Fred Perpall, FAIA
Hon. AIA Dallas
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Profile: Fred Perpall, FAIA
As CEO of The Beck Group, Fred Perpall leads the firm’s domestic and international design, planning, real estate consultancy, and construction businesses. An active member of the community, Fred is chairman of the Dallas Citizens Council, on the board of Dallas Medical Resource and a director for Triumph Bancorp. He is also on the Board of Councilors for the Carter Center and is part of the Atlanta Tipoff Club, the group that awards the Naismith Player of the Year college basketball trophies.
Fred began his career in design and construction in 1996. A registered architect since 2003, he was elected to the prestigious American Institute of Architects College of Fellows in 2016. He is part of the AIA Large Firm Roundtable and previously served as chairman of the Urban Land Institute’s Urban Plan. He is also a former director of the Georgia AIA.
He has been with Beck since 1999, when his former firm, Urban Architecture, merged with Beck. Twenty years later, The Beck Group has become one of the most significant integrated firms in the country, with over 180 architects and more than $1 billion in construction volume. Founded in 1912, the company has worked on Dallas-Fort Worth landmarks including the Kalita Humphreys Theater, the Cotton Bowl, NorthPark Center, Fountain Place, The Crescent, Texas Motor Speedway, Nasher Sculpture Center, Sundance Square, Piano Pavilion of the Kimbell Art Museum, the University of Texas at Dallas Engineering Building and the Old Parkland West Campus.
“The Beck Group believes that great design and great construction go together,” Fred says. “Only when we rise to the level of true teaming, taking responsibility for each other’s work, can we address the fundamental inefficiencies and the waste involved with delivering buildings.”
He also puts his focus on people at The Beck Group. “As a registered architect, I’m passionate about great design. My first job, as a 13-year-old, was in construction. However, as much as I love integrating design and construction to drive out waste, I really believe we build buildings to build people. The people part of our business is always the most exciting and rewarding part of our work.”
Fred earned a bachelor of science in architecture and a master of architecture at the University of Texas at Arlington. He is an alumnus of the 183rd class of Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program and a former Americas Fellow at the Baker Institute at Rice University. A native of Nassau, Bahamas, Fred played on the 1994 Bahamian National Basketball Team. Fred and his wife, Abi, live in Dallas with their daughters, Ava and Ali.
Please tell our readers about growing up in the Bahamas. Childhood interests/activities?
I am proud to be from Nassau. Growing up in the Bahamas was a unique experience because of the community; my family knew almost everyone in town. My parents were both in the hospitality industry, so I learned the importance of service to others at an early age. My dad worked for an airline; my mom ran a cafeteria. Both instilled in me the importance of strong relationships.
At what age did you begin playing basketball, and tell us about being a member of the 1994 Bahamian basketball team.
From a very early age I was involved in sports. There was a focus both on competition and teamwork. In school, I was captain of the basketball team and co-captain of our track team. My coaches stressed honesty and collegiality. I was honored to participate on the Bahamian basketball team at the 1994 CARICOM Games, a gathering of sports teams from the Caribbean community. It was great to represent my country in this way.
When did you decide you wanted to be an architect? How did you select UTA?
My uncle ran a masonry business, and as a young teenager I worked for him mixing mortar. I noticed that the project architects were the best-dressed and educated people on the job sites. And since I liked the building process, it didn’t take long for me to figure out that being an architect was what I wanted to do for a living. My brother was at OSU [Oklahoma State University], and I wanted to go to school close to him but in a larger urban setting. UTA’s School of Architecture produced impressive journals, and the university had a Division 1 basketball team. Because of these factors, I applied and was accepted at UTA. I wanted to play basketball for UTA and did play some as a walk-on my first year. However, I quickly realized that I couldn’t play on the team and successfully earn my architecture degree because of the intensive time the degree demands, so that was the end of my collegiate basketball career.
Credit: Shaun Menary
Tell our readers about some of your more interesting professors at UTA.
I had some great professors at UTA. Bill Boswell was my professor for first- and third-year studios. He taught us to work hard and work fast. We learned fundamentals of design and did a lot of balsa wood models. Lee Wright was my favorite teacher. He had a freewheeling style and liked to have fun while teaching us. We were glad to work hard for him.
When you graduated from UTA, you went to work for Urban Architecture. What led to the merger with Beck? What positions have you held, and what are some of the projects you have overseen?
I finished my master of architecture degree at UTA in 1998. I worked for one year for Greg Ibanez (now Ibanez Shaw Architecture) before going to work for Rick del Monte at Urban Architecture. I had only been there for six months when the firm merged with The Beck Group. It was a little unnerving at first, but I quickly realized that the merger would allow me to pursue a deeper integration of design-build technologies. My career progressed from intern to project designer and then to associate at the firm. I obtained greater skills and knowledge in both architecture and construction. Some of the projects I worked on were Fielder Road Baptist in Arlington, the Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau, and Fellowship Church’s Children’s Center.
From 2004 through 2012, you worked for Beck in its Atlanta office. Describe your responsibilities and professional growth once you took that position.
