Debra McGuire of Santa Rosa’s Quattrocchi Kwok Architects wins North Bay Women in Business award

Debra McGuire

Director of Practice

Quattrocchi Kwok Architects

636 Fifth St., Santa Rosa 95404


Debra McGuire says future architects will need to be more information managers. She is a 2020 North Bay Business Journal Women in Business Awards winner.

Professional background: I’ve been fortunate to have been employed in my field continuously since graduation - starting with firms in Fresno, then Mt. Shasta, and now in Santa Rosa. I spent four years with a structural engineering firm which was immensely beneficial for my career in architecture.

Education: Bachelor of Architecture, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, 4th year studies in Florence Italy; Santa Rosa Junior College, continued education in workplace software programs.

Staff: 62

Tell us about yourself and your company: Quattrocchi Kwok Architects provides comprehensive design, master planning, and construction administration services primarily for Northern California K-12 education clients. It’s comprised of more than 60 employee-owners in two offices in Santa Rosa and Pleasanton.

I started at QKA in 2000 and was elevated to associate in 2010. I was the project architect for several educational projects over the years, but also provided firm-wide support for technical knowledge and office standards.

In July 2019, I became director of practice which allows me to fully dedicate my time to education and mentorship. I work with employees on everything from the complicated requirements of the California Building Code and the Americans with Disabilities Act, to understanding the role of various state agencies that govern school construction, and how to create a sound set of construction documents.

Is there a major accomplishment in the past year or so that you would like to share?

With the aid of several other QKA employees, I have established a Project Management Framework in the office. It provides a workflow and supporting documentation to guide all members of our project teams through the complicated process of school design – from the initial planning to final approval and construction – thus streamlining the process.

What is the achievement you are most proud of?

In yoga we are asked to reflect on what brings us joy and I think of the life my family and I have made together.

I’ve been married to my husband, John Guill, for almost 36 years. Over the years, we have made choices, some difficult, to support each other and our family and to stay in Sonoma County. My family is my center. We’ve also been incredibly lucky and I acknowledge that as well.

What is your biggest challenge today?

A continuing challenge is staying relevant in the constantly evolving practice of architecture. The tools have changed; the regulatory requirements grow increasingly complex and bring attention to many factors, such as sustainability. While it’s tempting to do things the way one always has, that’s not an effective strategy. Being open to new ideas requires active engagement.

Words that best describe you: Introverted, detail oriented, forthright, steadfast.

In what ways have the pandemic and the shelter-in-place orders changed who you are as a person that will be a part of you long after the pandemic has passed?

It has made me aware that even as an introvert, I need to hang out with other people once in a while. Once the pandemic has passed, I intend to treasure those opportunities more.

Also, what ways do you think it will change the way you go about your career and your business?

Personally, I am fortunate that it appears that my firm will be relatively unchanged. School design will probably see an increased focus on the interior environment.

It will be more important to plan and schedule meetings and to find ways to connect because we may not have the simple coffee chat/exchange of knowledge for quite some time.

And when it comes to the COVID-19 issue, what are some the lessons learned for the business community?

One primary lesson learned is the importance of flexibility – whereas a few months ago the idea of employees working remotely was not considered desirable, we now find it works quite well. Employees who feel appreciated and supported are going to do the best they can in any circumstance.

As a successful female professional, what were the biggest obstacles you faced and how did you overcome them?

I was very fortunate that early in my career I learned to look at the person interrupting me and explain that I was not finished speaking.

It has taken years of experience to have confidence, but I must also say that the support of those around me has been incredibly beneficial – both my husband, who believes in me, and my employers have always offered their support when I faced challenges.

By doing my best work and remaining focused on that work I have found that others learn to focus less on me. I have also perfected a deadpan stare.

How do you think your profession will change in the next five years?

Architecture has devolved more and more from the “master builder” to the specialists. With this differentiation, what was once an integrated and holistic profession that balanced the artistic with the rational has become a challenge of managing the pieces.

Architects are becoming information managers. They will need to be increasingly flexible and open to collaboration.

Who was your most important mentor?

Professionally, Mark Quattrocchi, with whom I have worked 20 years, has been someone to whom I can turn when I have questions. He’s much better at the “soft skills” involved in our profession, which is a nice balance to my own skillset.

What advice would you give to a young woman entering your profession or the work world today?

Young women today seem to have so much confidence in being where they are that I am somewhat in awe.

That said, when I have been asked for advice, I have always suggested that they use their voice in the most appropriate and effective way possible. It may mean asking management to resolve an issue in an email if a conversation is too difficult. A calm speaking voice conveys authority as does focusing on the issue at hand.

Most admired businessperson outside your organization: It isn’t a single person. I think that people who have restaurants are incredibly dedicated and determined. The work is incredibly hard. They must deal with labor issues, supply issues, and marketing. With the circumstances of the last three years, staying in business has proven constantly challenging and I think they are all worthy of respect.

Typical day at the office: As a director, I am fairly self-directed (!).

After email and coffee, I usually mentally set up my day. One of my main responsibilities in answering questions and guiding my colleagues. The rest of the day is split equally between administering a couple of small architectural projects with which I am still involved, preparing educational presentations, and doing research on best practices.

Best place to work outside of your office: Until the Shelter-In-Place order went into effect, I spent a great deal of effort on not working outside the office. When I was traveling and needed to work somewhere, I became quite fond of libraries.

Current reading: Jasper Fforde’s "Thursday Next" series is an absurdist escape into a world in which the boundaries between fiction and real life, in the “Outland”, are frequently crossed.

They are convoluted and occasionally confusing but always full of satire and puns and completely unique takes on literature “classics.” Escapist fiction at its best.

Most want to meet: Barack Obama

Social media you most use: Instagram

Stress relievers: Yoga

Favorite hobbies: Food and wine, traveling and walking, which is almost like hiking but easier.

What would parents or significant others say if asked to brag about you?

My husband would say I am a great cook and an outstanding architect.

Debra McGuire

Director of Practice

Quattrocchi Kwok Architects

636 Fifth St., Santa Rosa 95404


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