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Competition in architecture tough no matter the gender

Tupelo — Terri Williams and Debbie Wilbanks Cherry will tell you that competition for architectural projects is tough whether you’re a man or woman.

Subsequently, they believe that professional distinction requires not only a high level of technical expertise, but a commitment to service and communication in meeting a client’s project needs from start to finish.

Williams, AIA, CCS, and Cherry, AIA, principals of Tupelo-based ArchitectureSouth, P.A., a firm owned 100% by women, have seen a lot of changes in the field over the years, but stress that some attributes such as trust and follow-through never go out of style.

“Integrity matters and this means keeping your word and taking care of the little things,” said Cherry, who has 18 years of experience. “By doing what you say you are going to do, as well as when you say you are doing it, you build trust because your word stands for something.”

It’s a philosophy that Williams, who has 27 years of experience, shares in making their business — a continuation of a previous firm — work. They renamed the business ArchitectureSouth in 2002, which reflects the firm’s regional scope in addition to Mississippi.

ArchitectureSouth’s work has been diverse, and areas of expertise include universities, community colleges, financial institutions, such as banks, credit unions and operations centers, churches, medical clinics for family practice, urology and obstetrics/gynecology and labs, municipal work and military work.

Some notable recent projects include the Oxford Readiness Center and Community Center and Parkinson Hall at Mississippi University for Women, including the renovation and addition of new science and math labs.

The firm has also worked on prototypical BancorpSouth branches. In Mississippi, ArchitectureSouth’s work is taking the firm to communities throughout the map, and in the southern region, they are working in Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana and Alabama, although they are registered in a total of 10 states. The firm provides services that vary from master planning to design, construction management, space planning, move management and interior design. Williams says ArchitectureSouth is committed to a team approach “of people investing themselves in their work and the product.”

“Debbie and I continued the firm as a woman-owned firm because we enjoy the challenge of the work,” Williams said. “The work includes meeting new people, discussing their needs, translating their needs to design and working with skilled contractors to bring that design to completion as a facility that meets clients’ expectations. Equally important is that we enjoy the people we are fortunate to work with including our staff and their dedication, their talents and their determination to meet clients’ needs while taking pride in their work.”

Williams says the challenges that ArchitectureSouth faces are similar to those of other firms, including attracting talented individuals to the team, competing with other quality firms for a limited work pool and staying on top of industry advancements/requirements and new products and tools. And while the business is indeed a business, the principals also recognize the importance of family balance and commitments.

“We are concerned with production, but we work with the needs of the staff,” Williams said. “If someone, male or female, needs to be at home to be with a sick child or parent, we know from our experience as mothers that you can work from home effectively when necessary. In fact, sometimes the phone not ringing makes work from home more productive.”

Recognizing the importance of mentors in their own careers, both Williams and Cherry take time to volunteer on a host of community initiatives ranging from motivational talks to student groups to involvement on professional advisory councils. Williams joked that last week, she gave a talk to a group of high school students and told them of the importance of mentors as individuals who could “lift them up or give them a kick when they needed it.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Karen Kahler Holliday at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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