I was promoted to principal/design director of our Atlanta office in 2004, right before I turned 30. It was a great experience. I was responsible for the entire book of business in the region. Doing business development allowed me to establish relationships with our clients. My goal was to vertically deepen the strengths of my team while seeking to go broader horizontally in expanding and enhancing our client base. Before moving to Atlanta, I only read architecture journals. Because of my new managerial responsibilities in Atlanta, I expanded my reading to also include business journals.
In 2013 you became the CEO of Beck. How would you describe the culture you and your leadership team promulgate at Beck?
I was honored at age 37 to be named the incoming CEO for The Beck Group. Before returning to Dallas, I spent six months in the advanced management program at Harvard Business School. My management group and I are focused on teamwork. We encourage everyone to have a place at the table in decision-making. Teams run the company, with a focus on inclusivity and diversity. This collaborative leadership style sometimes takes a bit longer but produces better results.
African Americans and people of color are underrepresented in the architecture profession. What are some key initiatives either in place or that should be in place to address this?
At The Beck Group, we make it a priority to recruit individuals from diverse backgrounds, especially at the entry level. Companies should be intentional to open the door to candidates from various racial and socioeconomic backgrounds and then let talent succeed. The industry needs to do a better job communicating to African American students the value and positive impact that architects can have on communities. These students have tremendous potential to shape our neighborhoods with their unique perspectives if they are provided the opportunity to do so.
Tell our readers about your family.
I met my wife while I was a student at UTA. She also is from the Bahamas, but I didn’t know her when I lived there. We were introduced by her brother, who was in my fraternity. I’m proud of Abi. She graduated from OU [the University of Oklahoma], then earned her doctor of dentistry before giving birth to our two very talented daughters, who are now 13 and 14 years old. As a family, we are focused on values and believe that those who are fortunate to have much should give much back to society.
Credit: Shaun Menary
What kind of hobbies do you have? What do you do in your limited spare time?
I like to sketch buildings and doodle designs. I’ve given up playing basketball to play golf more often. I also try to get in at least four Peloton rides each weekend.
Favorite books, documentaries and music?
I’m an American history buff, and I like to read biographies of American leaders. Some of my favorites are Grant, Jefferson, Hamilton, and the three Roosevelts: TR, FDR and Eleanor. The Ken Burns series on Vietnam is one of my favorites. I also find inspiration reading the writings of Martin Luther King. I like to listen to hip-hop and reggae — Bob Marley and Jay-Z are two of my favorites.
Where do you like to travel, and what are some of your favorite buildings?
My wife and I are members of the Albany Club in Nassau and love to go there for boating, golf, and the beach. We also enjoy Europe, especially France and Italy. Many of the buildings in those countries mean a great deal to me. But like with your kids, it’s hard to have a favorite. Locally, the Kahn building of the Kimbell is always inspirational.
How can architects utilize their expertise to help shape, influence, and improve their neighborhoods and Dallas?
Architects need to be involved in guiding the conversation about the real challenges that Dallas is facing. We need to connect our city — it is diverse but not integrated. We must address historical biases and issues of equity. We need to advance strategies to achieve walkability and connectivity. Architects can interact with the city through the buildings they design. Architects must be more engaged civically and help create public policy. Our profession must advance the concept of the “citizen architect,” and we must be involved in shaping policy both in Dallas and in Austin. We should also be advocates for higher quality education, including technical education. Finally, fully integrating downtown with South Dallas must be a high priority. As Churchill said, “We shape our environment, our environment shapes us.”
You serve on many important boards of directors. Describe what you view as some of the major accomplishments of the Carter Center, founded by former President Jimmy Carter.
As an outgrowth from my time in Atlanta, I serve on the Board of Councilors of the Carter Center. Since leaving office, President Carter has done extraordinary work in expanding democracy and health around the globe. I am honored to be a part of the organization.
You are also board chair of the Dallas Citizens Council. What are some of its major initiatives?
The Dallas Citizens Council has three major initiatives:
- Talent: Improve prekindergarten through 12 and higher education. This is a necessity for young people to obtain the jobs of the future. We also must provide second chances for disadvantaged young people with minor criminal records.
- Mobility: We must provide adequate means of transportation for all residents. This includes public transportation, walkability, and cutting-edge forms of mobility. To be a thriving city, we must be a connected city.
- Shelter: We must care for our disadvantaged populations. Smart planning is also essential for our city to thrive. We must have adequate affordable housing not only in the suburbs but in the urban core of our city.
What advice would you give a young person starting out in the architecture profession?
- Stay hungry and humble.
- Architecture is not for the faint of heart.
- Shape society for good.
- Work hard, be disciplined and intentional.
- Pursue architecture as a career, not as a job.
- Be passionate about the profession.
What do you want your epitaph to be?
Around Beck’s offices, some of my quotes are known as “Fredisms.” One Fredism is, “You can build people while building buildings.” So, I think I would like my epitaph to be “He was as concerned about building people as he was about building buildings.”
Interview conducted by Nate Eudaly, Hon. AIA Dallas, executive director of The Dallas Architecture Forum. It has been edited for brevity and clarity.