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2019 Business Leader: Jake Donaldson
November 18th, 2019
By Melissa Fox

Jake Donaldson embodies what it means to be an entrepreneur and business leader in Houston. 

Throughout Jake's life, he has been a high achiever and innovator. He earned the rank of Eagle Scout at the age of 16 and earned his Bachelor's Degree in Environmental Design from Texas A&M's College of Architecture in only three and a half years. After earning his Master's of Architecture at the University of Houston, Jake started Three Square Design in 2008. 

What began as a one-man operation, Jake quickly grew his business, and in 2016, his company merged with another successful Houston firm to become Method Architecture.

As Managing Principal of Method Architecture, Jake transformed the firm into a team of over 60 people with three market locations that generate $9 million in revenue each year. 

Jake's commitment to architecture and personal achievements do not stop at his business. He serves on the boards of numerous organizations such as Houston Food Bank's FRESH Group, Texas Society of Architects and Architecture for Humanity.  Jake has also made a commitment to giving back to the community through pro bono work. To date, Jake and his firm have donated over $250,000 in pro bono services for the Houston Food Bank and Big Brothers and Big Sisters Houston

We posed a few questions to Jake to learn more about what design projects he is excited about around Houston and how winning the 2019 Business Leader Award will help further his professional goals.

As an architect, what are you most excited about when it comes to the evolution of the built environment of Houston? 
I love projects that help shape our city and disrupt the status quo. We’re working on Houston’s first automated parking garages: 11 levels, park your car and walk away, robots do the rest. We recently completed a chef hall for Bravery downtown and the core and shell for the new Railway Heights Food Hall at 8200 Washington.  We’re the architect of record on MKT, which is 200,000-square-foot adaptive reuse of 5 industrial buildings into a dynamic urban mixed-use development. This will set the standard for adaptive reuse projects in the city and I suspect we’ll be seeing more of them. We’ve also been fortunate to build a great reputation within the Texas craft brewery and distillery sector, designing 35+ across the state including our most recent one and Houston’s most creative brewery: Buffalo Bayou Brewing Co. 

As someone who helped launch his own architecture firm, what advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
You don’t need a fancy office, a big capital investment, or some life-changing product or idea to start a business. You just need passion, vision, and work ethic. Surround yourself with people smarter than you, learn to delegate and be humble. Starting and running a successful business is about relationships, the rest is just the details.

Who has inspired you most in your life, and why?
My parents have been huge inspirations in my life. My father was an auto mechanic for most of his career and has an amazing mind for taking things apart, understanding how they work and putting them back together. He never sits still and is always working on the next project or challenge. He instilled in me a strong sense of independence and to take responsibility for my actions.  My mother had a long career as an executive with Blue Cross Blue Shield, but no matter how high she rose, she always remained humble, approachable and kind. She always puts other people and their needs ahead of her own which is key to being a good leader. Her most admirable quality is that she doesn’t shy away from a challenge, she jumps in headfirst and is always willing to figure it out as she goes.

How has working in Houston set you up for success? 
Like many Houstonians I’m not originally from here; I was born and raised in Dallas and didn’t have the best impression of Houston. Following my undergrad degree at Texas A&M, I went to graduate school at UH and fell in love with Houston. We have the funkiness of Austin, the metropolitan aspects of Dallas, and the strong sense of independence of West Texas.  People are down to earth, friendly, diverse, and innovative in ways you don’t find in many other cities. There is a ‘pull yourself up by the bootstraps’ attitude here, a culture of hard-working people who value authenticity over status. The city is constantly undervalued and overshadowed by the other major cities in Texas as well as the country, but I see that as a major strategic advantage for us. Being the underdog makes us work harder and keeps us humble.   

How do you approach leadership?
I started my own firm in 2008 in the pre-dawn of The Great Recession so quickly realized the isolation, risk, stress, and financial burden of doing it solo. After weathering the storm and building my firm back up, I had the opportunity in 2016 to merge with some close friends and business associates, helping us corner a segment of the market.  Balancing strategy and decision making with my partners and senior leadership team has been both extremely frustrating at times as well as an incredibly rewarding experience. Our leadership team has done an amazing job of listening, brainstorming, exploring outside-the-box ideas, using strategic patience, and being willing to take leaps of faith. We’ve undertaken a cult-like obsession with our culture, values and people-focus. A strong company, built for long term success, has the right people in the right positions. I believe the best leaders approach leadership with a servant mindset, I’m here to serve, not the other way around. The more I do to help, grow, and mentor my team members, the stronger our organization becomes. 

Are there any development projects on the horizon in Houston, ones that you are associated with or not, that you anticipate will be design game-changers for the city? 
The Memorial Park overhaul with the new green land bridges and hosting of the Houston Open is going to be a game-changer for Houston. East End Maker Space, the Ion, The Cannon, TXRX and all of the other innovation, technology and entrepreneurial focused hubs and incubators are planting seeds in Houston that is going to dramatically reshape our city. The I-45 realignment underground adjacent to the GRB is going to open up the east end of Houston for major redevelopment. Midway’s East River project will be a major catalyst for the east side of town as well.

How do you hope to use this win to help further your professional goals? 
Step 1. GHP HYPE award,  Step 2. World Domination, just kidding! Awards like this are a humbling recognition of our entire team’s hard work, innovation and creativity. My partners and I dedicate 100% of our time towards fostering a collaborative, ego-free, responsive culture in which our extremely smart and creative people can thrive.  We see ourselves as a customer service business, not just an architecture firm. I spend most of my professional time trying to recognize, promote and empower the people who do amazing work around me.  

What are your top 3 favorite places or experiences in Houston?
My top 3 are definitely: 

  • Houston’s Urban Parks: Discovery Green, Levey Park, Memorial Park, City Center - these are the gems of Houston where people from all walks of life enjoy the outdoors and urban life together.
  • Houston’s Breweries: There is no better way to combat Houston’s humidity than with a craft beer on the patio of one Houston’s 60+ craft breweries. 
  • Houston Restaurant Week: 150+ local restaurants, amazing food, benefits Houston Food Bank – what’s not to love?
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