Jennifer Carney of OHM Advisors: Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career As An Architect
An Interview With Jason Hartman
Research and continual learning: Commit to learning about the client, the business, the community and even new building systems or materials. In this profession, you’re constantly learning new things to stay at the top and ahead of the game.
As a part of my series about the ‘Five Things You Need To Know To Create A Highly Successful Career As An Architect’, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Carney.
Jennifer Carney brings more than 30 years of architectural services to OHM Advisors — a mission-driven team working collaboratively across multiple service areas.
Joining the architecture, engineering and planning firm as a principal in 2020, she leads the integration of a new healthcare design service offering in the central Ohio region with a continued, career-long emphasis on exceptional client service. A technically strong design professional and visionary thinker, Jennifer is sought after for her building design expertise within the healthcare architecture and development markets.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this particular career path?
I’ve always had a creative side to me as I grew up, always into arts and math — definitely a unique balance! In high school, my parents sent me to an aptitude testing site, which led me to explore an interest in engineering.
I went to Texas A&M University for college and recognized I didn’t love math as much as I thought. I took an architecture class and quickly realized this area would blend my love of art and engineering. I was instantly fulfilled!
My background is in general commercial services, and I’ve championed many different projects in many different sectors, but over the years, I’ve honed in on healthcare. I got into the healthcare industry through relationships with contractors, developers and users, and I’ve gained incredible traction through this collaboration. My healthcare expertise lies mainly in outpatient, emergency rooms, medical offices and urgent care projects.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that has occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or takeaway you took from that story?
I have done work for a large healthcare organization in Columbus, OH, for years, and there was a director there that I worked with frequently. He eventually moved on to work at another company, but we kept in touch as friends. He is now my colleague. I’ve learned through this experience that architecture is a small industry — keep in contact with those with whom you enjoy working.
Do you have a favorite “life lesson quote?” Can you share a story or example of how that was relevant to your life?
One of my favorite quotes is from Charles Darwin: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”
I consider myself adaptable, pivoting quickly and making quick decisions. Sometimes those decisions are right, and sometimes they require adjustment, but you must acknowledge and own up to both sides.
As I go through my career — and the older I get — I’ve realized you don’t always make the right decision or do the right thing; mistakes are inevitable. Just keep moving forward armed with those lessons learned and keep progressing.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
One of the projects I’ve been working on over the past few months is an expansion and a new building for a nonprofit organization based in downtown Columbus. They train dogs for the blind, and I love visiting them because there’s always a furry friend around! It’s a feel-good, give-back-to-community organization.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
One of the many things I like about OHM Advisors is that they’re very client and employee-focused. People want to come to work, and it shows. Our clients have noticed and experienced this genuine passion for what we do and how we can do it for them.
I was just contacted by a referral who called me up and mentioned that his company had an investor who wanted to develop a parcel of land, and he wondered if OHM could do a quick zoning plan for them.
I immediately connected with our planning colleagues, who didn’t think this project would turn out well, as the likelihood of the parcel being re-zoned for the intended use was not favorable.
We scheduled a call with the client and included our planning and landscape architecture experts. We were candid and explained that while we could do this project for them, we didn’t recommend going through with it, explaining our rationale. We then offered to help guide them to other areas of town where the project could be more successful. They appreciated our honesty and that we were looking out for their best interests — and not simply a profit. Since then, the client has called me for other projects.
We’re trusted advisors to our clients throughout their journey — it’s our “secret sauce.” It’s a super collaborative approach across all of our disciplines, and this approach to our work is inspiring for me.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My parents always taught me that I could do anything I wanted to do. My mom was a strong woman who helped create my perseverance to push through, no matter what. My father was a physician, so he piqued my interest in healthcare early on.
From a professional standpoint, I met a friend and mentor through my children’s daycare. I learned that she owned a successful accounting firm. We began to share not only consultants but also stories, ideas and advice with one another. She has been invaluable to me and my career.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Adaptability: I have the confidence in myself to make quick decisions. I’ve learned that I must be ready and willing to pivot quickly and be open to others’ ideas and suggestions so I don’t get stuck in a rut. It’s always about moving forward and equipping myself with the tools, people and resources I’ve gained along the way.
