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Last Update: Saturday September 18, 2021

Key Idea: Lay the Groundwork

Starting and growing a business is not for the weak or the uninformed.  To prepare, Ron Altoon and Jim Porter did their homework before they opened their architectural firm.  This is Ron Altoon.  More

Key Question:


Ron and Jim prepared for success through formal education and on-the-job experience.  As fresh graduates with degrees in architecture they worked in a number of firms but never for very long.  This gives us a clue that they were destined to work for themselves.  Entrepreneurs have little patience with systems and people that they don't believe are the most productive.  One of the most frequent comments you'll hear from any owner is, "I could see how things could be done better."

Q:  What could Ron and Jim have learned from working in a big firm?

A:   Anyone working in a big firm can learn that:
1) They  succeed by keeping employees in a pigeonhole. Every person on the payroll has a very small highly-defined job and they are not to initiate. Imagine the mess if 236,000 IBM employees each did what they thought best in every situation? Systems would break down. In small business we want every employee to use their best judgment, to be creative and to initiate efforts that would serve the customers.

2) They are a great place for the unmotivated to hide. Jobs are so small and payroll so large that a non-productive person can get lost in the shuffle and not produce but still get a paycheck. Small business can't afford to have any dead weight.

3) They  put everything in writing and some people really need that structure.

4) They demonstrate big thinking and are accustomed to economies of scale. For example, they understand that adding a location is not impossible and could be the smartest way for you to grow.

5) They produce quality marketing and sales tools.

6) They invest in employee training.

7) Employees work from a spread sheet and stick to a budget.

Think about it

What type of experiences or education do you think you need to launch a business or grow the business you have?  What is holding you back?  Are you tired of the school of hard knocks?  Should you find a mentor?  Should you find a company to work for where you think you could learn the ins and outs of your preferred industry?

Clip from: Architects Altoon + Porter

Los Angeles, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Amsterdam : They worked for Frank Gehry and found that it had limits. So, architects Ron Altoon and Jim Porter started their own firm and today they are quite literally changing the world.

They do not try to cultivate "star power" but brain power. The result? This professional practice went global virtually overnight. Brain power translates into  extraordinary product power in any language!

Every customer and every architect is a star. Keep your egos in check.  Focus on customers and  growing your team. The result?  This firm now has ongoing work in 16 countries with more international work on the drawing boards for the future.

Like so many of our businesses that go global, they have proving that the world does want American products and services!

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Altoon Partners

Ron Altoon, Senior Partners

617 W 7th St #400
Los Angeles, CA 90017

Visit our web site:

Office: 2132251900

Business Classification:

Year Founded: 1984

Lay the Groundwork

HATTIE: Hi. I'm Hattie Bryant. In 1984, Ronald Altoon and Jim Porter left a large architectural firm to build their own business. They offer planning, urban design, architecture, interior architecture and graphic design.

When did you know you wanted to be an architect?

RONALD ALTOON (Architect): Oh, I became an architect out of the classic accident of high school counseling. I had a counselor--well, I was particularly good in math and in art. And so I entered architecture school and tried to transfer out of it three times.


RONALD: Well, I wasn't really gratified in the early years. And so I took every nickel I had in the world--my father had died when I was fairly young, 14, and Social Security had a one-time bump for kids in my situation. And I decided I needed to really find out for myself if this was the career I wanted to have.

My very favorite classes in school were architecture history and art history. So I took that money, bought a cheap ticket to Europe and, with a friend, went over and traveled 10,000 miles through 17 countries and principalities, visiting every important architectural landmark in Europe. I saw it all. And I came back so charged up that this is what I wanted to be a part of.

HATTIE: When did you say to yourself, `I'm going to be an architect'?

JIM PORTER (Architect): When I was in junior high school, I got very interested in sort of the drawing and the creating spaces and buildings process. I was--I grew up in a musical family. I was a musician, by training and by profession. And I actually did that full-time for quite awhile, and it sort of got me into a, you know, kind of position...

HATTIE: Did it get you into poverty? Then you thought...

JIM: Well, it...

HATTIE: Kind of hard to make a living as a musician, isn't it?

JIM: My dad was a musician, said, `Oh, you've got to learn an honest profession,' you know. And little did he know that architecture was certainly going to be all of the challenge that music or any other profession or art form would present it. So...

RONALD: And I went to work immediately in a very large, prominent architectural firm in downtown Los Angeles, worked there for three years, found that a large firm, as good as it was, was not satisfying my needs as an individual. And so I left, and went with a much smaller firm, stayed there a year, finding that the smaller firm just couldn't stretch to my intellectual capacities, where I wanted to go.

HATTIE: You were bored.

RONALD: I was bored. And so I did the only irrational thing I've ever done in my life.

HATTIE: Oh, come on.

RONALD: And I went to work for a fellow who has since become probably the most famous architect in the world today, and that's Frank Gehry.

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