AEC Groundbreaking Growth

Building Bold Careers in AEC

April 22, 2024 Stambaugh Ness Season 1 Episode 18
Building Bold Careers in AEC
AEC Groundbreaking Growth
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AEC Groundbreaking Growth
Building Bold Careers in AEC
Apr 22, 2024 Season 1 Episode 18
Stambaugh Ness

Attention Emerging Leaders in AEC! This episode of the AEC Groundbreaking Growth Podcast is for you. We feature Bolanle Williams-Olley, the CFO of Mancini Duffy, a prominent architectural firm based in New York City. Bola discusses her unique career path, highlighting the importance of lifelong learning, embracing opportunities, and giving back to the community. She also shares her BOLD framework, specifically designed to help emerging leaders chart their unique career paths and develop as strong, impactful leaders. This episode is packed with insights and inspiration to help you build a fulfilling and successful career in the AEC industry. Listen in and learn from Bola's experience! 

πŸ”” Don't miss out! Subscribe to Groundbreaking Growth on your favorite podcast platform. Let's ignite growth, shape the future of the AEC industry, and redefine what's possible. Are you ready for some groundbreaking growth? Let's dive in! πŸš€πŸ’Ό

Show Notes Transcript

Attention Emerging Leaders in AEC! This episode of the AEC Groundbreaking Growth Podcast is for you. We feature Bolanle Williams-Olley, the CFO of Mancini Duffy, a prominent architectural firm based in New York City. Bola discusses her unique career path, highlighting the importance of lifelong learning, embracing opportunities, and giving back to the community. She also shares her BOLD framework, specifically designed to help emerging leaders chart their unique career paths and develop as strong, impactful leaders. This episode is packed with insights and inspiration to help you build a fulfilling and successful career in the AEC industry. Listen in and learn from Bola's experience! 

πŸ”” Don't miss out! Subscribe to Groundbreaking Growth on your favorite podcast platform. Let's ignite growth, shape the future of the AEC industry, and redefine what's possible. Are you ready for some groundbreaking growth? Let's dive in! πŸš€πŸ’Ό

Emily Lawrence: Welcome to the AEC Groundbreaking Growth Podcast. 

Jen Knox: Hosted by Stambaugh Ness.

[Opening Credits]

Emily Lawrence: Hi everyone. Welcome to another episode of Groundbreaking Growth. I'm your host, Emily, here with co-host Jen Knox. 

Jen Knox: We have an amazing guest on the line today. We have Bolanle Williams-Olley, the CFO of Mancini Duffy. They are an architectural firm based in New York. Bolanle, could you start by giving us an example of what a day in the life looks like for you and some history on Mancini Duffy?

 Bolanle Williams-Olley: Sure. First of all, thank you so much for having me. I'm happy to be here chatting. I love chatting about my work and my firm, Mancini. So, I'm excited to be here. Really quickly, Mancini is a hundred years old (plus); we are 109 this year. We are a well-established architecture interior design firm based in New York City. Clearly, from my voice, I am not 100 years old. My four other partners and I are in what I would like to call our own legacy-building years. So we have (and our firm's owners) that has a rich legacy. And now, we're in our years of defining the future and what we want Mancini to be known for. We serve a variety of clients, using a tech-forward approach in how we design projects, deliver projects to our clients, and carry them along the process. We have something called our 360 design process. What would it take us in the past three weeks to complete, we can do it in three hours in VR. We have patent-approved software, which we're very proud of, which connects our VR model to the architect's design applications, including Revit, and we bring our clients and key decision makers into the system very early on from the design process. They can walk their space, make real-time decisions, and go straight into the architect's application. And so nothing is nothing is redone. And so it's been exciting over the last few years to see this process unfold and how it has helped shape our thinking. 