- Ambition: I’ve always had the purpose and drive to succeed — a virtue I learned from my parents. I’m willing to jump off of a cliff, so to speak, to see what impact I can make.
- Responsibility: I’m accountable for myself and my life, so I must commit to what needs to be done. I have an innate sense of responsibility, especially as a woman in a leadership role. Recognizing a fear of letting people down, I always take ownership of my commitments.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Can you share 3 things that most excite you about architecture and the Real Estate industry in general? If you can, please share a story or example.
- What’s exciting to me is that in current architecture, there is an increasing amount of private and public buildings being designed to be inclusive as far as amenities for visitors and users. And, since COVID-19, many outdoor spaces are coming to fruition. These designs and approaches have a considerable positive impact on the public and contribute to the development of great spaces.
- Design is trending to be more collaborative. I’ve been reading more about architecture teams in the future, bringing in additional consultants to aid in the design of great spaces. This collaboration is exciting to me because these specialists, such as environmental scientists, social anthropologists and acoustic consultants, can aid in the planning of spaces to help create more positive, impactful and sustainable architecture. This kind of collaboration will bring about more inclusivity to architecture, creating structures that are easier to maintain and more efficient.
- Adaptive re-use is interesting (the process of taking an existing structure and updating or adapting it for a new use or purpose). I’ve had a few projects in the past where we were working on a vacant retail building, and instead of tearing it down, we looked at ways to reuse it, i.e., a medical facility or office space. It’s fun to reimagine the possibilities of reinventing this type of space!
Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest? Please share stories or examples if possible.
- As architects, sustainability is a big thing for us. Codes have been proofed over the years to put requirements in place for energy efficiency, only sometimes it’s hard to get the client on board to spend the time and go the extra mile in this area. It can be cumbersome to convince a client to commit to long-term energy savings instead of looking at the initial dollars spent for the project.
- In the U.S., we’ve developed a lot of disposable architecture, whether built with mass-produced disposable materials, the function of the building becomes obsolete, or perhaps the land value becomes more valuable than the structure and is ripe for redevelopment; we are seeing more and more buildings going to the landfill. I think it’s important for the design community to educate their clients and push for more thoughtful timeless materials and design.
- One of the things I struggle with is encouraging people to get into the industry. Our industry has ample opportunities. In 2008, we lost many positions due to the recession. There were layoffs, and many people in the industry entered other professions. Today, we work to enlighten younger students about the STEM field and bring in college students for internships so we can show them what we do and hopefully re-ignite interest in our field.
Ok, here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share with our readers the “Five Things You Need to Know to Create A Highly Successful Career As An Architect?” If you can, please give a story or an example for each?
- Research and continual learning: Commit to learning about the client, the business, the community and even new building systems or materials. In this profession, you’re constantly learning new things to stay at the top and ahead of the game.
- Being approachable: Throughout my career, I felt I needed to put forward a strong, iron front — a “never-let-them-see-you-sweat” mentality. What I eventually realized is that people — in general — just want to relate to you. If they can relate to you, they’ll give you their trust. I learned how to connect more authentically to my clients, just picking up the phone for no other reason than to ask how they’re doing. It was then that my relationships became stronger and even more genuine.
- Adapt to change: Clients change their minds all the time due to investor relations, budget, change in staff, etc. By thinking quickly on your feet, you can sometimes provide a solution that will help to save a project from a total redesign — or worse — cancellation.
- Honesty is so important in this business. This story is from before the internet was our go-to resource. I once had a project that needed to be designed to a specific code. I called this organization because I knew they re-wrote the code book every four years, and our office copy was dated. As it turned out, I ended up designing the project with a code that wasn’t current. I owned my mistake but also defended it, explaining that I did everything I could to find the latest resources. The client even called this organization and asked if I had called them, and they verified that I had. I was honest upfront, and I think they appreciated that (the project turned out great, by the way!).
- Always be a helper. This sounds a bit elementary, but architecture is a service industry, and it’s all about helping other people. Whether it’s going to help you or not as an individual, I think it’s important to be a helper in your business, the community and for the greater good.
Because of your position, you are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I’ve always thought it was to volunteer in your community. Help give back because we should be grateful for the riches life has given us. I believe a pay-it-forward attitude can spark great community outcomes.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Our website: ohm-advisors.com.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with me!