Running a full-service design/build firm is hard enough. Running it as a woman can be even trickier, as Jaque Bethke of Pure Design Environments knows all too well. In a field dominated by men, Bethke has been able to stand out from the crowd. In just a few short years, Bethke has built a successful full-service architecture and interior design company that hasn’t always been easy to run.
In 2009, Bethke began her company with her daughter Cassandra shortly after leaving the hospitality industry, when she noticed that trends in residential construction weren't meeting the everyday lifestyles of their inhabitants. The luxuries of hotel life, Bethke thought, shouldn’t be just reserved for vacations. “Everybody wants to have a very beautiful, serene bedroom, a really lovely living room, and a dining room that they can have Thanksgiving in or have their friends sit in and have a good time,” she says. “All those have an element of hospitality in them.” Bethke set out to fill that void, and has since opened three offices in Scottsdale, Ariz., Minneapolis, and in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
On top of the challenges of beginning a new business, Bethke often felt she had do more work for those in the industry to take her seriously. “It’s a competitive environment,” she says. “I guess I’ve always felt I’ve had to be twice as smart. I had to be twice as good. I had to be twice as persuasive, and I had to be so much better to win the work than a man would.” She has since striven to work with, and hire, as she says, "strong women."
This is due in part because there were no real role models for her to look up to. Bethke is hoping to change that. “ You cannot ignore the reality that you are a minority, but you want to play a critical role in the industry and the impact that you have on the future,” says Bethke. "With the experience I have gained, I am doing everything I can to then empower other young women and say to them, 'Hey this is a really great industry! And come join us! You'll love it, it's really fun!' ... That is what our industry needs and I am at a place in my life that I can pay it forward."
Bethke recalls a particular incident that is seared into her memory: Pure Design Environments was one of four companies up for a job doing architecture and interior design work with a large commercial condominium complex. As she walked up to meet with the board of directors, she quickly looked around the room and immediately noticed that she was the only woman present. She wondered how she was going to convince this all-male board to invest in a female-run company for a $100 million project.
Jaque Bethke is the woman behind Pure Design Environments, a design build firm. As a female in a primarily male-dominated field, Bethke has been able to set herself apart with her strong business sense and eye for design as exhibited in these projects.View All 5 Photos >
“Very quickly, my brain switched from design and architecture to selling how I could bring more value to their bottom line,” Bethke says. “I remember that being the very first time that I had been in an environment where I realized there aren’t that many [women] in the industry doing what I do. And that my competition is predominately going to be male and automatically they’re going to have a connection to other males quicker than a woman is going to. … I remember exactly what I was wearing that day. It’s like a movie that you’re rerunning; and you're thinking to yourself, ‘How could I have done that differently? Should I have worn that color?’ You’re constantly questioning your ability.”
Pure Design Environments eventually didn’t get the job, but it was an early lesson about the challenging reality she would be facing in the future. Since then, Bethke has learned the value of her work, "I think you really do have to look yourself in the mirror and go, 'You know what? In some ways I am better. I think more on an emotional level rather than just business.'"
It is this confidence that has enabled Bethke to try to use her knowledge of the industry to move her company and the industry forward.
“My number one priority is ... to change the way that people address the needs of the consumer, which is rapidly changing from couples to single women with children or women that choose to be single and not get married right away. You want different things. And our industry is very slow to change," Bethke says. "They are still building houses like people are going to get married when they are 20 and have three kids and two dogs. And that isn't what our industry is seeing." One way to change the industry, she says, is by including more women, who provide a different perspective.
Breaking the Glass Ceiling
As a successful business owner, what has Bethke learned? To not give up and that profitability is not guaranteed, nor is profitability everything. “You have to be willing to accept your failure and still get up and say, 'I can do better, I can make this work, and I am not giving up.' That’s a difficult thing to do.”
She also has learned to tap into her weaknesses and delegate what she isn’t good at to other people within her company, or hire out. “Our business is like a big laboratory and we’re trying to find the cures for problems," she says, "and the solution does not lie within the architect, or the chemist as you might call yourself. You need all other people around you to help you get to the right answer. “
It is through her collaborative business model, strength, and keen eye for design, Bethke has paved her own path to success; now, she's making way for others to follow in her footsteps.