September 25, 2018
Skip Sroka ’77 grew his love of design into a D.C.-area company that serves both residential and commercial clients.
Skip Sroka ’77
Tell us about your business.
I am the president and principal designer at Sroka Design Inc. in Washington DC. I started the company 31 years ago. When I started the company, I called it Design Services. I practice in a tristate area. Three years into the business, I discovered there was a “Design Services” business in every state. At that point, I was seeking legal counsel on incorporating. My attorney at the time told me to use my unusual last name, as it would be the name least likely to have any conflicts for incorporation.
I never liked working alone so by the second year I had a design assistant and bookkeeper. For the last 20 years there have been around ten people in the firm. We do dream design for new build residential and renovations. We have been getting a good deal of condo building renovation projects in the last few years. We have done other projects like the owners box at FedEx Field for the [Washington] Redskins. We also worked on a 44,000-square-foot “American Cottage” that rivals anything in Newport. We are working with Mt. Vernon to do a presentation space of artifacts for the Washington Winter Antiques show this January 2019. I co-chaired the first green show house in 2006. I have started a second company SBrand for furniture design that you can see on Dering Hall.
I love results. I love walking into something I have designed and feeling good and knowing that the client loves it, too.
Do you have employees?
There are eight of us at the studio today. I am interviewing to hire an architect in addition, and we may need another junior designer soon. I would like to shrink the firm a bit, but that never seems to happen. I love the synergy of working with teams. Our business is both the design and the implementation. So 60 percent is about procurement, management, coordination, and installing. I have a full-time inside accountant running the financials. We have a software system for furnishings management. I have never found a project management system for the design process. By the way, we implemented a 401K program 18 years ago and do a 401K profit-sharing vehicle also. I have paid 100 percent of health care for the last 20 years, but I’m not sure how long I will be able to keep doing that.
Is this what you expected you’d be doing when you were in college?
Honestly, I did not have much of a clue as to what I would be doing after school. I worked for an interior designer, corporate events firm, and a commercial interiors firm during school. I put myself through CIA. I just wanted to support myself and enjoy what I was doing. Later I learned that there is a demand for good design and you can be part of a pretty cool experience. I had no idea I would ever own a firm.
What is a typical day like in your studio?
A typical day is making sure team members have enough input to successfully work on their portions of the project, going through emails and calendaring activities, and going to job sites and having client and/or vendor meetings. I like to work late one evening a week to stay on top of things. I am trying to implement a template for my time on a weekly/monthly basis to make sure I am on top of all aspects of running the firm. I would gravitate to the design aspects if left to my own devices.
What are the challenges of running your own business?
I have the discipline to work for myself. I never had a problem with being part of another firm. In 1986, I looked for a position that I could see myself growing in, in Washington, but could not locate it. So in 1987 I started my company. The biggest challenge is juggling all the balls. I also find that you have to be prepared to go with dealing with something really fun to something [unpleasant]. You have to keep your mental balance on an even keel.
Any hard-won advice for young creatives?
DRIVE. Got to have talent, but drive gets you there. It’s how quickly you get up after being knocked down. Gotta believe in yourself, even when others do not. Read Daniel Pink’s book A Whole New Mind. Go have fun, you’ll figure it out. There is always room for a better mousetrap. Everyone is fascinated with art and design!