Douglas Pahl, Aro Eberle Architects

IB’s Professional of the Week is the premier way to meet Dane County’s professionals. This week features Douglas Pahl, AIA, architect/principal, Aro Eberle Architects.
Dougpahl Headsot

What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your job and why?

The most challenging part of the architecture business is balancing the client’s expectations with the available funds. People underestimate the time it takes to do this work, and sometimes can’t understand the basis for our fees. Meanwhile, we always want to deliver a quality project because we take pride in our work. So, delivering excellence and still earning a profit is challenging. That said, when you get the balance right and you have a great outcome, there is a built legacy of your effort that stands for a long time.

Who do you look up to or admire in business and why?

I admire my father, and his father and uncle. They ran a successful tire business in Madison for 75 years. They did it honestly and without taking advantage of people. I always heard from loyal customers that they loved the service they received. I have always emulated my dad’s example of taking care of your customers/clients.

What has been the high point of your career so far?

Our renovation of Wittich Hall on the UW–La Crosse campus. With the help of many great partners, we rehabilitated a 104-year-old building and adapted it from a gymnasium to a College of Business. The whole process was inspiring, having many great collaborators and stakeholders along the way. The end product is just as good as the original and should be there for another 100 years.

Thinking back on your career, what advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

Worry less. Most of the mistakes that happened along the way were because I was given a lot of leeway to manage my own work. When you’re learning, you make mistakes as part of the process. You can’t own the entire error, there are people above you who have put that risk in your hands and are aware of that. But you never want to disappoint people and you can be overwhelmed by guilt. You have to let it go and move on.

What would you say are the best things about living and working in Dane County?

We have a great client base, a high standard of living, and an active, thriving economy. Is it perfect? No, but I see a lot of change and progress, or at least enthusiasm for improving equity, improving design, and improving sustainability in our community. My generation of workers is on the path toward societal improvement.

Do you have any secret talents or abilities that people would be surprised to discover?

I don’t keep many secrets from people. But people might be surprised to know that I am very good at arm wrestling. This is a talent that only comes out rarely … after many, many beers … and only if someone else instigates the bout.

What are your guilty pleasures?

My main guilty pleasure is motorcycling. I ride with a group of about 12 riders, and we take trips to throughout the Appalachian Mountains three times a year. This hobby has challenged my finances, my physical health, and my time. However, the impact it has on my mental health and well-being far outweigh the challenges and being part of a group that does something unique (you’ll have to see it to believe it: makes me feel special.

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