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Principal + Chief Business Development Officer
Maria Maffry, Principal and Chief Business Development Officer, has grown personally and professionally over the course of more than 30 years with architecture firm BNIM. Learn more about BNIM’s approach to business and talent development, and Maria’s role in the company’s growth through historic moments in the national economy.
“(BNIM) gave me the space, and all the support and encouragement to figure out where I really needed to be. What strengths I needed to lean into.”
Alana Muller 00:09
Welcome to Enterprise.ing, a podcast from Enterprise Bank & Trust that's empowering business leaders one conversation at a time. We'll hear from different business leaders about how they found success in cultivating their professional networks and keeping them healthy and strong. I'm your host, Alana Muller, an entrepreneurial executive leader whose primary focus is to connect, inspire and empower community. We at Enterprise Bank & Trust thank you for tuning in to another episode.
Alana Muller 00:42
Welcome back to another episode of Enterprise.ing Podcast. Today I have with me Maria Maffry. Maria leads business development for BNIM, an architecture firm that delivers beautiful, integrated living environments that inspire change and enhance the human condition. She is a visionary leader who leads from her core personal values and sees no limit to what is possible. And before we get started, I have to share a personal disclosure.
Alana Muller 01:09
I've had the privilege to know, or know of, Maria for many, many years and she has a stellar reputation in my own Kansas City professional community. Additionally, though different class years, our children attended school together from the time they were kindergarteners through senior graduation, and we serve on the Kansas City Regional Advisory Board of Enterprise Bank together. So, it is a particular honor to welcome Maria Maffry to today's episode of Enterprise.ing.
Alana Muller 01:35
Maria Maffry 01:35
Hi, Alana, thank you so much for engaging with me. And I'm so excited of the multiple connections that we have. So great to be with you.
Alana Muller 01:45
I'm so glad you're here. I'm so glad you're here. I want to kick off our conversation by learning about your career journey. If you would, tell our listeners about BNIM and about your own background that led you there.
Maria Maffry 01:57
Sure. It's an interesting and unique background in today's age, I would say. So first of all, BNIM is an innovative leader in designing high performance environments. So we are a group of architects, landscape architects, graphic designers and planners who create environments that, as you have already said, inspire, change and enhance the human condition.
Maria Maffry 02:19
And what drew me to BNIM is really their strong mission and purpose. I basically started at BNIM after college. So I was in college at Washington University in St. Louis, had taken a year off, took a gap year before gap year was a thing, came back to Kansas City, and ultimately landed at BNIM. It was meant to be a very temporary gig. While you know, I took some time to really figure out what I wanted to do. And of course, ended up, you know, 30, almost 32 years later, here I am.
Maria Maffry 02:58
And so that's, I know, unusual to be in a place for so long. But what I think people would find interesting about my journey is, you know, when I started, we were about 38 people, mainly just in Kansas City. And I interestingly started initially, as I think back in the day, it was even the secretary, not an executive assistant.
Alana Muller 03:21
Wow. Which we would not say that today, would we?
Maria Maffry 03:25
Right? No, it would not be appropriate. But I, you know, served as the secretary for Tom Nelson, the “N” of BNIM and Steve McDowell, the “M” of BNIM. And they knew right away that I was not going to stay in that position for very long. And, so, really, pretty quickly, we started having conversations about what is it that you want to do? What do you want to be when you grow up? They helped me really kind of work through that. To be honest with you, I didn't have the answers. I explored a lot of different things. I explored graduate school options. And in the meantime, they convinced me to just stay until I figured out what I was going to do. And so I did.
Maria Maffry 04:10
And what that led to was them allowing me to figure out what I was meant to do within BNIM. And, so, I was able to serve in several different capacities. They let me explore in several different areas. And ultimately, of course, where I ended up was in marketing.
Maria Maffry 04:31
Now, back when I started, marketing was not big in AEC firms. It was sort of at its infancy. And so, you know, sort of as I grew as the firm grew, as the industry grew, we all grew together.
Alana Muller 04:46
Was there a particular event or something that caused architecture firms to begin to think about marketing to generate business? Or was it just sort of an organic experience where there was sort of a recognition that there was more competition in the space? What was it that had encouraged you to go there?
