As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Wendy Rogers, CEO and Chief Talent Officer at LPA.
Wendy Rogers, FAIA, is CEO and Chief Talent Officer of LPA, an integrated design firm dedicated to creating projects that innovate, inspire and improve people’s lives. Wendy leads a team of more than 400 architects, engineers, landscape architects and interior designers in California and Texas. Recently honored as AIA California’s 2021 Firm of the Year, LPA embraces an inclusive and collaborative approach to create sustainable, timeless and resilient designs for corporate, educational, healthcare, recreation and municipal projects.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
My parents emigrated from England in the early ’60s and raised my sister and I in North Hollywood until 1972, when we moved to Orange County. We had a simple life — playing outside, cooking from scratch, and reading lots of stories. I still joke with my mom that we had a very sustainable existence. She says it was just being frugal!
Every three or four years, we went home to England to see family, generally for the better part of the summer. One grandmother lived in a century-old, thatched roof cottage with thick walls and latched doors. My other grandmother lived on the third floor in a crooked tudor flat at the top of Market Hill in Framlingham. We took walks with the dogs down gated lanes around churchyards and a medieval castle. All of this impacted my perspective of place.
After we moved to Orange County, we continued to attend the same church in Encino for years and spent Sunday afternoons seeing friends before driving home. It was one of these visits that took us to an old friend of my dad’s, an architect, who had designed a new home in Studio City that was under construction. That afternoon changed my life. I knew I would become an architect. In middle school I took drafting and shop classes, and in high school I won a design competition that resulted in my first job in 1984.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I’ve been in this position four years. I’ve spent a significant part of that time charting uncertainty. Sadly, there was no manual left behind on what to do in a pandemic. I had to rely on my partners and our ability as a firm to move quickly and adapt. This pandemic taught humility — I learned quickly that the smartest thing I could do was share what we knew and admit what we didn’t.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Shortly after I took on the role of CEO, we were revamping the way we do our all-hands meeting. Traditionally, it was a pretty humble event in Irvine and we were struggling with how to make it a more equitable experience across all our studios. We had hired a professional video crew — big stage lights, tape marks on the floor, even a backdrop. We flew people in to speak ‘live’ from Irvine to our five studios. I quickly realized that when you give someone a microphone, a spotlight and five minutes to speak, all bets are off. Our one-hour studio meeting lasted almost two hours. We ultimately decided to pre-record the entire thing, so studios could share during lunch in their local time zone. What did I learn? Simple is always better.
As a side note, ironically, our all-hands meeting turned into a small silver lining during the pandemic. When the world shut down, we quickly established an informal, virtual bi-weekly all-hands meeting, took questions from staff and addressed issues as best we could. Each meeting we shared a project in design, celebrated our success helping clients and presented good news around the studios. The meetings felt humble and equitable. Everyone was on screen. We were sharing the experience together.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Dan Heinfeld has been the President of LPA since I started 34 years ago. When I was an intern, he would stop by my desk and ask questions and give guidance. In 1992, I raised my hand to be the lead designer for the California State University’s Chancellor’s office and he trusted me with the project — a bold choice given my limited experience at the time. He is the most optimistic person I have ever known, and he continues to be a source of wisdom and inspiration.