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Policy Shaper: Q&A with David T. Tatsumi, ASLA

David T. Tatsumi, ASLA, is the president of Tatsumi and Partners, Inc.Interview was conducted on July 20, 2018 by Weywantheawy Kang and edited by Carlos Flores, ASLA.

Here is some background information about Tatsumi:

  • B.S. in Landscape Architecture, Cal Poly Pomona, 1979
  • President of Tatsumi and Partners, Inc. RLA California #2033, Arizona #32411, Colorado #944, Nevada #358, New Mexico #357 CLARB #2144
  • Other professional organizations: Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards (CLARB), Irrigation Association

Q: Where did you work before you started Tatsumi and Partners, Inc.?

A: While in school, I worked for a landscape contractor as well as with a small landscape architecture firm. In my senior year, I started working at EDAW part time. There, I worked my way up to project manager and associate. In 1983 or 1984, around 28 or 29 years old, I left to start my own practice.

Q: Did you know, while in school, that having business skills would be important?

A: I thought it would be an important thing. Financial management is the key to just about everything.

Q: Did you have a preference for a public sector vs private work when you were starting your career?

A: I didn’t know back then about opportunities in the public sector. I was focused on working for a company. But I had a friend who worked at Caltrans (California Department of Transportation) while he was in school. When I started dealing with highway issues and street issues, I thought I could get some tips from him. It then dawned on me that he had already graduated, but was still at Caltrans. So I realized Caltrans hired landscape architects. That blossomed out when I joined ASLA, and met people in the public sector’s transportation and recreation fields all across the country.

Q: What notable challenges have you had throughout your career?

A: Pursuing public works projects is different and more expensive than private work. Regardless of good past experiences or relationships, each public works project must be pursued via a new statement of qualifications and/or proposal, with new interviews and presentations. It costs a significant amount of money to do this, and I have to factor these costs into the firm’s overall financial strategy.

Q: What significant differences have you noticed between the public sector and private sector?

A: Public sector landscape architects are directly responsible for the efficient use of public funds. They will usually hear the public’s comments and opinions directly. They usually also report directly to the project’s sponsoring or funding agency. Landscape architects working in a public capacity must be diplomats in addition to talented and creative designers.

Q: Can you talk about a project you’ve worked on that changed your view or attitude within the landscape architecture profession?  

A: A highway project we were awarded in the mid-1980s, our first large-scale public project, changed the way we did business and forced us to adapt. We added Microstation to our CAD capabilities. We converted our finance method to follow very specific audit standards. We formalized our quality control and quality assurance procedures. The ability to adapt to strict public agency requirements enabled us to obtain additional public works projects.

Q: What advice would you give students interested in exploring career paths in the public sector?  

A: Always stay engaged with the profession. Stay involved with ASLA. It’s very easy to be so focused in work that there is rarely any time or energy left for outside activities, and some agencies will not pay for things like ASLA memberships. However, staying engaged allows for learning, sharing, collaborating, and meeting new friends. It’s also a great way of re-energizing yourselves too!

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