Building a People-Based Practice: Lessons from the Construction Industry (1 LU)

In 2019 there were over 10 construction firms on the San Francisco Business Times’ “Best Places to Work in the Bay Area” list, but no architecture firms. In this session, we will learn valuable lessons about what it means to build a people-based practice from key leaders in construction, and how we can apply their best practices to the architecture profession.

Companies on the “Best Places to Work” list not only offer fun perks, but they also prioritize work-life balance, team building activities, giving back to their community and individual growth. All three of our panelists were chosen from the 2019 list, including Jon-Michael Johnson, Founder & CFO of Principal Builders (#2, Small Companies), Fran O’Sullivan, Vice President & CFO of Dome Construction (#28, Midsize Companies), and Steve Lawler, Director, Architecture of BCCI Construction Co. (#9, Large Companies).

William Duff, Founder & Managing Principal of WDA | William Duff Architects, will moderate. WDA’s growth has been driven by its people—a talented team who excel at creative problem solving through a shared set of core values: Communication, Creativity, Transparency, Excellence, and Growth. When recently asked what the most important lesson he has learned throughout his firm’s 20-year history, William didn’t hesitate. “Value people…both those we’re designing for and those helping us see our projects to completion.”




  • 6:00 – 6:15  Check-in, appetizers
  • 6:15 – 7:15  Panel Discussion
  • 7:15 – 7:30  Q&A
  • 7:30 – 8:00  Networking


Learning Objectives

  1. know why a people-centered culture is important to a firm’s success, sustainability and social impact
  2. understand the impacts of a people-based practice on performance and projects
  3. see how a strong firm culture can improve client services and help with business development
  4. know how to foster individual growth through core values, goal setting, coaching and carefully managed staffing


About the Speakers

Jon-Michael Johnson
Founder & CFO of Principal Builders

Mr. Johnson began his career in structural engineering and then switched to construction management in the mid-90s. In 2003, he cofounded Principal Builders, a commercial general contractor in San Francisco. He set up the operational and financial processes for the company and has managed the firm’s finances and operations from initial startup to a current annual volume in excess of $180 million. He has been personally involved in the contract negotiations, cost estimating and management of some of the firm’s highest profile projects, including the headquarters for Cisco, Uber, GoPro, Dropbox and Dodge & Cox.

Fran O’Sullivan
Vice President & CFO of Dome Construction

A native San Franciscan, Fran started her career in public accounting. She eventually migrated to the private industry, and has worked within the construction and engineering space for 20 years now. At Dome Construction since 2010, Fran is a key contributor in helping Dome qualify as a top 400 Construction Company and Best Places to Work winner. She is passionate about maintaining a healthy workplace, employee growth, and addressing diversity issues. Fran continuously improves workplace efficiency by integrating technology and leading change management.

Steve Lawler
Director, Architecture of BCCI Construction Co.

Steve Lawler, AIA, leads BCCI’s architecture team to deliver tailored design-build and design assist solutions. Licensed to practice in over a dozen states, Steve ensures that aesthetic and technical requirements are considered holistically and integrated into the final solution. With an insightful view of future design and real estate trends, Steve is a devoted mentor to young professionals and a trusted advisor to his clients. Steve received a Bachelor of Architecture from New York Institute of Technology; holds an NCARB certificate; is LEED accredited; and is an active member of AIA San Francisco and CoreNet Global Northern California Chapter.


About the Moderator

William Duff, AIA
Founder & Managing Principal of WDA | William Duff Architects

William S. Duff, Jr. founded WDA | William Duff Architects in 1998. He has established an innovative, award-winning practice with diverse clients and commissions, and is nationally recognized for creating responsible, sustainable architecture. His work is known for its elegant simplicity both in plan and detail, and for sophisticated use of materials, light, and warmth to create innovative modern spaces. William’s designs have included flagship retail stores, single and multi-family homes, restaurants, office spaces, cafes, wineries, art galleries, and full building renovations. William received his Bachelor of Architecture from Cornell University and his Master in Construction Management from Colorado State University.


Pricing + Registration

  • AIA Member: $10
  • General Admission: $15
  • AIASF Student Member: $5

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