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CannonDesign: Leadership for All

CannonDesign in Irvine preaches that “everybody’s a leader,” a mantra that helped it through the pandemic and made it a top place to work locally.

“We’ve had basically zero attrition over the past year plus,” J. Brandon Dekker, head of Cannon’s Irvine and San Diego offices, told the Business Journal. “We’ve been really lucky there.”

The company is an integrated design firm, bringing together architects, engineers and interior designers to reimagine buildings and various physical spaces.

CannonDesign’s clients include the California Department of General Services, Judicial Council of California, Burbank International Airport Authority, the counties of Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange, San Diego and Los Angeles as well as the West Hills Community College District.

CannonDesign secured the No. 1 spot on this year’s Business Journal ranking of Best Places to Work in Orange County, in the large employer category, for those with more than 250 employees companywide.

Dekker said the company’s Irvine office, located at 2875 Michelle Drive, has about 20 people, while the combined Irvine-San Diego-Los Angeles operation includes 175.

He said the team remained “tightknit” as COVID-19 wreaked havoc across the world, particularly the real estate industry, starting in March 2020.

Speaking Freely

CannonDesign fosters creativity, encouraging the team to speak up and speak freely, to better create unique buildings and working spaces.

“We treat everyone’s ideas with respect,” said Dekker, also a CannonDesign principal. “We preach this whole idea that everybody’s a leader, whether you’re leading yourself or you’re leading others.”

The design firm has taken a “common-sense” approach to the return-to-office policies after COVID-19.

“We don’t take a hard stance on requiring our teammates to be back in the office any particular days of the week,” Dekker said, though the collaboration that occurs in the office has pulled many back in person.

“More and more individuals are wanting to come into the office to be around their peers. They feel like when they’re sequestered at their home, they’re not getting that human interaction they really like.”

Building team spirit is key.

“We get together and do team hikes once a month or once every other month, to encourage the team to get together on a weekend and go out to do something fun together,” Dekker said.

The New York-based company offers a “really robust benefits package” to its employees, including a 401(k) plan with employer contributions, vacation and sick leave.

Top Talent

Every CannonDesign employee is eligible for a bonus, and the company keeps its salaries competitive to attract top talent.

“Year over year we’ve had 25% growth from a net revenue standpoint for the past four years,” according to Dekker.

Christopher Whitcomb, a communications leader for the company, said those at the “officer level” are encouraged to buy stock in the company. He said about 30% of the company is officer level.

“We’re 100% employee-owned,” Whitcomb said, which has resulted in increased ownership in the company’s projects and culture.

CannonDesign’s global revenue last year was $328 million, with San Diego-Irvine revenue of $14 million.

“We have architects, engineers, interior designers. So design is a very broad term,” Whitcomb said. “We can deliver the whole spectrum of design.”

Of the 1,300 employees globally, about 600 are architects, he said.

It works in four major markets: healthcare, education, science and technology, and community and civic.

“We try to expose our teammates to all four market types and project types.”

Recession-Proof

The company avoids having colleagues get too focused on one market type, trying to steer away from having “all our eggs in one basket.”

“So, we try to really diversify the type of work that we’re bringing into the practice, exposing our teammates to multiple types of projects,” Dekker said. “As the economy ebbs and flows we want to be able to make sure that one teammate might be working on a healthcare project. That same teammate’s worked on an education project in the past and easily pivots onto those kinds of projects and vice versa.”

“It makes us more recession-proof from a staffing capability standpoint,” Dekker said.

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Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung joined the Orange County Business Journal in 2021 as their Marketing Creative Director. In her role she creates all visual content as it relates to the marketing needs for the sales and events teams. Her responsibilities include the creation of marketing materials for six annual corporate events, weekly print advertisements, sales flyers in correspondence to the editorial calendar, social media graphics, PowerPoint presentation decks, e-blasts, and maintains the online presence for Orange County Business Journal’s corporate events.
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