our teammates. So we're also here to serve each other. That's the way our company culture runs, that's the way that we interact on a daily basis. I can't be successful without the 300 people that are around me. So ultimately, my job is to take care of them and make sure that they have what they need to show up and do their best every day.

So we have a saying here at BRR that if we take care of our people and we take care of our clients, everything else will fall into place. So, that's not going to shift. Our clients and our teammates are still going to be priority number one.

Kelly Scanlon:

Tell us about your career path. What led you into this leadership role?

Mariah Meyer:

So I spent the first part of my career in Chicago. Grew up in Kansas City, went to KU and then moved to Chicago. After moving back to Kansas City during the recession, I took a job with BRR, not really knowing much about the company at all. I think in 2010 I was, like many people, happy to get any job at all. I think the reason that I've been able to be successful is really due to two things, and one is that if I'm going to do something, I'm going to be fully committed to doing it and doing it well. So just that level of ownership and accountability, that's allowed me to continue to take on more and more responsibility during the time that I've been here.

And then second, and really just as important, there's a lot to be said for being in the right place at the right time. I'm thankful to have found a place where leadership has always been accessible to me. They were open to new ideas, committed to mentoring and developing future leaders. I've always been encouraged to speak my voice, I've always been encouraged to share my thoughts. If that wasn't the case here and I felt like there were roadblocks along the way, I would've easily gotten very frustrated.

Kelly Scanlon:

You mentioned shaping and developing future leaders. Do you see yourself as a role model for other females in the industry?

Mariah Meyer:

Absolutely. I think, based on my position, that's inevitable. It's not something that I take lightly. I do spend a lot of time with other young women, both inside the company and outside the company. I'm pretty involved with other industry organizations as well as continue to be involved with KU, my alma mater. But I also hope that it's not just females that I can serve as a role model for. I want to be a role model to any young architect. I don't want to be just a female CEO, I want to be a good CEO that serves all of our clients and employees, no matter where they're coming from.

Kelly Scanlon:

You told us a little bit about the fact that a decade ago, you changed your business model a little bit to also focus in the state of Kansas in the metro area. So did you change your specialties at all in doing that? What are your specialties?

Mariah Meyer:

Yeah, we did. Historically, we've focused mainly on commercial and retail with a specialty in grocery retail. Grocery is not something that many architecture firms specialize in. So, that's really what fueled our growth. But recently, in the past 10 or 15 years, as I mentioned, we've taken on more commercial work, mixed-use, hospitality. We do multi-family work and industrial, which has been really booming in the past five years or so, so it's a great time to be working in the industrial space.

But with our national clients, we estimate that we've done 13,000 projects across the country. So we can't even begin to imagine how many Americans have experienced our work. And that's a huge honor and a huge responsibility as well.

Kelly Scanlon:

It definitely is, and with all these high-profile projects spread across multiple states, just thousands and thousands of them, as you said over the course of your history, you've built a national profile, but you're also building and shaping Kansas City itself. So tell us about some of these high-profile projects, ones that our listeners would recognize. And how do you see them serving the future of Kansas City and our residents?

Mariah Meyer:

Sure. We've got two large multi-family projects on the books. One in Leewood, at 86th and State Line, and another in Kansas City, Kansas, near KU Med. We're working on a large mixed-use development in Gardner, Kansas. There's a lot of growth out there in that area. So bringing both entertainment and housing to that area is something that they're going to continue to need. We're doing a new flagship Whole Foods that's under construction in Overland Park, so a lot of listeners might be familiar with that project. We have an office master plan project that we're working on in Lenexa, and then we've got a retail store in Shawnee that we're helping with some high-tech delivery automation in their space. So all across all of our markets here locally in the Kansas City Metro, we're really impacting how people interact with everyday spaces.

At BRR, we say that a lot of our work is just everyday architecture, so from grocery stores to offices, to apartments, there's so much growth happening across the Kansas City region, and that creates opportunities for all of the supporting needs of the communities. And that's where we can help. We don't try to oversimplify the national work that we do, because every community is different and every different property owner is different. And so we really have that balancing act of staying true to a brand while also bringing in the local flavor.

Kelly Scanlon:

Speaking of the local flavor, or just the variations in expectations from region to region, what are some of the trends though in general that are shaping the architectural industry today?

Mariah Meyer:

Sustainability is a big one. I mean, I think that's apparent, not even just in architecture, but also in society. We have clients that are asking us to help them develop net zero strategies and reduce their carbon footprint. The building codes are following the trends, they're kind of enforcing it from the back end, but frankly, the next generation of consumers and business leaders are going to demand it. So eventually, socially responsible and environmentally responsible architecture will be the norm rather than the exception.

And then secondly, there are some technology advances that are pretty cutting-edge right now. So it's exciting to think about what will be possible in the future.

Kelly Scanlon:

For example?

