Maisie Sulser traces her interest in architecture back to her time in elementary school.
“When I was little, there was a dirt pile up against the fence on the playground where we’d play house,” she said. “I’d create the floor plan for the house. I was very visual, and I liked it to be more real.”
Sulser had outgrown playing house by the time she entered West High, but she started thinking seriously about architecture by then.
“I had a really great drafting teacher, and I liked art. But I also liked practical things like science and math, so (architecture) just seemed like a good fit,” she said. “I’ve always been a person who had goals, so it was an easy choice.”
After completing her degree at Montana State University, Sulser briefly considered working in Seattle, but decided to return to Billings, where she has become involved in many community activities.
What’s the toughest challenge that you have faced in your business? I think a combination of being a woman and gaining the experience necessary to be taken seriously. But I have been fortunate to work in firms where I felt supported and encouraged. There may still be a glass ceiling at times in our profession, but I believe that it is only there if you let it be. Learning the construction jargon and working with contractors (a traditionally male-dominated and -operated field) has also been a challenge, but one I have enjoyed. It is important to me to put architects in a more positive light than they have historically been in when it comes to working with contractors and understanding the reality of the construction business. The importance of the knowledge and expertise of those doing the actual building and construction of an architect’s design should not be ignored and discounted, but rather heard and intelligently integrated.
What did you learn from that challenge? If you continue to work hard and put yourself in the right situations, you can accomplish whatever you want. When opportunities present themselves you have to be ready for them and take them. Personality and perseverance will get you far in life.
What’s the best business advice you have received? As a business owner, you have to treat your employees with high regard and inspire them to be their best and do their best each and every day. It seems like pretty simple advice, but I think that in many situations, it is just lip service. Everything starts with your employees and how they feel in the workplace.
Who gave you that advice? It is something that I have always believed, but truly heard and felt that in my current workplace. It was said to me by a partner in my firm and over the past couple of months it has been proven in actions.
Here’s what I’d like to do to improve my community: I love to get involved. I enjoy taking part in community activities and being involved on all levels whether it is attending a concert at the Babcock, volunteering at Blues Fest, being a judge for the St. Patrick’s Day parade, or organizing a community design competition. I take pride in the community of Billings and what we have to offer to our current and future residents. I have served on the Billings Architectural Association board, the Yellowstone Historic Preservation board and I am currently a board member on the Downtown Billings Association and actively involved with the Billings Jaycees. The connections and friendships that I have developed over the years have served not only to inspire me, but have proven to me the power that exists in our community and the love for this city that so many of us have.
Aside from profit and loss, how do you measure success in your job? Co-workers, office culture, clients and repeat business. It is a delicate balance in the architectural profession between familiarity and professionalism. You want both your clients and your colleagues to feel comfortable and inspired. When you get to the final product — big or small — it is rewarding to see a design through from start to finish and even more rewarding to know that you gave your client the best possible design and product.
Which living person do you most admire? My mom. I don’t know if I tell her enough how much I appreciate her advice, support, laughter, tough love and good nature that have seen me through so many times in my life — good, bad and everything in between. She is my best friend and someone that I am so lucky to call Mom.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? Passing all my exams to become a licensed architect. It tested my patience and work ethic like nothing before has quite done. I felt so much support from my family and my friends, and I knew they were in my corner no matter how long it took me or how much I struggled at times. They were there with either kind words or a kick in the butt, whichever I needed at the time. The whole experience reinforced my belief that you can get through any challenges with your family by your side and if you have that support it makes the victories and achievements that much sweeter.
I’m happiest when I’m… 1. Surrounded by hundreds of Bobcat fans (in particular my mom, cousin, and boyfriend) cheering on the Bobcats to a football victory, and 2. Any time I get to be uninhibitedly creative.