Executive Spotlight: Robert M. Coleman III

Executive Spotlight: Robert M. Coleman III

Principal, Coleman Partners Architects

Full name: Robert M. Coleman III
Title: Principal
Company: Coleman Partners Architects, LLC
Age: 61
Hometown: Baton Rouge / Folsom

Why do you do what you do?

I do what I do for personal satisfaction. That can take many forms from being just plain fun to do, or things that are more difficult, but bring satisfaction in seeing something worthwhile get accomplished.

What is your greatest professional accomplishment?

In 1983 my father (and then partner) and I decided to try architecture in the International field. I am not sure why we thought that would be a good idea, but we just thought it would be fun. When we first began, we were nobodies, had no clue what we were doing, and probably suffered a high degree of laughs behind our backs. But through some dry wells in Cameroon and Egypt, we finally hit pay dirt in the Caribbean in 1987. We have been working in the Caribbean continuously since that time, and following my father's retirement in 1990, the task of developing and managing this portion of our business fell to me. After almost 30 years in this sector, I can say we are well known and respected in the Caribbean Hospitality Industry, even though by comparison we are small and somewhat remotely located, not being from South Florida. I continually wish my father was still alive so we could share stories of how the little plan we hatched years ago has matured.

What was your first job?

My first "real job" was working for Saia Electric the summer after my sophomore year in high school. When I got home after my first day at work, my father asked me how the day went. I told him it was great. I got to drive a truck around making deliveries all day. I did not realize that there was a teamster strike going on at the time (this was in the mid sixties and Baton Rouge was still very much a union town). I will never forget hearing my dad's side of a very angry phone call that night to Ticki Saia in which Dad made it clear that his son was not to be driving a truck during the strike. I spent the rest of my summer digging ditches for underground cable installations.

What is the best advice you've ever received?

The best advice you've ever received was not to become an engineer. All of my high school guidance counselors told me I should go into engineering, because they said I had a high "math" aptitude. My father asked me if I even knew what an engineer did. I really did not. So, he set me up a series of appointments with engineers in all areas of the profession. With all due respect to my engineer friends, my dad was right. I really would not have been as happy in that profession. We changed my major at the very last minute, and I am happy to say, it was the very best decision for me.

If you could have any job other than your own, what would it be?

If I could play bass guitar in a hot touring country band like Gretchen Wilson, Sugarland, or the Zac Brown Band for about a month, that would be a dream come true. After a month on the road, I am sure I would be ready to come back home, but it would be a month to remember. Other than that, I am very happy with my "day gig."

What is the greatest personal or professional obstacle you've overcome?

The greatest personal obstacle I've overcome is lack of confidence. Even at 61, I sometimes feel that others know more and have more experience than me. I remember being intimidated in meetings with other engineers and designers from huge prestigious firms all over the world. It has only been recently that I have begun to realize as I sit around these meeting room tables that I know as much (sometimes more) than others attending the meeting.

If you started over, what would you do differently?

Not much different.

What is your prescription for life?

Prescription for life - Play Hard / Work Hard.

What book are you currently reading?

When I was younger, I always would stretch the truth when asked about books I am reading. But, now that I am 61, I might as well fess up. I do not read many books. I keep up with the news with daily online reading, but it has been decades since I have actually read a book.

If you could have dinner with any three living people, who would they be?

I would love to have dinner with Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela, and Paul McCartney.

Who would play you in a movie?

I do not care who would play me in a movie.

What do you do to unwind?

I am sitting on my back porch in Folsom looking over horses grazing in fields I helped clear. That's pretty relaxing.

What is the most expensive purchase you've made for yourself?

The most expensive purchase I have made for myself (and wife) is our horse farm in Folsom.

What is your favorite weekend activity?

My wife and I enjoy working with young equestrian riders. We are both active in an International Youth Riding Program. We very often take young riders and their horses to competitions all over the Eastern part of the country for competitions, generally in the disciplines of Dressage, Show Jumping, and 3 Day Eventing. It is very hard work over a long weekend, but there is nothing more satisfying than packing up Sunday afternoon after a successful weekend of competition. I really enjoy working with these young people.

What's your favorite spot in Baton Rouge?

Tiger Stadium, Saturday Night (I can't wait for next year's Alabama game).

How do you take your coffee/tea?

I do not drink coffee, but enjoy iced tea with lemon and no sugar.

What is your favorite movie? TV show? Band?

It is hard to pick just one, but: Movies - 2001: A Space Odyssey and Slumdog Millionaire.
TV Shows - Mad Men and The Good Wife.
Bands - All Country Bands - Gretchen Wilson, Sugarland, the Zac Brown Band, and Alan Jackson.

What is your favorite gadget?

My favorite gadget is my smart phone.

What is something that you can't live without?

I could not live without my laptop computer.

If you could change one thing about Baton Rouge, what would it be?

I would like to see Baton Rouge take itself seriously enough to realize its potential. I am old enough to remember a time when Austin, Texas and Orlando, Fla. were roughly the same size and importance as Baton Rouge. They realized their potential in a way we have not quite accomplished yet. It really disappoints me that Baton Rouge cannot unite behind growth initiatives proposed by the mayor that would cost families in yearly additional taxes roughly the amount of a nice meal on the town or a pair of LSU football tickets to one game.

What is your greatest hope for Baton Rouge?

I hope Baton Rouge does realize our potential and not continually be satisfied with the status quo.

What is your greatest fear for Baton Rouge?

I hate to keep harping on the same issue, but the questions keep coming. My fear is that we do not realize our potential and continually let other Southern Capitals pass us by. Can we at least beat out Jackson or Little Rock?

Who, if anyone, would you consider your architectural role models?

I greatly admire Peter Bohlin. He is an architect of national significance because of his recognized design talents, but very grounded, without all of the ego that sometimes comes with the greats of our profession. (Sometimes referred to as "Starchitects"). Peter can enjoy oysters at Parrain's without feeling the need to comment on the architecture. Believe me. Many Starchitects could not do that.

When you see or enter a building, what immediately sticks out at you?

The scale of the building. I have found that in many cases, especially residential, the newer buildings have grown totally out of scale. One trip to Madisonville, La. will highlight this stark contrast. On the Madisonville side of the river, you have older former residences along Water Street that are totally at a human scale, and then immediately across the River you have recently constructed homes that are grossly out of scale and quite frankly uncomfortable to be in.

How has environmental awareness affected architecture in recent years? And what other trends have you seen become prevalent over the course of your career?

In my opinion, environmental issues and conservation in general is changing architecture greater in locations outside of Louisiana than here. It seems we are slower to address these concerns, but change is coming, both as demanded by the general public, and then as demanded by new legislation. The greatest change (trend) I have seen over the course of my career is the new digital (virtual) workplace. Of course this trend is not unique to architecture, but today it is quite possible for worldwide groups of professionals to work together daily with virtual workgroups in which geography is not a factor except for time zones. When the ad for "Go to Meetings" came out a few years ago where the group is working on a well in Kenya, I thought to myself, "I have been working like this for a decade". This has allowed our small office to truly work internationally with professionals all over the world, at a modest expense. I find this trend very exciting. I also believe this trend will have a significant effect on the makeup of cities in the near future. This technology allows for a decentralization of the workplace, which I believe will usher in a population migration back to smaller (often more livable) towns.

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