Topeka Business Hall of Fame: Greg Schwerdt
Shelley Jensen | Photographer
From recognizable local structures such as the Great Overland Station and Mother Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Church, to large senior living centers and shopping centers, Schwerdt Design Group has built a national reputation for excellence in design and service.
While Greg is proud of the work the firm has done throughout the years, he receives even more satisfaction in the knowledge that he is taking care of his employees.
“The best asset we have is our people,” Greg said. “I take my responsibility to my staff very seriously, to control our growth as much as I can so that in slow periods we don’t have to let anyone go.”
Greg moved to Topeka in 1978 and took a position as an architect with Marvin Thomas & Associates, a small architectural firm. He quickly proved his worth and three years later became one of the youngest partners at the age of 26.
The firm steadily grew over the next 10 years, but when Marvin, the firm's senior partner, decided to retire, Greg and his other partner, Donald Buchanan, had to weigh their options. Donald, a structural engineer who was in his 50s, didn't want to assume the added risk and hours it would take to start over, so he took a position with Bartlett & West.
Greg faced a life-changing decision. He could go work for another firm and build a solid career; he could bring on a partner or two and try to meld together a new firm; or he could plunge ahead as the sole owner of the business. Even though he had been working in a successful firm for 10 years, Greg lacked confidence in his own ability to run a business.
“It was terrifying,” Greg said. “I wasn’t sure I could make it work.”
Fortunately for Greg, his clients believed in him more than he believed in himself. Greg credits Bruce Christenson and Mike and Bruce McPherson with pushing him to go out on his own.
“The confidence they put in me gave me the courage to make that decision,” Greg said.
He took the plunge. In 1990, along with three of his former employees, he opened the doors to Schwerdt Design Group. Throughout the past 25 years, the company has grown to a 30-person firm that is licensed to practice architecture in 46 states.
When looking ahead, Greg is open to a shift in the status quo. While he isn’t planning on leaving the business any time soon, the idea of bringing on a partner is playing in the back of his head.
“I need to start developing a transition plan so that some of the younger members of the firm know what to expect in the future,” Greg said.
That forward thinking mentality shines through in his outlook on family and community as well. He is involved in many local organizations and has set up an endowment fund for architecture students at the University of Kansas. He even views the honor of being inducted into the Topeka Business Hall of Fame as a way to help future leaders.
“I am humbled by this honor,” Greg said. “Maybe it will show other young entrepreneurs that they really can make a difference in our community.”