 Let's take today as an example of a day in my life. I have spent a good part of today solving issues and problem-solving. For example, I have to close out our benefits renewal. How about that? I have spent a lot of time thinking about our employees and our firm, making sure that we are providing the best offer for our people. And I'm really going to bat and fight with our vendors on that. So, that's one huge task in my day-to-day life. Outside of that, though, it's a lot of supporting our firm from a financial perspective, of course, supporting our project managers and our studio leaders as they navigate their projects on the design side. But also supporting them so they can rely on their finance and accounting team for numbers to help inform the decision-making based on staffing and invoicing. We are now speaking on, this is April 4th, so we are doing Billings. How are we getting our billings out on time? All of that awesome stuff. A lot of that support. Really integrating the accounting and finance team and seeing us as a true partner rather than this separate department from the project team is something I'm really passionate about, and also, again, always thinking about, our financial goals and vision, and making sure that we are on track with the big ideas and growth plans that we have, and taking very calculated risks as we are marching for towards that. So that's a colorful about what keeps me up day and night.

 Jen Knox: I love how you framed going to bat for the employees. You're there as that integral partner and support system for project delivery. As engineers, sometimes we forget that it is a whole team sport, and it takes the entire corporate staff to ensure that we can deliver for the clients. I love that perspective. It's good to remind our listeners and some emerging leaders that it is a team sport and that it takes many different functions to get these projects out the door and be successful.

 Bolanle Williams-Olley: That's right. Yeah.

 Emily Lawrence: It sounds like you have so many different responsibilities and things that you are in charge of and taking care of every day. What is something that the rest of the firm might not realize about your role?

Bolanle Williams-Olley: Exactly what you've just said. How much goes into making sure everything runs smoothly. Let me zoom out for a second from the detail I gave. So, outside of the obvious finance, some of the other things that come under my purview are HR, IT, legal stuff, proposals, talking with our lawyers, and making sure all of those things are handled properly so they're taking care of it on the teams. But a lot also comes under my purview, making sure that, from a compliance perspective, we are doing things appropriately and protecting our employees, too. All those different areas are things that I do. Let me think about one. I'll give an example from a few years ago: a mother's room. Thinking about providing a mother/family room in our office, in our old space, I remember that at that time, it was my three male partners and myself, and we were going to put it in this mother's room on the floor. I was like, a new mom doesn't want to be pumping and feel like her colleagues can hear her. And so, these conversations happen in closed doors, where I'm like, guys, let's move this away into a private space.

 Our employees might not think the CFO or firm leaders are thinking about that. But yeah, that's something that I think about. We have a beautiful space now in our new office, and it's a very private location for new moms. So, that's something I do that falls under office operations. 

 Emily Lawrence: I love that. It speaks so much to the fact that we all have perspectives and should speak up and bring things to the table when we have an idea that needs to be considered and that we feel passionate about.

 So, you have talked a lot about understanding and leveraging these different leadership seasons and your background, like being a mother. Can you provide some of that about your career journey and what you feel are some of those pivotal moments and seasons throughout your leadership journey?

 Bolanle Williams-Olley: Yeah, this is something I love to share and talk about. That's why I'm happy to be here and connect with you and your listenership: everybody's journey is unique. I strongly believe that everyone is a leader. So, the first person you lead is yourself. You may not necessarily have the title, or it's not your path. You don't want to be this "title" person, but in reality, we all have to lead ourselves in all the different points of our lives. Are you leading yourself? Are you honoring the decisions that you have set or the goals that you've said you want to achieve in your life? It comes from leadership. You have to help yourself go along the path. 

 Let me quickly go back to my journey and think about moments when opportunity opened for me. One of the key things was that I was so open to staying curious about learning. If you're starting your career, there's a different season that you're in. A lot of times, if you're new in the career or about to shift, you know you're an emerging leader in the season of learning. And so, are you open to learning? Are you learning from your peers, or are you learning from a mentor or someone you've identified in your firm that you can reach out to, speak up to, share your thoughts, learn something from, or connect with professional organizations? So, you have to be open to learning. 

