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In an article by Louis S. Richman - How to Get Ahead in America
May 1994 Issue - Fortune Magazine
Architectural Support Services Inc. (ASSI), an Atlanta firm that provides computer-aided design (CAD) services for architects, designers, and engineers, offers its ten computer drafting technicians growth opportunities in abundance. In ASSI's attractive, efficient, and cheerful new offices, self-managed careers are thriving. ASSI provides a good environment for what Cornell University labor economist Stephen R. Barley calls "new technical workers"-skilled specialists whose career identity derives from their occupation, not from their attachment to a single employer, and who today make up the fastest growing category of employment in the U.S.
Vic Williams, 41, founded ASSI in a spare bedroom six years ago. An architect, he had grown frustrated with the slow progress he was making as a designer in the large, staid commercial architectural and construction company where he worked for six years after graduating from Georgia Tech. Especially frustrating to Williams, a computer buff, was his fellow architects' failure to grasp what computers could bring to their work. So he quit and persuaded a local firm that designed new stores for fast expanding Home Depot to let him supply the working drawings.
Soon other architectural firms began to catch on to CAD's potential. Rather than start their own departments, they outsourced the work to ASSI. Williams now has 30 clients, and revenues this year will top $1 million-up one-third since 1993. Wife Joyce Roberts, 47, a former book keeper, is ASSI's jill-of-all-trades, serving as chief operating officer, chief financial officer, and director of human resources.
As they added new customers, staff, and equipment, Williams and Roberts had the wit and courage to entrust real authority to their eager young employees. Says Williams: "Delegating taught us that the company's success is identical with that of the people who work here." The couple have turned ASSI into a nursery of career growth for their draftsmen - mostly recent graduates of architectural schools or two-year technical. colleges. The technicians train each other, form their own project teams, and deal directly with all of ASSI's clients. Because the company specializes only in CAD . designs, the employees build their technical skills quickly. But since they get a chance to see every aspect of the business, they also acquire breadth well beyond their years.
At ASSI, working relationships are fluid. When Williams asked staffers to select their own job titles, Garret Diduck, a four year ASSI veteran who joined at 25, had *.* engraved on his business cards; it's the computer programming command that signifies "do everything." And everyone shares in the company's success. Salaries range from $20;000 to $30,000 a year pretty good by area standards for people in their early 20s. All employees also participate in a profit-sharing plan that can boost their incomes by up to 10%. Whether they stay at ASSI or move to other companies, these broadly skilled technicians should be able to increase their earning power.
IN COMPANIES like ASSI and AlliedSignal, the only tie that binds you to your employer is a common commitment to success and growth. But don't mourn the career ladder. In stead, celebrate the liberation of the Organization Man. When former FORTUNE editor William H. Whyte Mote his classic book nearly 40 years ago, he warned that rigidly hierarchical corporate structures would stifle initiative and breed a stultifying conformity. He could have added: And would lead, inevitably, to stagnant, shrinking companies. For organization and employee alike, the only real security is the ability to grow, change, and adapt.