February 6, 2018

Going on 15: The Company Formerly Known as Galvin & Associates


“I’ve always said we started out like a garage band,” said Andrea Galvin, founder and president of GPA Consulting. A solo act that began out of Andrea’s home after her regular work day soon blossomed into a harmonious four-piece band of architectural historians, working hard to get noticed. “We worked long hours,” Andrea recalled. “We had to hustle to get work, hustle to do the job, and hustle to get paid.”


Andrea founded Galvin & Associates (now GPA Consulting) in October 2003 while she worked for the state of California. She envisioned starting her own firm for many years, and that dream became a reality only four years after completing her graduate degree.


The Early Years

Andrea was an upcoming talent in the historic preservation field. Upon graduating with a master’s degree in Historic Preservation from the University of Pennsylvania, she had a desire to start her own historic preservation planning firm. She understood, however, that she had to get professional experience under her belt. “I had to develop my craft first,” she said.


Prior to graduate school, Andrea had worked for the California Department of Parks and Recreation as a Cultural Resource Specialist, where she met her mentor Pete Schultz.


From there, she moved on to the California Department of Transportation and the Office of Historic Preservation (OHP) as an architectural historian, where her responsibilities included reviewing state-required historic resource reports. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the historic preservation field was still developing as a recognized profession, and many consultant-prepared documents lacked quality and substance.


“Why don’t you work for yourself?” asked an OHP colleague. This off-the-cuff remark and prior encouragement from her mentor propelled Andrea to start her own sole proprietorship.


Still working full-time for the state, Andrea put together a proposal for a development project, the New Model Colony, for the City of Ontario. She won her first contract!


Andrea worked nights and weekends for a year. “Which wasn’t easy because I had young children,” she recalled. She eventually reduced her full-time workload and focused more on private consulting, eventually phasing out her full-time job. A little more than a year later, Andrea and her family moved from Northern California to the Los Angeles area. Her first project, the New Model Colony, won an award from the Association of Environmental Planners. She picked up other contracts, mostly smaller ones, and hired her first employee, Christeen Taniguchi, in 2004. Christeen’s brother Ben joined the fledgling firm the same year, as did an intern, Katie Horak.


The small band worked harmoniously around the dining room table. Nevertheless, with sporadic projects, cash flow was a struggle. They needed additional workspace, but there were times she didn’t know if she would make payroll. She and her husband, Rich, borrowed money from their parents, leveraged their credit cards, and even sold a home they kept in Northern California for the sake of the business. Rich jumped in and helped at night by taking care of the invoices. “We made a lot of sacrifices; we did what we had to do,” Andrea said. Every cent Galvin & Associates earned went back into the firm. “I didn’t pay myself for the first two years,” she added.


Andrea said she was “just naïve enough and too stubborn to fail” during those early years. There was no business or marketing plan in place. The business grew from word of mouth. “It amazed me how the phone never stopped ringing,” Andrea said. She developed relationships with new clients and did quality work. “When you do good work, people hire you again.”


After enduring for nearly three years, the company was not only sustaining itself but also growing. Andrea was able to open their first real office. This band was starting to get some serious air play.


Going on 15: This is Part I of IX articles leading up to GPA Consulting's 15th anniversary in October 2018. UPDATE: Please look for Part II on March 29.