Born and raised in Fort Myers, Jennifer Bechtel has a unique perspective on designing buildings in the area.
Bechtel sometimes tells clients: “I can remember when it was cow fields,” she laughs.
Starting MJRDB Architecture last year with husband, fellow 40 under 40 winner Matthew Bechtel, was a good move because of the economic recovery (the name of the company is the couple’s initials).
“We get that preview of what’s coming in,” Bechtel says. “That’s a neat thing to see.”
Although the couple has three children, Bechtel says she grew up in a family-owned business. “My parents owned their own company and worked together, so it was very familiar,” she says.
Work stays at work. “You make an effort not to talk about work around the dinner table,” Bechtel says. “When we’re having family time, we try to focus on the kids and don’t let that sneak into their time.”
At the firm, Bechtel handles the finances while her husband handles design and customer relationships. Most of their business comes from referrals. “We don’t do a whole lot of advertising,” she says. “We don’t run ads in magazines.”
Still, it felt risky to venture out together on their own. “There’s a lot of faith to jump out there and do it,” Bechtel says. “You kind of have to trust that there’s another job for you to get.”
Bechtel says she became more confident about the firm late last year when she started seeing repeat customers. “Oh my goodness this could work,” she remembers thinking. “Right now it feels like we’re almost overwhelmed with the amount of work that we have.”
— Jean Gruss
Name: Jennifer Bechtel
City of residence: Fort Myers
Twitter handle: n/a
Employer: MJRDB Architecture
Title: Vice president
Birthplace: Fort Myers
Years on the Gulf Coast: 34
Marital status/children: Married to Matthew Bechtel; three children: Hannah, 12, Timothy, 4, and John, 3
Alma mater: Florida Atlantic University
Best place to network: I don't go out and seek networking opportunities. Architecture is not just our business, it's our passion, so we end up talking about it all the time with anyone who will listen.
Coolest business experience: There is nothing better than working with my husband. We work well together, know each other’s strengths and can trust the other. There's no office politics or corporate ladders or competition to hinder our effectiveness on jobs. We build each other up instead of tearing the other down. It's freeing to work in that kind of atmosphere.
The most important business lesson I’ve learned: Trust in the Lord. This is probably more of a life lesson but applicable in our business as well.
One website that makes your job easier: Houzz.com helps our clients to communicate architectural styles and preferences.
One community group you’re most involved with: Professionally, we work with Builders Care of Southwest Florida. In my personal time I'm very involved with my church.
Favorite off-hours activity: Playing with my kids
Two people, dead or alive, you’d like to have dinner with: Samuel Mockbee, creator of the Rural Studio, designed and built homes for the poor in rural Alabama. And who wouldn't want to have dinner with Jesus? Ok, so maybe Judas wouldn’t.
What you would be doing if you could pick another career: Fashion design, specifically crochet and knit fashions or lingerie design.
Most adventurous thing you’ve ever done: Spent two weeks in India on a mission trip
What’s at the top of your bucket list: Travel the world in a hot air balloon
What new skill would you like to learn: I'd love to learn to blow glass.
Who would play you in a movie about your life: What a tough question. I actually Googled actresses with qualities I feel I have and tried to find a good match. Nothing. After literally hours it occurred to me: they are actresses. They don’t need any qualities that resemble me, they can pretend, hair can be colored. With that in mind, Jennifer Gardner, from the show Alias. I also want to make it an action film.
If I had a magic wand I’d: Get rid of it, no one should have that kind of power.