From the CEO: Reflecting on a journey of growth

From the CEO: Reflecting on a journey of growth

During this time of significant growth, we sat down with McGregor Coxall CEO, George Panos to reflect on firm’s journey and aspirations for an ever-evolving world.

Q: Describe McGregor Coxall’s growth trajectory since you joined the firm.

George Panos [GP]: McGregor Coxall started as a small firm with a vision to become a world player in design and city resilience. When I joined, we had around 30-40 staff members and aimed to grow to over 100 staff within five years. We recognised the need for professional management and a shift in mindset to achieve our goal of transforming from a small project office to a global player in our industry. We specialised in our areas of expertise, taking on a decentralised model that accounts for the sustainable growth across two continents and counting.

Q: Why have you grown this way, and what are the key factors attributing to this growth?

GP: The growth of McGregor Coxall can be attributed to several key factors. For one, we shifted our leadership model from control to collaboration. We established a Leadership Spine, empowering leaders to take ownership of their respective areas of location and discipline, sometimes both. My role has gone from a mentor that met with leaders weekly to essentially a place where they can run the company without me. This decentralised approach has been the bedrock of our team’s creative potential and has ultimately allowed the company to thrive. The market has been screaming for sophistication. Screaming for firms to address pressing issues such as climate change and city resilience. From a business perspective, we looked at landscape architecture and realised what our offering was – and what the world needed – was something more. This led to our interdisciplinary approach and the reason why we have added engineering (Environment), urban design, and an innovation hub (Biourbanism Lab) in house to our landscape architecture offering which we honour as the roots of the organisation. We are now more than landscape: we are now 100-plus designers across four disciplines with a global support network in both hemispheres.

Q: What are the innovations – from design, industry, and business perspectives – that have driven our growth and success?

GP: Innovation has been our primary vehicle for success. Biourbanism – an idea that gestated some 15-years ago – now has a firm foothold within McGregor Coxall’s design practice. Not to mention, is now a physical book that represents Adrian [McGregor]’s life’s work and organic evolution of design within the firm. Biourbanism has given the company a new impetus as our unique selling proposition. For the first time in his life, Adrian feels like a star designer. He and Phil Coxall are the forward thinkers, brilliant designers and – ultimately – the inspiration for this business. Our shift in company mentality means they can concentrate on what they are good at and let the subject matter experts run the rest. Through this approach we’re allowing them to focus on the main game which is design.

Having a plan has been central to our success. A five-year plan was created back in 2018 and has been our guiding principle and measure of success. We’re able to measure ourselves against this plan and have remained flexible enough to pivot as markets changed. The plan was always to be 120-150 people after five years, and we’re pretty much there. The vision has almost been actualised.

Lastly, and certainly not least, we’ve continued to hire great people that empower our business. Talented people with ambition and experience of working in large, global organisations. We’ve stuck to the company roots by building a design consultancy that are leaders, not followers. We are a business run in tandem with designers, not by them.

Q: How do you maintain the core values and vibrant culture of the business in a time of bullish yet sustainable growth?

GP: Maintaining our core values and vibrant culture has been a priority throughout our growth journey. We achieved this by creating a plan, communicating it effectively, and regularly assessing its implementation. Our mentoring programs and frequent meetings fostered communication and alignment of values. As our leaders gained autonomy and proved their capabilities, trust became the foundation of our operations. Mutual trust between all levels of management has been essential in preserving our core values and vibrant culture.

Q: As a former lawyer, accountant, and executive – not a designer – what does it mean to be a global design firm? What attitudes and behaviours do we have?

GP: We understand the value proposition our place within the market. We understand we must run a business that is profitable. We prioritise empowerment and training. We are not arrogant, but self-assured. We continuously learn and adjust. Most importantly, we learn from failure and know that failure is derived from a failure of systems – technological or training – and not of people.

Customer outcomes are central as much as world class design, and partnerships formed around respect and trust in this industry. It’s a people business – repeat clients are now the backbone of our success as we shift from public tenders to invited opportunities. Our reputation and capability is our brand and we want to be the ‘safe hands’ in delivering design and construction.

Q: What are your measures of success in business?

GP: In any industry, it’s all about understanding and meeting the needs of clients. At McGregor Coxall, we share this philosophy, but with an added responsibility towards the environment and communities we serve. Revenue and profit fuel our engine, but success goes beyond financial metrics. We measure success through impactful projects like Powerhouse Parramatta, Sydney Modern, and Grampians Peaks Trail—centrepiece projects that shape cities and environments. These projects require a certain size and capability, delivering quality at scale. Timeless design that serves communities and withstands the test of time also signifies success. Success is attracting and retaining great talent. We strive to be a magnet for top professionals, ensuring low turnover rates and fostering a culture that inspires.Ultimately, our success is achieving our vision of a healthy, resilient earth—one project at a time. Resilience, in both environmental and corporate contexts, means an organisation that can thrive even without my presence.

Q: What are the biggest challenges McGregor Coxall faces as a design, engineering, and city resilience consultancy?

GP: Design firms face the challenge of being appropriately compensated for their work. In our industry, there is often an expectation of providing extensive free work, such as design competitions, which undervalue our expertise and effort. Another challenge we face is maintaining business integrity and brand equity during rapid growth. It requires conscious efforts to ensure that our core values, principles, and high standards are upheld. As McGregor Coxall has grown, maintaining the emotional connection to our founders and their legacy has been imperative. Balancing growth with honouring the company’s history and paying tribute to their passion has been a constant.

Q: Let’s fast forward five years. What does McGregor Coxall look like?

GP: We envision McGregor Coxall as a thriving 200-person studio, strategically positioned around the world. We will continue to embrace our interdisciplinary approach, offering resilient, socially conscious, and timeless design solutions. We continue to be thought leaders, using research, development, and progressiveness to champion a healthy, resilient earth. While our global presence and services expand, our commitment to excellence, clients and communities will continue to guide us. We will continue to be at the forefront of the industry, shaping a sustainable future through our expertise and innovation.

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