Top Entrepreneurs 2005
Written by Cara S. Trager
Photo by Buck Ennis
Dreams can sometimes be fulfilled in strange ways. As a youth, Robert St. C Gaskin abandoned his plans to become an aviator only after his father insisted on something a bit more grounded––like architecture.
Luckily for Robert, his first employer, architecture giant Skidmore Owings & Merrill, assigned him to a team designing airports. His passion for the work quickly helped to distinguish the Jamaican–born, Scottish–bred, Pratt–educated architect. Later, he continued to specialize in airport design at a smaller shop before setting up his own firm in 1997.
Today, as the principal of RCGA Architects–Interior Designers, Mr. Gaskin directs an eight–year–old firm that has not only become a top ace in the high–stakes field of terminal and hangar design, but one that has also branched out to houses of worship, residential buildings and educational facilities. The firm’s high–profile projects include the AirTrain stops at the American Airlines and British Airways terminals at John F. Kennedy International Airport, the new facade for the administrative building at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn and the master plan for the new Diamond Bay Resort and Casino in Jamaica.
By broadening the range of his 12–employee firm, Mr. Gaskin has also succeeded in growing its revenues smartly. Last year, billings soared by 27% to $1.2 million. Even better, 85% of the new jobs came from referrals by satisfied clients.
"RCGA is very customer–oriented," says Steven Silver, regional manager for corporate real estate at American Airlines, one of RCGA’s many repeat clients. "It pays a lot of atention to details and getting the work done (on time)."
Mr. Gaskin also pays close heed to his staffers. After employees complained last year of cramped work conditions, their boss took action. He poured nearly $1 million into the purchase and renovation of a 4,000–square–foot building in Jamaica, Queens, that more than tripled the firm’s space.
"We are like family," says Mr. Gaskin, who notes that he and his staff eat lunch together every day in the RCGA kitchen.
That closeness has paid off in many ways. For instance, after Sept. 11, 2001, when many airport projects ground to a halt and Mr. Gaskin had to cut the workweek to four days, his employees voluntarily worked five and even six days a week to sustain RCGA’s revenues.
His employees’ devotion to the firm and to delivering for its clients also helped RCGA do the utterly unimaginable the following year. It eked out a slight increase in revenues in the teeth of the 2002 recession.
Mr. Gaskin believes in doing what he can to help out in the community. Besides providing summer internships to high school students, he helps organize annual golf tournaments for the local Rotary Club.