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Time With The Boss - Mike Konzen, PGAV

SBM recently sat down with Mike Konzen, Chairman and CEO of PGAV, a multidisciplinary planning and design firm with offices in St. Louis and Kansas City. Now in its sixth decade, the firm has a staff of 135 professionals and provides services in three core areas: destinations, architecture and planning.
Konzen is the recent honoree of the 2024 Business Influencer of the Year Award, presented by Bank of America. The honor is given each year to a member of the community who is actively giving back and making St. Louis a better place to live and work. Konzen was honored at a luncheon on May 7. He received the award because of his work as a champion of downtown St. Louis and TowerGrove Park and his commitment to making St. Louis a better place to live, work and play.

Since beginning his career at PGAV in 1986, Konzen has followed his passion for travel experiences through consulting services related to tourism, attraction development, master planning, exhibit design, and construction for a wide range of projects around the world. His clients have included UNESCO World Heritage sites, major museums, national parks, theme parks, and resorts.

Since 1998, Konzen has co-led PGAV’s Destination Consulting Group, now a global leader in planning and design. The company has created projects at many of the world’s must-see attractions, including the Grand Canyon, Biltmore Estate, Kennedy Space Center, the Georgia Aquarium, Gettysburg, Niagara Falls, Saint Louis Zoo, and Universal Studios. Today, PGAV Destinations is the largest independent creator of attractions and destinations in the industry, with projects on five continents.

How did you get started with the company?
“I came to St. Louis originally to get a master’s degree in architecture from Washington University. My wife, Ann, who is from Columbus, Ohio, joined me here, and we got married while I was in graduate school. When I graduated in 1986, my architectural professors told me, ‘There aren’t any good architectural firms in St. Louis—you might want to think about leaving town.’ Of course, they were wrong. We were really broke at the time. She was teaching, and I needed to get a job so we could get on our feet. I took this job with PGAV thinking it would only be a year or two. Thirty-nine years later, I’m still here.

Every year, I have lunch with all of the summer interns in our company. We usually have 8-10. They are all in their early 20s, just like I was when I started with the company. I remember how I must have looked to our leadership. I explain that you can’t really know what life will offer you in the future, but you can work toward something bigger and let yourself dream about it. I think that’s what happened to me. I realized that if I could build a career and grow with the company, it would be very rewarding for me. Now, I’m the Chairman and CEO.”

What makes you most excited about your work at PGAV today?

“That has changed over the course of my career. I’ve been doing this for almost 40 years now. Early on, I had aspirations to be a great designer and do wonderful projects. PGAV was the place where I could build those skills and learn the trade and take on more responsibilities. Fast forward to today. What makes me most excited is to see young people like I was who are growing up in the profession and figuring it out for themselves. For me to play a role in their advancement is what gets me excited these days.”

How has PGAV evolved over the years?
“PGAV has been in business 59 years. We’ll be celebrating our 60th year next year (2025). I have been with the company 39 of those years. Growing up in the company, we started off as a traditional architectural firm. Our work included a wide range of building types, like office buildings, banks and hospitals. We had a very interesting thing happen to us early on, before I joined the company. And that was to get involved with Anheuser Busch as it was building a theme park business that became Busch Entertainment Organization. We were very involved in Busch Gardens, in Tampa, FL, and Williamsburg, VA. It became a very big part of what we did early on. Then, heading into the late 1990s leadership felt like we should focus on those types of projects. Things like museums, aquariums, resorts and theme parks became the projects we focused on. Since that time, a lot of the work we’ve done has related to these types of places. With that, we’ve become more of an international company. We’re designing projects now in the Middle East, China, Europe and throughout North America and South America. It has been a wonderful journey.”

60 years is amazing for any company. What are the keys to success?
“One of them has been the ability to take talented young people, those who want to grow with an organization, and let them find a path for themselves. Retaining talent is very important. It always has been important, especially in a business like ours that relies on a lot of expertise. We have a lot of people who have been with the company 20, 30 or 40 years. The success of the company has relied heavily on that.

Like a lot of businesses, we are very customer oriented. We deeply understand our clients’ businesses and are very creative in how we can help them succeed. Our biggest mission is to help our clients be successful. While we are creating and designing great things, our real goal is for the client to be successful. That mindset has been really important for our company.”

PGAV has focused on investing in its people and encouraging them to stick around. One of your internal programs, PGAV Go!, provides each staff member with annual funds to use for personal development. What role has that played in the company’s success?

“It is very important. Human beings generally need to evolve. They need to learn new things, have new experiences, and grow—not only as professionals but as human beings. The program you are referring to is about personal growth, not just professional growth. One of our guys just finished taking up flying lessons. That’s not really related to our business, but he probably learned a lot of things and it made him a better person. We’ll all benefit from that experience. Some use the money to travel. It has become really important that we invest in our people and encourage them to stick around a long time.”

Tell me about your commitment to giving back to the community?
“My father is retired now. He was an attorney in a small town. He always told us that it is important to live in the community where you work because those two things should be tied together. That was his philosophy. The other was to be involved, give back, and help nurture the community so you and your family and your business can benefit from that. I have always felt that way. As long as I’ve worked at PGAV, I’ve thought about how our company could be more helpful in the community. This city and this community have nurtured us, so we owe it to them.”
 

Submitted 28 days ago
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