Bob Vennemeyer, president and CEO of DesignGroup Inc., learned an important philosophy from one of the firm’s founders, Harold Rettstatt: “You can do good work and still be a good person.”
Those who know Vennemeyer might say he’s taken Rettstatt’s words to heart.
“One of the things that’s kind of interesting is, it’s never about Bob. It’s never him telling you about what he’s doing. You have to ask him, ‘Bob, how’s it going? How’s business? Tell me about your new projects.’ Maybe that’s being a good salesman, but you never feel like Bob is selling you,” says J. Daniel Schmidt of JDS Cos., who is a co-owner of DesignGroup’s new building at 515 E. Main St. “He’s always about problem solving or making a situation better for you.”
Larry Black says Vennemeyer is always willing to listen to his clients and is trustworthy.
“Bob doesn’t play games. When he tells you something, you know that’s really how he thinks and feels about it,” says Black, director of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, who chose DesignGroup as the architect for the Main Library expansion, which was finished in 1991, and the construction of several branches.
“One of the things he says often is that you may save a few dollars here, but you will have forgotten those dollars pretty quickly if it doesn’t work out,” Black says. “Those are words that have saved the library a lot of money.”
The Main Library restoration was, in fact, one of Vennemeyer’s most rewarding personally. From his office, he can see the top of the library building, which DesignGroup’s work transformed by removing all additions to the original 36,000-square-foot building, constructed in 1907 with funding from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, and adding 214,000 new square feet of space.
Other projects completed by the DesignGroup, a $9 million, 75-employee firm, include the Ohio Stadium renovation, Thomas Worthington High School, State Teachers Retirement System and Grant Medical Center.
While Vennemeyer says the company has had nearly steady growth, he acknowledges that last year, when it moved from Olentangy River Road to its Discovery District location, was one of the more difficult ones.
“Our radar was down a little bit,” he says of the firm’s delayed reaction to the economic slowdown. “The move was really a smokescreen.”
He had to lay off seven employees — a first for the firm.
“It was a tough experience,” says Vennemeyer. “I don’t want it to ever happen again.”
He learned that any changes in the company’s financial information must be made known to management immediately, and he hired a financial consultant, David Bittner, president of Growth Management Solutions Inc., to prioritize, clarify and simplify the company’s reporting system.
Vennemeyer says he gets through such challenges in business and life with the help of his faith and participation in Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church. He and his wife, Vicki, are members of St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Powell and have three grown children, Cara, Adam and Andrew.
He says in the mid-’70s, a friend’s question, “Is Jesus Christ your personal savior?” opened his eyes to the potential of his faith.
The friend explained: “Why wouldn’t Christ want to help you through life in this world? Why would he just wait until the next life?”
Vennemeyer gets tears in his eyes as he describes how he prays with Rettstatt at the start of every week for help with the business and how he calls upon the Lord when he’s in a situation where he might not know all the right answers.
“You’ve got faith in knowing there is an answer — I just don’t know it yet,” he says.
Vennemeyer says his faith gives him peace in stressful situations, and people who know him, such as Black, call him “grounded” with a philosophy largely rooted in his religion.
John Schwarck, executive director of Friendship Village of Dublin, sees Vennemeyer as “well-balanced” and “people-oriented.”
He’s witnessed those traits as Vennemeyer serves as chair-elect on Friendship Village of Dublin’s board.
Especially evident, he says, is Vennemeyer’s ability to look at different facets of a situation and explain them clearly — a necessity on a board on which members with different backgrounds create diversity.
“Bob has a way of bringing that together. He can talk to you and explain things to you and give you the ability to understand things quite readily,” Schwarck says.
Vennemeyer uses the same skills on the advocacy committee of the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Council as well as the Governor’s Small Business Advisory Council and TEC, a peer group of business executives.
“When you finish a conversation with Bob, no matter what it’s about, you always feel like you’re a little bit better for it,” says Schmidt, who shares Vennemeyer’s dedication to making the Downtown area strong. “I’ve learned a tremendous amount about architecture and construction from him. He’s a teacher and a facilitator.” How to reach: Bob Vennemeyer, DesignGroup Inc., 255-0515, ext. 219; [email protected] or www.dgcolumbus.com
Joan Slattery Wall ([email protected]) is associate editor of SBN Magazine in Columbus.