Alumni Spotlight: Perez, APC
A Story of Resilience
Perez is a 75-year-old business and according to Mary Alexander, Chief Financial Officer of Perez, “It’s the second-oldest architecture firm in New Orleans,” where it is based out of the French Quarter. Before 2005, most of its contracts were in and around New Orleans. In 2005, however, Hurricane Katrina hit the South Coast. Almost all of their business was either put on hold or destroyed in the devastation. The Perez office itself, in the northern part of the quarter, suffered damage as well.
Mary Alexander describes the business climate at that time:
"[If you] were based in New Orleans at the time of the storm, you really had to be committed to the city in order to say, “Hey, I’ve lost everything, but let me come back again.” Particularly when you had no idea at that time what was going to happen in the city. Were people going to return? Was it going to be rebuilt? There were so many unknowns at that time."
While other businesses closed their doors for good, the owner of Perez, Angela O’Byrne, made the commitment to return and remain in New Orleans. Reopening in the same city did not mean Perez would return as the same company. Angela realized that her business had to diversify in order to survive the next storm.
“In Angela’s attempt to protect the company from natural disasters or the next economic downturn, she decided to not only expand the company’s service offerings, but she also expanded markets. So now while Perez is headquartered in New Orleans, we have thirteen branch office locations around the country.”By returning to New Orleans, Perez played a key role in the city’s reconstruction. “I think that the local connection, particularly post-Katrina, was vital to our ability to rebound from the storm. When recovery dollars started flowing from the federal government to the city, schools were being rebuilt, housing was being rebuilt, and we started to be in a position where people knew who we were. We had a strong reputation in the city along with an ability and willingness to do that work, so we were selected [by the federal government].”
Due to their high-profile presence on the ground, being part of local and national government reconstruction efforts, Perez emerged from that period stronger than ever. Perez increasingly secured government contracts, most notably when Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast. Perez, which by that time had a New York office, expanded their staff size to commit to rebuilding communities affected by Hurricane Sandy.
For Mary Alexander, this commitment to place and community resilience is a big reason she came on as CFO: “Seeing a local small business a five-minute drive from my house that’s interested in doing projects that have positive impact on communities--urban communities in particular--is something that interested me.”
Perez currently operates fifteen offices across the United States, with fifty employees - a larger team and market which has allowed Perez to expand services to include real estate and construction. Five years ago, the firm won their first international contract in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Before 2005, Perez had never thought to expand by leveraging contracting. “It was more project driven as opposed to a part of an intentional growth strategy. What we’re doing now -- we’re going to Denver, for example, before we have projects. We’re starting to make investments in those markets before we have revenue from those markets.”