Krys Rumbell on Practice Management and Surviving a Financial Crisis

2020 has been a challenging year so far, to say the least. Many architects, graduates and students have been fighting their own battles throughout this time – whether that be for their business, their career, or even their job and livelihood.

For this issue, Kali Marnane interviews Finance Manager and Accountant, Krys Rumbell – asking her for some words of wisdom, some insight into business management and how she survived past surviving financial crises.

KM: What do you do and what has your career path been like?

KR: For the past twenty-five years, I have been involved in all aspects of financial management within professional services and the construction industry. Throughout my career, I have been intrigued and fascinated by the link between happy staff and profitability, particularly in architectural businesses where it is specifically expertise and time that is being sold. As a partner of two architectural practices I was involved in the implementation of improved work practices and cultural changes as well as improving financial systems to enable more transparency and accountability across the practice.

KM: What is the philosophy that underpins your work?

KR: For me, respect, honesty and accountability are the most important foundations for operating a sustainable and healthy business. I also believe that an element of symbiosis between the creative and financial people of a business is vital. Having an understanding of the financial mechanisms helps architects to facilitate their creative goals in a realistic and feasible manner; and vice-versa, those in the financial sphere need to appreciate the specific aspects of a creative project to aptly financially manage it.

KM: What do you love about architecture and working with architects?

KR: Before I worked with architects I had very little appreciation for the built environment. I feel as though it has been a real gift to have my eyes opened to what architects do and the significant difference good architecture can make to the way people live. Also, they are often very decent and kind people! On the other hand, it’s been really satisfying to help architects gain insights and ultimately, more confidence, in the financial side of their business.

KM: What are some things you wish architects knew or did more of?

KR: For those in control of a business, I wish that the training they received in management more evenly matched that which they had in their specialist skill set. In instances where people get promoted (justifiably) due to their refinement in the practice of architecture, they do not always have the chance to cultivate the skills they need to most effectively manage people at that level. I have also found architects who embrace the financial aspects of their projects find they have more control and satisfaction; particularly when their project comes in on budget.

Krys Rumbell - Finance Manager and Accountant

KM: You’ve managed practices through two financial crises- what did you learn from these experiences and to you have any takeaways that would be helpful for early career architects?

KR: Be patient. Things will eventually improve and turn around, but in the meantime, you sometimes have to batten down the hatches and take what you can get. Unfortunately, this often means taking on work that might not be overly exciting, but it doesn’t mean that it can’t be used as a learning experience and an opportunity to hone your skills. Take advantage of mentors, as their knowledge is invaluable, and work towards registration. In my experience I noticed some of the most successful architects I have worked with have been great communicators – keep working on this skill as it will stand you in good stead no matter where your career will take you.

KM: Do you see any opportunities arising from our current situation dealing with the impacts of COVID-19?

KR: I certainly think there will be silver linings. One of the biggest is that, hopefully, those in management will be reassured that staff working from home are just as, if not more, productive than when operating in-office. I think this could have several implications, such as reducing fixed overhead costs of large office space and thus rethinking business models. Perhaps flexibility and working from home will also become more normalised, leading to a better work- life balance (something that is often lacking in this industry.) I believe this leads to happier people and therefore a more sustainable practice.

KM: What advice would you give architects starting a business?

KR: My top advice would be:

  • Embrace ongoing professional development in business management. As a business owner you will not only be responsible for your own welfare but the welfare of all your staff, so obtaining the right skills to facilitate good business decisions is paramount.

  • Engage in human resources training as you will be relying on other people to represent you and your business – and understanding and developing a great culture will be crucial to your business’s success.

  • Surround yourself with experts you can trust, particularly in finance, human resources and law and respect their advice so that you can continue to do what you do best.

  • And never forget that your most important client is your business!

KM: What advice would you give to architectural graduates who are out of work during this time?

KR: I think the most important advice is to:

  • Be positive even on days when you really feel down.

  • Volunteer wherever you can and keep up to date with relevant software programs.

  • Take advantage of any opportunities to work and develop a can-do attitude; which goes a long way to overcoming challenges of taking on a unfamiliar role. You will be a far more attractive candidate to a prospective architectural employer if you have worked in some capacity rather than not worked at all.

  • After completing an architectural degree you have demonstrated you are smart and tenacious, so be confident!

Written by Kali Marnane