Maria Maffry 05:09
Right, I think it was more organic. So the way that architecture firms, quite frankly, get business is what we call a Seller-Doer model. So, I was working alongside architects cutting and pasting skies from magazines with images of projects that we had completed, and creating proposals to get more work. And I think eventually people started just getting more sophisticated. I'm trying to think of the programs that even Quark, I think was the first sort of desktop publishing program.
Alana Muller 05:47
Oh, my gosh, I mean, I thought you were gonna say like, oh, BIM Modeling, and one point became a big deal. I mean, it's so interesting, I don't even know if those – CAD/CAM, I don't know if you were using any of that. But when you say cut and paste, I'm like, literally thinking about getting a pair of scissors and a magazine and cutting it out of a magazine and pasting it on a board for a dream board or a vision board today. But that's not what it was then.
Maria Maffry 06:13
That’s how we did it back in the day, it was amazing. So as time evolved, and technology became an important factor in what we did, I think that's really when it started to change, because proposals started to get more sophisticated. Everybody started getting into it. And so it just became far more competitive.
Alana Muller 06:32
So first of all, I love your story. And it's almost like that age-old, almost like American dream story where you go off to college, you come back, you start at the very bottom and work your way up. And your title now, if I'm not mistaken, is something like Principal and Chief Business Development Officer, like, talk about, you've come a long way baby, right?
Alana Muller 06:55
I mean, things have really changed, not just the vernacular, but the fact that, first of all, huge credit to sort of those leaders who came before you, who saw the potential in you and gave you the opportunity, especially as a woman. And, you know, often a male-dominated space, but gave you that chance and saw your potential and helped you to advance it and for your courage to say, you know, what, I'm going to stick it out until I figure out what's next, and allowing yourself the chance to continue to move forward. So how cool is that?
Maria Maffry 07:28
Yeah, thank you. I do feel so fortunate that I landed at BNIM and that they gave me the space, and all the support and encouragement to figure out where I really needed to be. What strengths I needed to lean into. So yeah, they were lifelong mentors, as you can imagine.
Alana Muller 07:46
So thinking about, even your work today, what's something that you're working on professionally that you're particularly proud of, or excited about? Who are some of the key players who are involved?
Maria Maffry 07:56
So right now, I'm really working on a business development strategy plan. And there are several facets of it that I think are really important. So one is we're getting ready to switch to a new CRM platform, Vantagepoint. And in thinking about making that switch, I thought it was important for us, because of that switch, the timing, but also because of where we are in the firm in terms of growing and emerging leadership, I thought it was important for us to take the time to really do a client relationship mapping exercise.
Maria Maffry 08:31
And so we are currently in the throes of doing that. And it's going to take multiple, multiple hours. But the idea is that we really identify not just clients, quite frankly, it's clients, consultants, collaborators, and we really just kind of lay everything out. And we identify a primary contact and a secondary contact. And this will give them basically a personal plan for: who do I need to be in touch with on a regular basis?
Alana Muller 09:03
I love that. I mean, that's something that really anybody could use in any company in terms of whether it's the client mapping or contact mapping, just from a purely networking perspective, and personal growth perspective. So the fact that you can use that to identify who are the important participants, both internally and externally for you? And then who's responsible for making those connections?
Alana Muller 09:26
And I assume that through the CRM system, you're going to show that series of touch points. But talk a little bit about that. Is that something that's already baked into the system? Or is it something that you're custom designing?
Maria Maffry 09:37
So we're going to build a custom program for the many touch points for people to be in touch with our clients and contacts because, right now, when they're going to meet with prospective clients, initially, they sort of want to bring everything. And I also want to just teach them, always leave a little piece hanging so you have a reason to be in contact with them again.
Maria Maffry 09:59
And also a big part of it is teaching them to not go in with things, but to go in and really listen. Because I think that is the key to relationship building, right? We're in the business of relationship building. And it's really teaching them to listen and think about what the follow-up items are going to be. But we will custom build that.
Alana Muller 10:21
I love the idea of sort of “leave them wanting more.” Right? And that you're sort of strategically thinking about your next touch point, you're the next reason or, not excuse, but yeah, I guess the next reason to go back to somebody. And so that it's a constant chain of communication. And you don't have to sort of leave it all on the table in the first interaction.
