Crain’s Detroit Business
40 under 40
In an industry known for its individualism, Kevin Akey and Frank Zychowski, partners of architectural firm AZD Associates, have proven that two minds are better than one.
Since forming AZD in 1990, the former Lawrence Technological University roommates have meshed their creative ideas to design more than $12 million in residential and commercial projects this year.
“We always had it in the back of our minds that someday we’d come back together professionally,” Zychowski said. “We wanted to express some of our own design philosophies instead of implementing someone else’s.”
Beginning with a sparsely equipped office with only a telephone and drawing equipment, Akey and Zychowski have expanded AZD into a successful firm with five employees, and offices in Birmingham and Harbor Springs.
Last year, AZD designed projects totaling more than $10.5 million, up from $7.1 million in 1994.
Honing their architectural skills as project coordinators at DesRosiers Architects Inc. in Birmingham, AZD specializes in lakefront, residential construction and renovations and commercial projects.
Their biggest project to date? A $2.5 million construction of a 14,000-square-foot estate in Ann Arbor.
“When a client is increasingly excited and proud to live in their home, that means that we’ve successfully solved a problem,” Zychowski said.
But Akey and Zychowski’s road to entrepreneurship hasn’t been an easy one. Skilled in design and construction, both partners needed to brush up on their business skills.
“We had solid architectural and design education,” Zychowski said, “but the business of architecture, such as attracting good employees and marketing, is something we had to learn on the job.”
Starting AZD at age 28, Akey and Zychowski were considered by many to be young business owners and often compete with veteran architects in their 40s and 50s.
“Clients will sometimes say, ‘Wow, I think you guys are young,’ ” Akey said. “But we needed to prove that we could do projects better than … architects doing this for 30 years.”
At first, some clients were apprehensive about turning their projects over to AZD, a company with limited experience. But age hasn’t hampered AZD, say both partners. They say they use it to their advantage.
“A lot of people see our fresh, creative outlook as positive,” Zychowski said.