Wildcats@Work with Ben Ferguson

By:
By Aviva Doery,
Ben Ferguson
UA alumnus Ben Ferguson had an unconventional path to success as an architect.

Tell us about your time at the UA and how you got to be in your current role.

My journey at the UA was a little rocky to start because I was not a very disciplined kid. There’s probably hope in that for some students! I started school in ’89 and I wasn’t focused on making it to class on time or working very hard. After my first year of school our dean suggested that I take some time off, so I began working in restaurants in Tucson until I was 24. At that time, I could get financial aid and pay for school myself. When I came back to school I was basically starting from scratch as a 24-year-old freshman in the architecture program. I had a strong freshman year and was accepted into the second-year program on my first try. Entry into the formal architecture program is highly competitive.

 

At the traditional completion of the five-year program I had one class left to complete but moved back to my hometown in Washington State because my stepson’s father was dying. I took a traditional architecture job with a firm I had completed a summer internship with. After four years at my first job, and three years at my second, I was recruited for a leadership position at a larger local firm. After five years I joined the ownership. Three years later in 2015 I was hungry to lead according to my personal values and I decided to break off from that firm and start my own company called Ferguson Architecture. It was a giant leap of faith! Ultimately, I knew who I was, what I stood for and what kinds of clients I wanted to work with. I knew that I couldn’t realize my own vision working for people who had different goals. 

My wife and I remodeled our basement into an office and on the first day a bunch of previous clients offered small projects. We were busy on the first day and have been every day since. I built my office around work/life balance and flexibility for employees. Our core value is "thrive." We believe that you should be able to have a vital career and a meaningful life; they do not need to be mutually exclusive. Within eight months we had five workers in my small basement. This required additional investment in some real office space.  Last December we expanded and now have 11 employees. 

 

What is most rewarding of being the head of your own firm?

The best part is that there is no bureaucracy. Everyone’s voice in the office is a voice we listen to. It’s not a democracy so it’s not that everyone gets a vote but we want shared vision for our culture and processes are. We empower staff to think about how our firm can be a market leader and we are willing to change anything if there’s a better way. A salient argument from any employee can shift policy, culture, design philosophy and profitability. We find it empowering and we succeed or fail based on the quality of our own ideas. Our clients appreciate it, too, because we are focused on the their success first. We earn the opportunity to add value once the client trusts we are it for them.

What advice can you give to someone looking to launch their own company?

People who can win work control their own future. Become a professional that others like and respect. Make your success contingent on the success of others. Whether you are beginning your career or the head of the bank, people who treat other people with respect gain trust. 

When my first firm was closed by their parent company, there were 20 or 30 people who reached out to me and provided me with work opportunities. It helped me realize how important your network is. Everyone wants to work with somebody who works hard and gets jobs done. Through my career, that ability to connect and gain trust turned into my ability to win work. Without the trust of others I would not have had the flexibility to start my own firm.

I also recommend listening to your own values. For the longest time I was trying to conform to the way other people said it should be done. Eventually, when my confidence level increased, I understood that I knew what I believed and how I should be working. I went and created the environment that fit me and looked for employees that felt the same way. When I look at other peoples’ businesses now, the ones I am most impressed by are ones that are clear reflections of the people who are running the company.

 

What do you do for fun?

We like to travel! My wife and I just took our first legitimate trip after getting the company started. We went to Italy and it was fantastic. I think if we could take an international trip every year that would be great. My wife is a really good cook, so we enjoy going to nice restaurants and drinking wine with friends. Professionally, I am involved in my local community on various boards and grassroots committees. My professional passion is to move Tacoma forward and help it become a place where people can thrive.