Maria Maffry 10:44
Well, and you want to show to them that you were really listening, you really heard what their hot buttons are, what they're really interested in. And, quite frankly, for me, sometimes it's a personal thing, sometimes it's a professional thing. You know, it's like, oh, we were talking about going on a trip to Japan. I happened to just go on a trip to Japan. So sending them some information about some key places you want to see are things that you can't miss when you go there. You know, so I think it's baking all of that into the process.
Maria Maffry 11:17
The other facet of it is, other component of it is creating a civic engagement strategy. You know, again, architects in particular, and I know engineers, and you know, others are not, they like to hang out with their people. Generally. And so when we go to events and things like that, it's really trying to get them out of their comfort zone, and get them in client-facing positions. And again, crafting this civic engagement strategy around that to get them more visibility.
Alana Muller 11:48
Great suggestion. So that's sort of an exciting thing going on. You know, on the flip side, every business faces challenges, whether it's a downturn or something like COVID that hits us. Talk about a challenge or an obstacle that you and/or the company have overcome. And how did you make that happen for yourself?
Maria Maffry 12:04
We've all faced them, right? For us, the one that comes to mind actually was the crash of 2008. When that happened at the time, BNIM's clients were primarily corporate clients. We were doing a lot of work with developers and workplace clients. And of course, when the economy tanked, nobody was building, nobody was thinking about their workspace. Everybody was scrambling. And so that really made us focus on looking internally. And a couple things happened.
Maria Maffry 12:40
One is, we really focused on diversifying our client types. So we can't put all our eggs in one basket, we need to make sure that we are so diversified, that it's going to be recession proof. Or at least get us through the recession. So we really built a BD strategy around that at the time.
Maria Maffry 13:02
And then the other thing that we really focused on was, because we have the time, is to think about who are we really? And who do we want to be? And in that timeframe, actually, in the process of doing that we were nominated for and won the 2011 AIA National Design Award. And we're the only firm in Kansas City. It is the highest award that an architect can get in the US.
Alana Muller 13:35
And it really means something.
Maria Maffry 13:36
It means something. It is the pinnacle of an architecture firm’s, sort of, you know, awards that they can receive, and they only select one a year. And so we won that in 2011. And it was because of the work that we had done. We really refined our mission and vision and were able to clearly articulate that and demonstrate that through, you know, the firm's history. And so we were selected because of our design excellence, and because of our leadership and sustainable design.
Alana Muller 14:10
That's sort of one more of those examples where there's a silver lining moment and it feels like a crisis at the time. There's something very challenging going on. And people really do sort of rise to the occasion to figure out a way forward and in the case that you're describing, BNIM was recognized nationally for its excellence. So what a fabulous story. So great.
Alana Muller 14:30
You talked already a little bit about some of your personal advisors, talk about some of the best business advice you've received. Is there sort of one thing that stands out to you — the best piece of business advice that you've received through your career?
Maria Maffry 14:44
I think one thing that I always tell people and that I heard and learned is lead with authenticity and curiosity. I think if you remain curious, just genuinely curious, you're going to be interested in other people, other events, things that are happening in the world. I think it's important to kind of be open to all of that, right? It leads to openness and authenticity. I think people know when you're being authentic and genuine, right? We can cut through all the stuff these days, even with all the social media and everything else. It's like people really feel that and you want people to feel comfortable and embraced. Seen and heard, right?
Alana Muller 15:29
So true. So true. Well, so with that as kind of a launch point, I know that you personally are and have always been a major advocate for the next generation of professional leaders. Tell us about how you inspire them to understand the importance of actively participating in their communities, actively participating and being involved in their companies and contributing their talents to what they do. How do you see that manifests itself? And how do you engage with young people?
Maria Maffry 15:54
So at BNIM, and because that is one of the things that is so important to me, several years ago, we really looked at our professional development, annual review process. And we were hearing from people that it was a very painful process, it was happening once a year, it was being done with people that they had not really necessarily engaged with on a day-to-day basis. And so there were a group of us that really pushed that effort to create a new program that we call “Thrive.” And it is based around advocacy.
Maria Maffry 16:27
So every architect, every designer that works at BNIM, is paired with an advocate. And it's that person's responsibility to advocate for them. They are sitting at the table, having conversations, looking out for that person's best interest. And we have quarterly meetings to do that. And because we have those quarterly meetings to do it, it prompts the advocates to regularly be in touch with these people, have lunches, coffees, happy hours. To kind of check in and say, “what's going on? How are you doing? What can we do from a professional development standpoint?” And then when we have those sessions, you know, every advocate is advocating for one of their people.
