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Bhakti Bania, master of many kinds of building

This alumna and architecture firm CEO creates a community that builds up her team and other women in the industry, as well as cool structures.

Waiting to cross a street in downtown Columbus, Bhakti Bania looks stylish and purposeful in round sunglasses and a chic coat. A skyscraper with shiny silver-tinted windows rises behind her.

Bhakti Bania ’01 MArch [Master of Architecture] spends her days as an architect imagining possibilities, tapping into a spirit of exploration that traces back to her childhood in Mumbai, India. 

“I’ve always had quite a bit of an independent streak,” she says. “I don’t like people telling me what I can and cannot do.” 

So it was a natural move to start her own business. Bania hopes her position as co-founder and CEO of BBCO — now Central Ohio’s largest architectural firm owned by a woman — provides a wider perspective for other women considering career possibilities. 

“My profession is predominantly male-dominated,” she says. “I hope that I’m making a difference every day to support other women trying to have careers in my industry. That’s kind of my inspiration.” 

Evidence that she’s succeeding at it: Columbus Business First named her a “Woman of Influence” in 2023. She’s active in community groups, including the Women’s Small Business Accelerator, where she serves as co-vice chair on the board of directors. 

Putting a message of possibility into the community fits with how Bania views her day-to-day work leading BBCO. “Communication is pretty much what I’m doing all the time,” she says. 

Her professional life flows into her personal life — built on the same open communication she’s enjoyed with husband Bharat Baste ’01 MArch since they met at age 16. They studied architecture at the University of Mumbai, then attended Ohio State together as graduate students. 

These days, they’re parents of two teenagers — daughter Reva, an Ohio State sophomore, and son Rohan, 16 — and have been business partners since co-founding BBCO in 2009. Baste is the firm’s COO. 

Bania’s skill at building relationships has helped BBCO maintain clients, despite the challenges of the pandemic, and develop new business. The firm has grown to 15 employees and moved into a new two-floor office in downtown Columbus last fall. 

“I believe in listening more and talking less,” Bania says. “I really like connecting with people, and I really like to get to know people better in one-on-one settings. That’s my approach to doing business: getting to know people.” 

We recently saw her approach in action while spending a day with Bania.  

Bhakti Bani and her husband, Bharat Baste, stand and chat over the island in their tastefully designed kitchen at home. They’re both laughing and have cups of coffee in front of them.

8 a.m.  My mornings often include yoga, but not today. This one launches with a cup of coffee, work emails and sun-splashed time with Bharat in our Upper Arlington home, where our company originated 15 years ago. As usual, he’ll drop off Rohan at school. We drive in separately due to different schedules. 

As Zoe Drellishak, a young woman wearing glasses, works at her computer, Bhakti sits beside her and laughs. Zoe points at the screen as she laughs as well. They’re in an office.

9 a.m.  I’m checking in with BBCO marketing coordinator Zoe Drellishak. We talk often. Our client base focuses on three sectors: housing, retail and civic. We pursue a lot of public work, which means a public bidding process and submission of qualification packages. There’s a lot of marketing effort in those.  

Bhakti sits at her desk working at her computer in her office at work. The room is beautiful, with dark walls, big windows and modern furniture.

10 a.m.  A few minutes alone in my personal office provides time to think. I’m an introvert, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like to be around people. I love socializing and have lots of friends. But I’ve figured out that as an introvert, time on my own is how I charge my energy.   

Bhakti works at a table with a member of her company, pointing out details on a large paper she drew an architectural plan on. She and her colleague are both focused on what she’s explaining.

11 a.m.  I mocked up some drawings for senior designer Katie Shipman the other day but was too busy then to discuss them. Here, I’m explaining my chicken scratch so Katie can turn it into a computer design. We use a lot of 3D models and renderings in our process as visual aids. 

Bhakti and three colleagues stand around a countertop in their office kitchen. Pizza boxes lie open on top, and the colleagues are happily picking out their slices.

Noon  Mondays mean lunch together as a team. We catch up on projects and sometimes hold sessions for work learning. But we also welcome people to talk about their personal lives. We want to share other interests outside of what we do here. We want to know each other. 

Bharat, Bhakti and a colleague sit at a meeting room table laughing.

1 p.m.  Laughter in a meeting! This industry is known for demanding long hours. One reason we started our company was to build a different culture based on trust. We had flex hours even before COVID-19. We love what we do and take a lot of pride in it, but that also comes with the balance of having a good attitude and treating people well. We make sure to remember that every day. 

On a sunny day with clear skies, three women stand together looking at a tablet in a large dirt lot. A two story, modern-design building is under construction about 20 yards behind them. All three women wear safety vests and hard hats.

4 p.m.  Wonderful to visit with Tammy Wharton ’91 [right], president and CEO of Girl Scouts of Ohio’s Heartland. We’re getting a status update on the construction of their new STEM Leadership Center and Maker Space in Galloway, Ohio, which our firm designed. 

Bhakti’s family—husband, college age daughter and teen son, whose hair appears at the edge of the photo—works on a model car at the dining room table in their home.

6:30 p.m.  Chill time with the family. When I get home, I don’t want to think about work. My daughter has me into origami. I like to paint. Here, we’re putting the final touches on a remote-control car we built together. Rohan is successfully dodging the photographer.  

Work is part of life. Your life is more important. Be present in the moment. 

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