Mariah Meyer:

Well, I've got many examples of this, but one is we've recently collaborated with a company who is 3D printing large-scale facade elements that we're attaching to our buildings as a rain screen. So it's a small entrepreneurial company that had a big idea and they're getting lots of attention for it. So I'm not sure exactly where all of these advances in technology are going to take us, but I can tell you as an industry that we're only scratching the surface.

Kelly Scanlon:

So you're talking about in that example how technology is being used to impact form. I imagine there's also ways technology is being used to build the structure and also for the residents and their tenants to offer them new amenities. Can you talk to both of those?

Mariah Meyer:

Yeah, absolutely. So yeah, 3D printing is another technology that we're seeing. You're actually 3D printing out of concrete, and that's more in the residential space right now. We at BRR don't get into that, but we're watching it, because we know that eventually, it's going to impact us. The way that users interact with the building, technology is changing that every day. A lot of our retail clients, it could be something that we're all kind of used to as a self-checkout right now, but an amenity that we're talking about with a lot of our higher-end retail clients is Omnichannel. So we're not designing spaces for closing products, we're designing spaces where people can come in and interact with a select few products, but then have access to a digital catalog and kind of virtually try on clothes.

Kelly Scanlon:

How would that work? Can you expand on that a little bit?

Mariah Meyer:

Concepts of smart mirrors or large interactive digital screens where you can maybe try on a shoe that's kind of a prototype and you can get the size right, but then you can go onto a screen and have it fully customized and shipped to your house within a few days. So it's a whole different shopping experience than what some of us are used to. But those are the things that we're trying to work with our clients to innovate. Everyone is trying to make sure that they're not left behind and trying to think of new ways to actually get customers in the door.

One part of our business is helping build industrial facilities that are getting packages to people faster. We're also trying to keep people in stores and in actual brick-and-mortar retail stores.

Kelly Scanlon:

How are you not only growing the company but also raising Kansas City's profile as you participate in projects around the country?

Mariah Meyer:

There are so many ways. First, from a client and consultant standpoint, we talk about our strategic location in the center of the country and how that allows us to have a national reach, whether it's working across time zones seamlessly, or jumping on a plane to be somewhere in two hours rather than four hours. There are a lot of benefits to being centrally located, and we really build on that when we're putting together external messaging.

Beyond that, we're proud of our Kansas City roots and our Midwestern culture. We have 10 offices around the country, but Kansas City is our headquarters, our company was started here. In all but one of those other offices, the senior leadership has spent time working in our Kansas City office and living here in the community. So we love that they're taking that Kansas City culture out with them into their new communities.

We have a group of about 60 people in our leadership group across the country, and we bring them into Kansas City twice a year, get to experience the city, see firsthand what has helped shape BRR into what it is. And in fact, they're all coming in town next week and we're going to go to the American Royal BBQ together. So BBQ's another part of it, to be honest. It's a part of our company culture that can be traced back to Kansas City.

Kelly Scanlon:

What's the future of BRR? You've obviously had a wonderful ride for nearly 60 years, next year's your big 60-year anniversary. Where do you see the next 60 years going?

Mariah Meyer:

We are not someone who really sets revenue targets, or we're not going to say that we want to be 500 people by a certain date. We want to continue doing what we love and saying yes to the right opportunities. So I think we will evolve and shift, we wouldn't be sustainable if we didn't. And we're always looking at what other cities we should be looking at as far as our national footprint.

As far as markets, I could see us getting more and more into the entertainment industry, when I look at mixed-use development. I think everyone is focused on the experience. I mentioned earlier they're trying to get people into retail shops, but they're using experience to get there. So I think entertainment is another big market that we can do a mixed-use development, but what's going to be the entertainment differentiator? So I think that's going to play a part in our culture as well as people are wanting to get back out into the world and have fun together.

Kelly Scanlon:

Well, Mariah, thank you so much for being here today. Congratulations on the recent award. Congratulations on your role as President. What a huge, huge career milestone that is. And just thank you for all of the innovations that you are creating in the field of architecture that will make all of our lives a little bit better.

Mariah Meyer:

Thank you, Kelly. It's my honor, truly.

Joe Close:

This is Joe Close, President of Country Club. Bank. Thank you to Mariah Meyer for being our guest on this episode of Banking on KC.

As we move in and out of everyday spaces, offices, stores, our homes and other buildings, we rarely stop to think about the creativity and design that quietly inspires our most commonplace activities. Working in a field that combines both art and science, architects balance influences from the past, current trends and technologies, as well as local needs and culture to elevate our everyday experience.

Firms like BRR both reflect and shape our communities, helping us define our sense of place. Thanks for tuning in this week. We're banking on you Kansas City, Country Club Bank, member FDIC.

 

Member FDIC / Equal Housing Lender

Trust, Investment and Insurance products and Services:

  • Are Not Insured by the FDIC or any other federal government agency.
  • Are Not deposits of, or guaranteed by, the Bank or any Bank affiliate.
  • May lose value.