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David Shove-Brown: “We’re all really very lucky”

I try to preach to my team that we’re all really very lucky. I think it’s important to remind people that yes, you may be up to eyeballs in student debt, but that can be seen as a good thing. It means you went to school and received an education — many people don’t even […]

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I try to preach to my team that we’re all really very lucky. I think it’s important to remind people that yes, you may be up to eyeballs in student debt, but that can be seen as a good thing. It means you went to school and received an education — many people don’t even get the opportunity to go to college, much less graduate. Now more than ever, people need to try to appreciate the small wins in life — to take a minute and breathe. I’d love to coach people on how to do this on a daily basis — how to wake up and have the gratitude to be alive every single day — and help people realize that there are so many ways to give back. Paying it forward is paramount. Also, I’d love to start a movement that reminds people that balancing a great life and a career is not impossible and that they’re not mutually exclusive — you can have both and can find happiness doing both.


I had the pleasure of interviewing David Shove-Brown. He is the Co-Founder and Principal of Washington D.C.-based, multidisciplinary architecture and design firm //3877. As co-founder of //3877 — named in the Washington Business Journal’s ‘Best Places to Work’ for three consecutive years — David is a recognized leader in the D.C. small-business community and design industry at-large.

In addition to his practice, Shove-Brown has recently been named on the National Small Business Association leadership council. He is a guest faculty member at the Catholic University School of Architecture and Planning, and has conducted classes at the Corcoran College of Art + Design, leading lectures for the National Building Museum, Washington Architectural Foundation, and DC Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. He has also been presented with architectural awards from groups such as the American Collegiate Schools of Architecture, the American Institute of Architects + Washington Architectural Foundation, and the American Architectural Foundation.

In addition to his extensive work with professional associations, Shove-Brown takes great pleasure in his participation with charitable associations with such organizations as Back On My Feet, the Washington Architectural Foundation, the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop and The Crohn’s + Colitis Foundation of America.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?

For me, architecture is the perfect combination of art, technology and math. During high school, I took up a drafting class (I quit the band due to a certain band conductor, and needed a replacement subject). Drafting really drew me to architecture. I then went to architecture school, and completely fell in love with it.

It was in the fall of 2010, that my close friend David Tracz and I began the process of realizing our decade-old dream of forming a professional architecture and design partnership. David and I met in 1991 on the second day of college (Catholic University), as we were taking the same class. Then, after we graduated, we each worked at various architecture and design firms. After almost two decades of gaining our architecture and design experience working at various firms, we became eager to create our own company — a design business centered around working with clients interested in the design process, teaming up with industry partners who could help provide the highest levels of design, construction and presentation. After months of planning and development, //3877 was born.

Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?

From the very beginning, we realized that understanding each other’s strengths — and weaknesses — was paramount. We quickly realized what the other one was better at, and that playing to each others’ strengths was going to be key to our success. In the same vein, I learned that it’s important to be cognizant and open-minded to criticism, and being able to identify when you’re wrong. Similarly, surrounding yourself with people that don’t necessarily agree with you is important for remaining exposed to new perspectives and ideas. You can’t do it all, and you don’t have to do it all. Hire someone that is really good at those things that you’re not so good at, and focus on what you are good at.

What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?

In seeking success, David Tracz and I begin with the very simple process of asking questions and listening carefully to the answers, prioritizing the concepts of partnerships and teamwork. ‘Because it has always been done that way’ is not an acceptable answer in our firm.

