Project Launcher Ken Levien Says Business Is Picking Up for His Project Management Firm

 

 

It seems like there’s probably a bit of humoring when you’re working with a committee, too.

A lot of humoring and a lot of diplomacy.

 

You’ve been assigned to do some work at Carnegie Hall. Care to share?

We’re doing the Carnegie Hall studio project, which is a very large project. We started construction just a few weeks ago. And, in fact, in about a half-hour I’ll be going to see the head of the committee. That’s a long project. It’s going to take about four years to complete because they have to be able to perform 750 projects a year.

 

What challenges does that project pose for you?

Everything. First of all, it’s a 120-year-old building. It’s the two towers that Andrew Carnegie had built after he had completed the hall to make money to help support the hall. We’ll be creating the music institute inside of it. We’ll be creating new administrative offices. The acoustics will matter. The roof is going to be used as an event space. It’s a very, very interesting project.

 

From the government sector, you’ve been tapped to design aspect of Randall’s Island and Union Square Park. Are you moving into a new niche?

For those projects, we don’t work directly for the government. We actually never work directly for the government. They have the Department of Design Construction, which is excellent, and the School Construction Authority. But what we work on are private-public partnership-type projects, which those two were.

So, for Randall’s Island, we worked for the Randall’s Island Sports Foundation, which was founded 16 or 17 years ago and its specific goal was to improve Randall’s Island. It’s a private entity that has worked diligently to get to this point, and it’s taken them almost 20 years to accomplish this project.

Union Square Partnership is an organization of all the merchants and landowners and everybody surrounding the Union Square area and they, too, are making a huge contribution to the renovation of Union Square, and we were retained by them to oversee the full design process there. The city itself actually implemented the physical construction.

 

In your 18 years of business, you’ve managed to retain most of your employees. I understand only one or two people have left. What’s your secret?

No, no. We’ve had a couple people leave. We had two retire and two got sick. And one I let go for cause. But beyond that not a bad track record. But nobody’s ever left here to take a job with a competitor. I actually put one person in business. We were doing large-scale, single-family residences and it really wasn’t my cup of tea; so I put a young lady who worked with me in charge, and she took those private residences with her.

 

The real estate industry is a male-dominated profession, but a large fraction of your employee base is female. How did that happen?

It’s 12 women and six men. It’s very interesting-most of our staff are either architects or trained as engineers. We have one young lady who’s finishing her thesis to get her doctorate in urban planning and teaches up at Columbia University. We try to hire the best people who walk in the door and for some reason, which I cannot explain, the women who have been retained by us have been our absolute superstars. … You know, it’s who comes in the door.

 

So, in other words, it’s incidental rather than revolutionary?

I have two daughters and I’m married, so maybe that has something to do with it.

jsederstrom@observer.com

Project Launcher Ken Levien Says Business Is Picking Up for His Project Management Firm