Studio Director at Gensler (Interview PART-1)
Shravan Bendapudi, Principal and Studio Director at Gensler is a real estate service leader and business leader focused on design strategy as well as workplace transformation. He is the leader of the Consulting and Real Estate Services Practice Area and leader of Design Purpose both for the Asia Pacific & Middle East region.
Shravan’s journey in the industry is quite interesting. He graduated with a master’s in structural engineering and after graduation, he realized that he di’t understand the practicalities of the industry. So, he got into project management first and joined ITC in the internal project management group, where he spent six and a half years looking at large-scale residential and commercial projects they did. He then realized he needed to gain experience doing the work than just getting the work done so he switched gears.
He moved to an Indian firm in Bangalore and from there essentially made his way to Gensler. It was kind of an interesting journey from where he started and where he ended up, he says. He also added that he has been fortunate enough to see the diversity of perspectives, because of the diversity of the various roles he has played and that has helped him in terms of how effective he remains in his role today.
One of Shravan’s philosophies is understanding and having a clear, strong point of view: what is the approach when looking at the projects getting designed, what are the filters things are put through, and how one evaluates design. He states that design is the meeting of science and art and therefore involving scientific rigor in design is essential.
. He looks at the design through the lens of a data-driven, behaviour-based approach integrating quantitative and qualitative analytics with a focus on the human experience.,.
His second philosophy revolves around building teams that can create great solutions and designs. “You are nothing without your team”, he says. He recounts when his mentor taught him to hire people who are better than him, which struck him as very important. “Make sure that the people who come as a part of your team are more talented than you, who can bring perspectives different from you, and can work complimenting your weaknesses. ” he continues
Shravan did state that “a big part of this has to do with what Gensler as a culture encourages. In Gensler, if your team members do well, it reflects well on you. “So, I have never felt a sense of competition with my team members.” He states
He added, “Once you hire great talent, don’t micromanage them. At the same time, never lose the ability to get your hands dirty. As you start to manage larger teams, the danger is that, you are only telling people what to do. That is something Gensler taught me; it’s amazing to see very senior people in the firm get their hands dirty. And I think that helped me a lot in terms of my journey so far.”
“I call them challenges as much as opportunities, because every time a client poses a question, it becomes an opportunity for us to innovate. The questions the clients are posing have gotten quite interesting. There are a lot of clients who are focusing on Environmental Social Governance (ESG) goals and so we have had a lot of research going on within the firm looking at how we start to integrate all of that more meaningfully within our projects. Diversity and inclusive design are areas of focus within that. We are also constantly looking at designing for different cultures, which we believe is very important for creating contextual experiences. Having our own commitments on ESG helps a lot in terms of being able to innovate for clients.”
. He also added that “when you are running a business that has our scale of impact on the world, you HAVE to be sustainable. focusing on how we are creating and impacting cities and how we are climate sensitive. These are some of the challenges which I am trying to work through.”
Earlier in India, there was a standard paradigm of workplaces that was getting delivered. But now, there is a bigger focus on clients trying to determine how their workplace can help differentiate them in the talent market: talent attraction and retention are huge factors for a lot of these companies. Clients are also realizing that there is no one size fit all approach to workplace solutions. A workplace for a tech company, a workplace for a consumer goods company, or a workplace for a professional service firm, all are different. And understanding that these are areas that would require further investigation and customization for each industry and each client is important. Therefore, having an approach centred around the idea of practice areas matters – differentiating tech, from sciences, from media, from consumer goods etc.
Another key aspect that the clients are looking at is how an organisation starts to translate brand values into employee experience. Especially for the young generation (Generation Z), while compensation remains a factor in where they work, they also evaluate a company to see if its values align with their own. Every client has a specific value proposition. If the organisation can translate that and connect with employees, then that becomes a retention strategy as well. Clients are therefore keen to have their organizational values integrate into employee experience.
These factors drive to create a workplace that goes beyond being beautiful
Shravan recounted that one has to constantly read, to learn more. He talks about one particular book and its idea about innovation saying, “I am a big believer in the Medici effect. The book is of the idea that innovation today will come not within a single discipline but at the confluence of disciplines i.e., when two or more disciplines meet. And so that means, the greater the number of disciplines that you educate yourself in, the more opportunities for innovative thinking you can integrate into your practice. What we are trying to do here is a whole behavioural approach to designing for space. We here are experimenting with the confluence of behavioural economics and design. So, things like cognitive biases and how do they impact behaviour within spaces or how can we help certain behaviours that employers would like to encourage the space start to play a part.” To be continued.