Chad Johnson | Nice Alumni Series

Architect & Business Owner | Class of 2007

Hometown: Lino Lakes, MN | Currently: Denver, CO

While touring the University of Colorado Boulder, Chad Johnson was impressed by the campus design, which takes cues from Tuscan architecture. Charmed by its Florentine style, he enrolled to study.

But enrollment at Boulder was delayed, and one year of “getting general education out of the way at North Dakota State University” ended with him falling in love with NDSU and its architecture department’s home in downtown Fargo.

After graduating, Chad planned to start his career search at a job fair. But when a spring blizzard made travel unsafe, he was forced to make a detour. This change of plans led him to a job fair intended exclusively for University of Minnesota students. Chad didn’t let this formality prevent him from seeking out his dream company, RSP Architects, based in Minneapolis, and landed a job as an assistant to the company’s president.

Architects are problem-solvers that design solutions; they start with an intent and then test their concepts in the world.

For about a year, Chad worked in a variety of roles in RSP’s firm. And then came the economic crash of 2008.

As RSP Architects began their rounds of layoffs, Chad braced himself for bad news. Eventually, people he didn’t know, and who didn’t know the extent of his work, visited his desk to tell him he needed to pack up and leave. Chad countered by advising them that they’d need to tell his boss he would then no longer be able to complete the projects under his management.

A few days later, they ended up calling him back in and asked him to continue working on his projects. The experience revealed two things to him: 1) he brought value to the company, and 2) he didn’t hold his destiny in his own hands.

The experience of nearly losing his job compelled Chad to start his own design and rendering firm, working alongside his brother from coffee shops and a home office. But as business grew, he was drawn to collaborative coworking spaces that were beginning to become popular at the time. He and his brother partnered to create their own space and, somewhat suddenly, he became both an architect and a business owner.

Ultimately, he credits his training as an architect for preparing him to think like an entrepreneur. Architects are problem-solvers that design solutions; they start with an intent and then test their concepts in the world.

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Credits: Story by Scott Meyer & Dane Johnson / Illustration by Izak Moleterno

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Posted on November 18th, 2020 by Dane Johnson in News and Stories