Alana Muller 17:12
One of the coolest things I've ever heard in terms of professional development, ongoing development, succession planning and advocacy. Because you don't often hear that it's both the responsibility and that both sides of that equation, both the advocate and the mentee, so to speak, both are accountable not only to one another, but to the company to make sure that this process stays in place. So I think that's brilliant. Has it been well received by the organization?
Maria Maffry 17:42
Very well received. We have done surveys, we do surveys every year, how's the program going? How are people feeling? By the way, we call the mentees, “Advocados.”
Alana Muller 17:53
Okay. That's cute.
Maria Maffry 17:57
Listen, I work with designers, there were all kinds of diagrams and drawings, and we're very visual people. So we had to, you know, make it fun.
Alana Muller 18:07
I love it. I see sort of a plush toy in our future here.
Maria Maffry 18:15
And you can visualize it. You can actually see it, right?
Alana Muller 18:20
That's brilliant. That's brilliant. Well, so I always ask, what are more just sort of fun questions as we begin to wrap up our conversation. And the first question I have for you is what's on your nightstand?
Maria Maffry 18:31
So I have this great book. I heard this woman speak recently at an Arts KC event that we held, and her name is Susan Magsamen, and her book is “Your Brain on Art.” It's all about how the arts transform us. And it's based in neuroscience, and how it improves critical thinking and empathy. It reveals how exposure to art and participation in art and creative activities creates positive brain changes.
Maria Maffry 19:00
I happened to hear her speak at just the right time, because my father who just turned 90 — you know, we're all in that aging parent realm right now. And he suffered a stroke last fall. So having him listen to classical music I think really enhances his mood and his brain activity and all the things that I think are really important for his healing.
Alana Muller 19:27
That's really amazing. And you do hear a lot about the importance, not just sort of the beauty associated with art, but that enhances critical thinking. And, as you're describing, it really enhances quality of life. So what a wonderful example. I love that. I have to check out that book.
Alana Muller 19:43
So the one question I have literally asked every single guest who's ever been on Enterprise.ing podcast is this. It is, if you were to go grab a cup of coffee with someone, anyone, and I don't care if fictional nonfictional living, not living — who would it be and why? Who would you want to go grab a cup of coffee with?
Maria Maffry 20:03
It's always hard to pinpoint one person, right? How many people have actually said one person? In my case, it would be two people. It would be my father's parents.
Maria Maffry 20:13
So I was born in Indonesia, and emigrated here when I was about three years old. And so when I was younger, we used to go back and forth to Indonesia to visit our family. And I have this distinct memory, which is not the best memory of both of them sort of being ill, and me as a little girl being very scared, right? Being very afraid to approach them. But you know, just in looking back, I think I would love to have gotten to know them a little bit better, understand the complexities of their lives, and especially raising 10 children. I think that would have been really fascinating to hear how they navigated all of that.
Alana Muller 20:58
I just think that's beautiful. I mean, if we could each pick somebody from our family tree to go back and just ask them about how they mustered the courage to do what they did, how they were able to navigate this life. You know, I think for us, speaking for myself, being without my phone for five minutes makes me hyperventilate. So they certainly didn't have the technologies or the access that we have today, and so it would be a remarkable conversation. So I think that's really beautiful. Really beautiful.
Well, my friend and somebody who I admire in our community, Maria Maffry, I've loved having you on Enterprise.ing podcast. Tell our listeners where they can go to learn more about you and about BNIM.
Maria Maffry 21:42
Well BNIM has an amazing website. It's very robust. We are rebuilding it right now. So definitely go to our website BNIM.com. And we've just started a podcast series recently as well that you can get a link from our website as well.
Alana Muller 21:58
Fabulous. Maria Maffry, thanks for being on Enterprise.ing podcast.
Maria Maffry 22:02
Thank you again, so much, Alana. It was a pleasure.
Alana Muller 22:07
Thanks for joining us this week on Enterprise.ing. Be sure to visit our website enterprisebank.com/podcast to subscribe, so you'll never miss an episode. If you found value in today's program, please consider leaving a review on Apple Podcasts or telling a friend about us. Enterprise.ing — powering business leaders one conversation at a time.
Alana Muller 22:29
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