SA Small Business Roundtable

Mario Dreosti , 7 August 2019

The SA branch’s latest roundtable covered the successes and pressures of running a small business. Mario Dreosti recaps the main points.

On Tuesday 23 July the South Australian branch of the ACA held a roundtable focusing on the business of architecture and particularly the smaller businesses in architecture.

The guest speaker was John Chapman, the South Australian Commissioner for Small Business, and as he himself noted, the local industry turned out in force, filling the large board room provided by Hardy Milazzo.

National and SA President John Held welcomed notable guests such as new sponsor Anna Roussos (Recruitment and Advisory) and Victorian State President Paul Viney. John then invited the commissioner to introduce himself and his broad range of responsibilities before inviting the table to individually answer two questions:

  • What is one thing you like about running a small architectural practice?
  • What is one thing you would change?

The remit of the commissioner was extremely broad, but in contrast, the answers to the questions were focused around clear themes.

Our guest speaker shared anecdotes of interactions with small business challenges, which demonstrated a palpable personal commitment to equity and opportunity for the small business community. It also highlighted his responsibility over small enterprise matters as broad as farm debt mediation, the retail and commercial leases act, and food truck disputes.

While food trucks and farms may have very different aspirations and challenges, the architects shared quite similar pros and cons.

Our discussion quickly highlighted personal passion for the potential of design to better our communities and the personal reward enjoyed from the built results, but also the collaborative process.

The proprietors of small architectural practice united to speak of the need to value people. They saw good design as a way to enhance their lives and human experience, both at a client but also an internal practice team context.

It’s hardly surprising then that the things these business owners would change involved time, money and opportunity for employees as well as business owners in architecture – to work in an environment that values and supports good design outcomes, and where everyone is fairly rewarded.

Common themes, such as procurement methodologies, quality of briefing, fee levels and recognition of the value of design, were all laid on the table and the commissioner engaged enthusiastically in further information gathering.

John Chapman noted some pragmatic support levers, such as the state government regulatory requirement to pay in 30 days, and Paul Viney spoke to the Victorian education approach of setting fixed fee levels based on industry ratified time allowances for sound service.

The greatest insight from the evening, however, was the simple observation the commissioner provided into the workings of a state government. He highlighted that systems and probity processes such as ICAC do cause cultural responses that limit interaction, and he encouraged the ACA to continue to engage at a departmental level on mechanisms for procurement and delivery.

However, the table acknowledged that in a state like South Australia, the government is the primary procurer and influencer of the culture of architectural engagement and to this end John Chapman noted that if you want to change the culture in a politically led government system, you need a political champion.

But not just any political champion – if you want a ship to change course, we all know you have to convince the captain. From two hours of earnest discussion, a single statement can summarise the resolution of the July roundtable.

“The architectural profession must speak with Steven Marshall [SA Premier]. Not about fees, or programs, or procurement, but about legacy, and tourism, and sustainability and civic symbolism. About social engagement and cultural development and economic growth…. and about the crucial role that architecture plays in these successes.”

We must very simply convince the captain to sail the ship into waters that value good design. Once in those waters, it will be far easier to float the other issues.





Mario Dreosti is the Managing Director of Brown Falconer and Vice President of the ACA – SA Committee.