Another factor that I believe led to our eventual success was really understanding what we were good at design-wise, and having a very clear vision of what type of work we wanted to go after. Our strategy wasn’t so much about trying to do everything — we decisively went after hospitality projects, knowing our place within the industry and what we could bring to that market.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Looking back over the past 10 years, the first thing I wish we knew before starting //3877 is just how challenging it is to not only find the right employee but also how to measure if they will integrate within our established company culture — we want everyone to fit into the overall picture of //3877. You may find the right person for the job on paper, but it’s difficult to know how they’ll acclimate.
  2. Once you find the right people, which we have been blessed to do, my business partner and I have learned that maintaining the wellbeing of our team is paramount. Accomplishing this comes about in different ways — whether that be how you convey information, or how you give everyone a voice. For us, it has been evolutionary — trying to understand how much information and what information to give, and being able to give our employees tasks that are both challenging and that play to their strengths. Our job as co-founders and principals is to support our team — to provide all the tools and information needed for them to create great work.
  3. I didn’t realize how much time was going to be spent working on interpersonal dynamics (and taking people for coffee breaks to work through these). There are always going to be stumbling blocks — you have to mediate, facilitate and dictate.
  4. That old-school business mentality, of the ‘big boss’ that leads his team through an emotionally-disconnected management style, is so outdated. Leadership is about creating and maintaining a two-way street of open communication — it’s about being truthful via vulnerability. I believe that compassionate communication is also about being transparent — during these times of crisis. That includes being accountable for answering questions about business strategy and survival.
  5. I wish that someone had given us a handbook on ‘how to get the best out of people’. You go to architecture school, and you learn about doing architecture. You don’t necessarily learn about how what I do for Employee One is different for Employee Two. There’s an art to bringing out the best in people. Also, I don’t think I ever realized how much time and energy we would spend trying to have ‘all the answers’ ahead of time.

What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

In regards to ‘thriving’, David Tracz and I decided to implement The Birkman Method into operations strategy — it’s the only personality-assessment tool that reaches beyond self-described behavior and situational analysis to unravel the DNA underpinning workplace satisfaction and productivity. We wanted to better understand how our employees listen and communicate. All of us have strengths, passions, and something that motivates us to succeed. And all of us have a particular work style that lays a path to that success. This understanding is at the core of The Birkman Method — it’s a framework to help determine how best to optimize each employee’s potential by teaching a healthy self-awareness and greater understanding of how they fit into the bigger picture of society — something that is so crucial in the design industry.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There are a few people that have greatly influenced who I am, and where I’m going:

  • Stanley Hallet, the former Dean of the School of Architecture and Planning at Catholic University of America, is one of those people that truly brings out the best in the people around him. He is a character among characters.
  • George Dove, one of David Tracz’s first bosses, was a major influence on me. I taught with George for eight or so years, and using him as a sounding board was very important during the big moments of my architecture career.
  • My parents — I will never forget the moment in high school, when I barely made it through biology when my mom and I were sitting with my guidance counselor. Unlike a lot of parents, she didn’t force me to fall into the ‘marching line’ of doing things a certain way because they had always been done that way. Instead of forcing me to do biology — a subject that I didn’t enjoy, and wasn’t good at — she encouraged me to take up art. This type of guidance helped me on my path of becoming who I was meant to be. It’s important for parents to embrace the weirdness.
  • My daughter. I’m going to leave this world a better place than when I came here because of her — she’s the driving force behind that.

What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?

Apart from my goals of being a rockstar and retiring to a beach house (the usual), I just want the firm to be successful, and for it to continue to survive and thrive long after our time at the helm. It has always been about that goal — //3877 is all about the team behind the design, not an individual person running the show. So, I want to continue to do great work, and for clients to continue to reach out after the project is up and running and have ultimately had a positive, fruitful experience working together with a great restaurant/hotel/home as a result.

What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?

I want to leave the world a better place. I want my daughter to have the same memories of me as a parent that I do of my parents. I don’t know how my father managed to make it to pretty much every game of soccer I played, but he did it. I want my daughter to realize I was an active participant in life — that I enjoyed it, was good at it, and had fun. I didn’t just sit around waiting for things to happen. I helped change the world in some way.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!

I try to preach to my team that we’re all really very lucky. I think it’s important to remind people that yes, you may be up to eyeballs in student debt, but that can be seen as a good thing. It means you went to school and received an education — many people don’t even get the opportunity to go to college, much less graduate. Now more than ever, people need to try to appreciate the small wins in life — to take a minute and breathe. I’d love to coach people on how to do this on a daily basis — how to wake up and have the gratitude to be alive every single day — and help people realize that there are so many ways to give back. Paying it forward is paramount. Also, I’d love to start a movement that reminds people that balancing a great life and a career is not impossible and that they’re not mutually exclusive — you can have both and can find happiness doing both.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://instagram.com/3877.design

https://www.facebook.com/studio3877https://www.linkedin.com/in/dsb3877

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