• Courtney Van Ostran

Adam Kilbourne, Path to Principal published in 'Marketer'



The latest edition of The Society for Marketing Professional Services journal Marketer included an article co-written by Adam Kilbourne, FSMPS, CPSM, President of Tec Inc. Engineering & Design and Leah Boltz, FSMPS, CPSM, Partner at Bettisworth North discussing their joint project, Path to Principal. They interviewed 14 non-traditional AEC principals to discover common themes among them and help create a resource for non-technical professionals seeking ownership in their firms.


The article in the Marketer summarizes those interviews and provides further resources to explore if you've ever dreamed of becoming an owner. As non-technical professionals, that found their own paths to ownership, Adam and Leah also shared their journey and why they wanted to share what they've learned with others.


In addition to the article, I spoke with Adam about the project and he shared about their goals and the results you can find from their work. Here is more about the Path to Principal:


Q: Adam, please tell us about how the idea for this project came about.


My colleague Leah Boltz, a principal with Bettisworth North Architects and Planners in Anchorage Alaska, and I worked together on a couple different committees over the years. We became good friends and enjoyed working together and we’ve been looking for a new project to work on with each other. In 2020 we both became principals of our respective firms. And after doing a little bit of brainstorming we thought that might be a good topic to dive into. We started thinking about it we submitted the idea to a couple different conferences and were selected. This meant we had to start working on the project! We also approached SMPS about submitting an article for the Marketer magazine and they were willing to take that on. They included us as the feature article in the May-June 2022 issue. We were able to write after we created the content from all the interviews.


The basis from the start of the project was that Leah and I wanted to work together again and it was relevant useful to other people in the industry with aspirations of becoming principles in their firms.


Great! I personally attended one of your presentations at Heartland Regional Conference recently and was so impressed with all of the materials and resources that you provided and along with the interviews that you did with all of the principles. I feel like that was a pretty extensive process. Did I hear you say that you started that after you were accepted to present, or did you start doing that resource gathering beforehand?


Adam: The bulk of the work came after we were selected for the Heartland Regional conference but that was pushed a year due to COVID. That extra time helped us dive into the topic further. We started organizing our thoughts and outlining prior to that but the bulk of the work came after we were selected and we had a deadline to work towards.

What are you hoping that people take away from the presentation and what do you think that they will benefit the most from?


Adam: Our hope is that the content is valuable in helping people who are aspiring to become principals and learning some of the things that it takes once you do become as well as the responsibilities of a principal. Some people may not understand all that’s involved in it, while others have a good idea. The content should help people to figure out if they’re actually prepared at this point, or what they can do to become prepared to be a principal in their firm. Or to help them determine if their firm is even the right firm for them to become a principal in. They may have to move to another firm to achieve that goal.


It’s important that individuals in our industry that are involved in the growth and development of the business have a seat at the table. I don’t think it’s always been thought of that way and I hope that this encourages more people to do that.


What were the resources that you used to come up with the presentation and also to help you the most in becoming a principal?


For myself the resources were my father, who was the founder of the firm, as well as the other principals in the firm, and I grew up in this firm for the most part. It was my second real job after graduating college and I’ve been here 22 years. So, I’ve really grown up in it. but then I also read books, articles and listened to a lot of podcasts that are all business related that provided some different insights. I also took an entrepreneurial class that wasn’t quite a full MBA. But it was enough to give me some valuable tools and resources.


As far as presentation it was really our interviews that provided the content background for what we did.


Do you think that the path to principal, the website, the resources provided and the presentation, could eventually become something bigger? or what is your hope for that?


Adam: Leah and I do have a bigger vision for the Path to Principal program. We would love to see it become a mentoring group, or a workshop, or training that could be offered for people that are aspiring to be principals in their firm. At a minimum the resources are out there and available for people to use and work through on their own. In addition, all the people that we interviewed are willing to share information with people they’re willing to talk to people that are interested. Even if it doesn’t become a full organized mentoring program, those resources are available for people that are interested.


That’s great! And in the true spirit of SMPS, right?! You touched a little bit on your role and how you grew up in the firm, do you feel like there was anything, from your perspective, that helped you along on this path that helped you along this path?


Compared to the other people that we interviewed, I’m in a unique position having grown up, having my dad found the firm. I don’t think anybody else we interviewed had that experience in their firm. Even though I wasn’t titled as a principal several years ago, I had knowledge and access to some information behind the scenes that really helped me understand the business a little sooner than maybe I would have if I was just coming in as a non-family member into the principal role. So, having my father as the founding principal and sharing his insights along the way helped. And as we merged with another firm later, the other principals became resources for me as well. Just having that whole background and the blend of everything along the way prepared me.


I’ve been involved in IT and marketing, and had to learn finance and HR. So, it wasn’t really steps as much as it was a big blender of information for me, which is a little different than most people who are stepping through their journey as a principal.


Thanks for sharing your time and for sharing this information with the profession. I really am impressed with all of the resources and materials in the presentation article and Marketer that you and Leah have worked on together. To learn more, please go and visit the marketer online and read the article. Within that article you can find links to the website where there are several resources and if you’re at a conference and you happen to see Leah and Adam presenting, this great material join in and go see the presentation. Thank you to Adam for providing this information for us to help encourage other people in the industry to become principals of their firms.


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