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What Spooked Sam’s Legacy Clients?

I’m traveling this week, and rushed to get this out, so excuse typos and bad grammar. Didn’t want to wait till next week before posting.

I recently spent time with an old friend I’ll call Sam (obviously not his real name, so don’t even try). If I could switch lives with somebody it would be with him – he knows it. Sam shared with me very interesting information about his work I want to share with you.

Sam is an architect and owns a small design/build firm. At the start of his career he primarily did commercial and institutional work, but after a while transitioned into residential design. Given his experience with more complex project types he took on a series of complex residential projects, and adjusted the focus of his firm to exclusively residential work.

He started doing residential work for his previous institutional clients who included high profile CEOs and board members from some well know companies and governmental offices. He has become somewhat of a household name in some circles (a name very few clients choose to mention in general conversation – you’ll see why in a bit).

During the last few decades Sam has only been doing residential work, and more specifically residential work of a ‘resilient’ or ‘hardened’ nature. To be fair, Sam does consider himself a ‘prepper’ in a general sense of the word, but also understands that not all clients want to have a steel plate shelter in the backyard, so he developed a design niche to design hardened and resilient second (or third or fourth) homes for clients. His projects are located all over the country as well as a few select projects in other countries.

What makes Sam particularly interesting is that you will not see any of his work in architecture magazines or blogs. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find images or drawings of any of his work, anywhere. He does not advertise, and does not even have a website – not because he doesn’t know how to set it up (he is the most technologically capable Baby Boomer I know). Sam’s biggest asset he offers his clients is his discretion. Very few architects are willing to hide their masterpieces from the world, and given the nature of these homes, very few clients want to have their work shown. Sam gets his clients by referral only and has been growing his firm by word of mouth exclusively. He charges a significant design fee, but delivers exactly what clients pay him for – a custom, client specific, building that provides the safety and security they feel they need – a building nobody else will know of.

All this in itself is an interesting story, but this post is not just about my friend Sam. What I found most interesting is what he told me about how the nature of his work has changed over the years.

While he first designed resilient weekend homes for wealthy CEO’s and board members, he has over the last 5 years increasingly been contacted by a different group of clients. Usually they won’t tell him who referred them, which he assumes is to limit his knowledge of their social connections, but he doens’t mind – he prefers knowing less. These clients, however are not the well know CEO’s of corporate America, but instead clients he calls the ‘legacy clients’. These are the ‘old money’ clients, whose names you won’t really recognize unless you’ve been living in their town for more than two generations. Most of us know, or at least know of, such families. It is the family that somehow made their money many generations ago, and spend enormous amounts of it to protect it and to protect the family ‘legacy’, (including instruments of long term wealth – art, precious metals, jewelry, antiques, wine (not kidding) etc.). Apparently, Sam told me, there are a surprising number of these families that has, over the years, managed to maintain knowledge by outsiders of their vast fortunes (and he didn’t just mean money) to a minimum. All this to say, there are more than a handful of legacy families out there, and they possess items of significant value and importance they wish to protect (without others knowing).

Now the interest in part…

Sam told me his business over the last 5 years has been almost exclusively legacy clients, and the nature of the homes he is designing has changed. Where the CEOs typically wanted the ‘safe house’ with a hot tub, pool for entertaining, outdoor grill, entertainment room, professional kitchen and quadruple garage, the legacy clients are less about the bells and whistles (and “lifestyle”), and more about creating (and protecting) value – the long term protection of value. The “very long term” if you know what I mean…

He told me that he has never before specified this number of safe rooms, museum grade climate controlled vaults, industrial sized hydroponic growth rooms, and supplementary storage rooms for long term storage. A few projects even include fully equipped medical rooms/clinics equipped for small operations(!).

These clients, he said, are not the the nervous, paranoid types. These clients, are extremely calculated, intelligent, and have been taught, since they were very young, about the importance of valuing and protecting their ‘legacy’ wealth and position. Sam’s take away from all of this is that something has been spooking the ‘old money’ and that this is something that has not spooked them since he started his business many years ago. It is a “relatively recent” spook, say 5 years or so.

He said he will always have the rich who gets a kick out of a off the grid mansion somewhere in the middle of nowhere, but these ‘legacy’ clients are a completely different breed, and the sudden increase in projects they are willing to bankroll (in some cases on “accelerated timelines”), shows him something is up. Considering that these clients already own relatively safe estates to start with, this is pretty remarkable. Given the scenario planning, and strategic foresight resources these clients have access to, whatever spooked them must be pretty big. I asked he what he thinks they might be spooked by, but he said he didn’t have a clue… Knowing Sam, the strong relationships he builds with his clients, and his commitment to his clients I don’t think he shared all he knows. (no offense Sam, I get it).

That’s it, something is spooking the people who hire people to carry their money (or people who build houses for their money…).

Read between the lines, and think what you will, do what you will.

Hopefully more later.