Beth Bernitt joined HOK in 1993 as an interior designer. She eventually served as the director of interiors for the Florida practice before being named management principal of HOK Florida. In 2002, Beth left her position at HOK to accept a new job as corporate marketing director at The Beck Group, a leading U.S. construction, development and design services firm.
We’re elated to report that, in March, Beth boomeranged back to HOK as our new chief marketing officer. In this new role, she is providing global strategic leadership for all HOK’s marketing, communications and business development efforts. Beth is based in Tampa but working across all 25 offices. In fact, she is currently in the midst of a whirlwind tour to visit each HOK office in her first 90 days!
1. Tell me about your career journey to your new position as HOK’s CMO.
BB: I got my degree in interior design at the University of Arizona in Tucson. I went there because my father was Dean of the College of Mines. He is a Ph.D. chemical engineer with a master’s in metallurgical engineering and an undergraduate degree in geological engineering. I also have a sister who is a metallurgical engineer. From the time I was “hatched,” my family thought I was this odd thing – a designer!
When I graduated from Arizona in 1982, the U.S. was in the midst of a recession, but I headed to New York City with a goal of working with one of the world’s best design firms. I hit the streets of Manhattan with my portfolio. For a year, I supported myself working as an unpaid intern at a major architectural firm during the day and working at night at a Macy’s in Stanford, Connecticut.
I eventually accepted a job and worked for a year with a design firm in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Next, I spent five years with a firm in White Plains, New York. During those five years, most of my work was on projects in New York City. I worked on a half-million square feet of high-end interiors at the World Financial Center in lower Manhattan for Oppenheimer and another half-million-square-foot project for Ralph Lauren. Then I got married and moved to Long Island for eight years. My husband was in the advertising business working for Young & Rubicam on Madison Avenue. When the firm was purchased, he took a retirement package and I accepted a job as an interior designer in HOK’s Tampa office.
I started as an interior designer – at the time there was only one other in the office and we didn’t do any standalone interiors work in Tampa – and helped build that practice before ultimately ending up running the office. I love to build businesses.
2. What brought you back to HOK?
BB: HOK never lost touch with me and I never lost touch with HOK. My responsibilities at Beck were similar to what I am now doing at HOK. What brought me back to HOK was a desire for a broader set of responsibilities over a much larger footprint.
I have always loved the people who create the unique culture at HOK. I have interacted with many design firms, but HOK’s people have what I think is a uniquely overwhelming desire to do great work for clients. They care about each other and their clients and about making a positive impact on the world. That’s just in HOK’s DNA.
3. Do you have advice for people in the design profession?
BB: We are witnessing disruptive changes in the design and construction industry. There is rapid A&E industry consolidation, contractors are expanding their services by bringing on architects, and the use of IPD practices and BIM technologies show tremendous promise to improve the building delivery process for our customers.
At the same time, the face of our traditional customer is changing as the global recession has redefined the capital “spend” for projects and our clients are becoming truly global organizations.
In this new world, HOK has a tremendous opportunity to become the most client-centered design organization. To do this, we need to be intently aware of what our clients see as important to increasing their bottom line. Whether it’s branding, recruitment and retention, or increased productivity, I believe we need to use design as an enabler to make our customers more successful in the ways they are ultimately measured.
4. The Beck Group built the Dali Museum, which was designed by HOK’s Tampa office. What do you like most about the building?
BB: I love the simplicity of the building and the strong message. It’s a building that represents a big idea. On the business side, the building has directly enabled the Dali Museum to outperform its financial goals through record-breaking attendance.
5. What do you like to do when you aren’t working?
BB: One of my favorite places in world to visit is the Lake District of Northern England. My mother’s family is from the Lake District and I still have relatives there. It was the home of Beatrix Potter and is known for its gorgeous lakes and mountains.
I enjoy working out and being physically active. One of my dreams is to go on an adventure vacation like hiking Machu Picchu or riding on horseback across England.
In August, my son will begin his first year at Duke University. He will compete in the 400 meter hurdles for Duke. He has absolutely no interest in the design profession and wants to do something in medical field. I plan to be very busy with work to keep me from thinking about how much I will miss him.
Lake District photo by David Iliff – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Keswick_Panorama_-_Oct_2009.jpg