In an article published by the Harvard Business Review in 2005, Richard Florida and Jim Goodnight argue that the most important asset to modern corporate businesses is the creative thinker.
“Creative employees pioneer new technologies, birth new industries, and power economic growth,” they write. “If you want your company to succeed, these are the people you entrust it to.”
In the business of design there’s certainly no shortage of creative thinkers, but when it comes to getting the job done, you need a unique hybrid – someone who can toe the line between the creative thinking right brain and the more structured left.
An abstract painter by night and jet-setting businessman by day, Hames Sharley Director, Peter McGregor, is one of these hybrids – but he admits he’s still trying to get the balance right.
“I’m basically doing 90% management now, which is a great challenge but also one of the most frustrating things about moving up the corporate ladder,” he said.
“There’s just so little time to do everything that something always has to fall by the wayside, and often that’s the practitioner work.”
A former sign-writer come interior designer, Peter has always had a creative bent to his career, but even early on he knew how to support his creativity with good management skills.
“I worked in a food store full time and did sign-writing part-time to save enough money to go to university,” he said. “By the time I got there I was a mature age student, but I was driven and ready to learn.”
Attending university in 1994, Peter applied his steady sign-writers hands and creative thinking to interior design before joining Hames Sharley as a graduate in 1997, where he further developed his understanding of design and architecture.
“While I’m formally trained as an interior designer, I’ve picked up a number of different skills since I started with Hames Sharley – from architectural design, to project administration, leadership and management,” he said. “You learn conceptual things at uni, but you only really start to hone your craft on the job.”
“In the early years our office fluctuated from around 30 people to 20, then down to five at one point, so we all just had to jump in and work on what was there.
“I ended up designing and documenting ambulance stations and then moved into shopping centres – once you’re in a practice environment your degree or background isn’t really significant, as long as you’re capable, it’s all about getting the job done.”
It wasn’t until he started working on fit-out projects for Australia’s Defence services in the late 90s, that Peter really showed his penchant for management.
“When I started getting a few bigger Defence jobs I was promoted to Defence Portfolio Leader and my role just grew from there,” he said.
Longing to get back into design after throwing himself into management for a number of years, Peter returned to his practitioner work in 2013 as Head of Interiors on the iconic Adelaide Oval redevelopment.
“Until three years ago I wouldn’t have said that I even did interior design anymore, but I finally feel like I’ve regained that side of myself again,” he said. “The Adelaide Oval project was like a refresher course on the latest materials, finishes and technology, and just a great high profile job to get me back into it.”
“It was also great to be able to get out of the office for a solid stint and work solely on one project for a period of time, it allowed me to really focus,” he said. “You don’t get that so much at the office when you’re bouncing around from one job to another.”
Since the completion of the Adelaide Oval, Peter has taken on even more management responsibility at Hames Sharley, with a three-pronged role as Defence Portfolio Leader, Practice Director for the Northern Territory, and Practice Director for South Australia.
“It’s a unique situation and certainly not easy, no other Practice Director has a Portfolio and no other Portfolio Leader has an office to look after, but I’m fortunate to have the most excellent people at the next level of management that I can rely on to keep things moving while I’m on the road.”
With little time for design at work, Peter is now using creative thinking to build his portfolios and territories, as well as a new home.
“I’ve been building a new house for the past few years, which keeps me fairly busy and inspired. I also do a lot of painting, so that I don’t just feel like I’m an accountant,” he said.
“I mainly paint large abstract versions of photos I’ve taken of buildings overseas – it takes me back to my days as a sign-writer, standing at a wall painting something bold and striking – it keeps my creative needs satisfied.”