Ed Friedrichs has envisioned what it takes to create successful buildings. Now he envisions what it takes to create successful teams and places, sharing his vision with business leaders around the world.
A California native who earned his bachelor’s degree at Stanford University and his master’s degree in architecture from the University of Pennsylvania, Ed joined Gensler, Architecture Design and Planning Worldwide, in San Francisco in 1969.
He was named president and CEO of Gensler in 1995, leading its development as one of the most influential and successful design firms in the world.
In 2003, he launched Friedrichs Group, LLC to share his wisdom about development of high-performance organizations and places. He is in high demand as a speaker, and his book, “Long-Cycle Strategies for a Short-Cycle World,” describes his strategies for the creative enterprise.
He continues to write a monthly blog, www.edfriedrichs.com, to share his continual learnings about leadership and management.
Ed has lived in Reno since 2014, where he is active as a mentor to startup companies through Summit VMS and as a member of the Reno Streetcar Coalition.
Ed serves on the board of Secundo Vita, LLC, a development company formed to redevelop the West 2nd District, www.west2nddistrict.com, a large section of the west side of downtown Reno. He also serves on the Board of Miyamoto International, a multi-office seismic and structural engineering firm.
He answers our questions:
1. Has the profession of architecture been as much fun as you thought it would be when you started your training in the field?
I must admit, I’ve always had fun in everything I do. In architecture, I’ve noticed that many of my colleagues and competitors over the years take themselves way too seriously. Particularly with clients, I’ve looked for ways to inject fun in our relationships. It’s why we’ve always ended up as good friends. Let me give you an example: when shopping for stone in Europe with a client and our contractor, we started teasing each other about gargoyles – “That one looks just like you!” When it came time to install the stone skin on the building, I commissioned a gargoyle to look just like our client. We secretly installed it above a dining patio on the second floor and had a champagne reception to unveil it. I love staging pranks that put a smile on everyone’s face.
2. What's the coolest project with which you were associated? What made it special?
They’re too numerous to mention, but the thing that made each of them special was our commitment to using design to enhance our client’s business performance. A couple of special ones – a call center which had terrible turnover (average longevity, under six months). The client said we couldn’t spend any money over what she had budgeted and to forget about it anyway – “it’s a lousy job and no one is doing it as a career.” Some special design features at no extra cost got longevity up to 11 months. I still thought this was terrible, but she was so thrilled she told me the reduction in cost of recruiting and training had more than paid for the facility. Another was an airline terminal at LAX. The client’s goal? Increase market share over their two biggest competitors. Result? They increased their market share by nearly 20 percent. Now this is, for me, what makes a project special (and brings great referrals to other clients).
3. What's the single most important lesson about leadership that you seek to impart?
A leader “aspires” and “inspires.” People watch the leaders in their organizations and, if they think the leader’s aspirations are worthy, they’ll work hard to help the whole organization to achieve them. The leader’s role is to inspire everyone, not just fellow employees, but subcontractors, suppliers, even the planning commission, to support that vision.
4. How do the skills involved with good architecture apply to effective leadership?
Architecture is a highly collaborative “team sport.” Because an architect has no authority over the contractor and subcontractors who are executing the design, the architect must create an atmosphere of trust and respect. Without that, little gets done, and nothing gets done right. Every business leader should adopt an attitude of humility and respect for every member of every team, inspiring an atmosphere of trust and commitment to achieve excellence. What business doesn’t face the same challenge?
5. If you had a mulligan on one decision you made in your life, what would you choose to do over?
Early in my training, I made the decision to shift from mechanical engineering to architecture and then to associate with a small firm that mirrored my values and operated in a manner that allowed me to do my best work and realize my potential as a leader. I’ve never regretted that decision or my path. I’ve been very lucky to be surrounded by incredible people who challenged and supported me. They gave me the knowledge, experience and confidence to make quick and mostly wise decisions, oftentimes under pressure and with potentially costly ramifications. While I don’t have one decision that stands out as a do-over, I’d say a strength taken to an extreme can become a weakness. The ability to make on-the-fly decisions quickly and confidently is a requirement in our business, but there are times, both personally and professionally, that a thoughtful pause is advised.