 I love to give examples so people know I have been through the trenches. I started my career in 2007; 2008 was a financial crisis. I could have just buried my head in the sand. But at that moment, I approached our CFO, my then CFO at the firm I worked at, and said, "Hey, listen, I'm open to learning. I've been working at the company for a year. Can you invest in me? Can you pour into me?" I could have stayed in the department and done my stuff. He probably was like, who's this? But he took a chance on me and said yes. And a lot of the training, a lot of the knowledge, and I love the way I think through problems that came from that timeβ€”a time of uncertainty, a time of not knowing what was going to happen. But I learned so much.

 Fast forward to me now, being a first-time CFO and leading a company through a global economic crisis during COVID. I had to be open to learning from my peers. I connected with and became part of the CFO Leadership Council, learning from other CFOs and knowing I wasn't completely going off track or path but wasn't alone. 

 I'll summarize this by saying, think about what season you are in your career path. And, what is it that you need at that moment? Is it learning? Is it for you to teach someone? As you learn, you also have to pour and be ready for opportunities coming your way. They will come because you have the track record. You've done exceedingly well. You've set yourself apart as a technical expert, so that opportunity to lead will come. And so are you ready when that opportunity comes. But you first have to have been leading yourself to get to that point.

 Jen Knox: Yeah, I love that. And what resonated with me when you're saying that is how you've leveraged learning through different communities. You talked about that CFO roundtable or that group and leveraging the community around you. So our listeners being those emerging leaders and thinking about community and how to best leverage it for your own growth and support, but also give back to it. That's what you were saying about pouring in. How do you view community as part of your leadership journey?

 Bolanle Williams-Olley: The strides I've seen in my path might have happened just a little later. But community and that power of community, be it my friend group, that's community. Sometimes, you might not think about it that way, but a more structured setting like a professional organization that's community. It plays a huge role in giving you the confidence boost you need to figure out paths, making sure you also know you are not alone. It can feel very lonely when you think about our industry. So technical, you're almost like, am I doing things the right way? Am I not? It can feel a little lonely. There's something about plugging into the community and having a space to share your thoughts and ideas and learn. Like the technical side and the interpersonal side, dealing with relationships and people, because that's about 80% of the work we can do. It's more about like relating with people. All of that comes, if you're able to plug into community early. Some people are shy; maybe you need to be in a better social setting. It doesn't matter. Just go. In your own unique way of communicating, you will find a way to connect with people in that community.

 It is only for your benefit. There's no disservice done by trying or testing out being a part of a community. 

 Emily Lawrence: I think, too, one of the things within your journey that's so inspiring is how much you have raised your hand and said, I want the opportunity; I will learn and then embraced that as an opportunity to jump in and build a community around you. But as a younger leader and a younger professional, it can be intimidating to do that. One of the misconceptions as a younger person when they are being thrust into a position, is that they're not expected to know everything, as some of it comes with experience. And I think good leaders don't expect that when putting a young professional into that situation. And that's a misconception. They expect you to take ownership of your learning. But you're not necessarily supposed to know every single thing about every single thing. You will learn some things on the job, and that's expected.

 Bolanle Williams-Olley: I 100% agree with that. Based on what you shared, there's a lot of onus on the leaders and what space and environment you are creating. If you are elevating, and we should be elevating, younger folks early in their careers or people you've identified as having something, you know they're on the right path or need that next step in their professional development. We should foster a space where they know they're not expected to know it all. They should not be questioning or feeling that pressure. We already have that pressure on ourselves. Regardless, it doesn't matter your level. We all put that pressure, but there's some onus on us as leaders to say, hey, listen, it's okay. The faster we can either get through something we don't know, experience it, or work on a particular project we've never seen, that's an experience we're building. But if you come into that role and you're acting like you know it all and you don't need any help, then that's where the issues are.

 It's not just on the emerging leader; it's on the seasoned leader to make sure that they're also doing that work that you've not just thrust someone on your team and put them in a position to fill. What have we done to make sure that they're successful? It doesn't mean they won't make mistakes earlier on, but they know that mistakes will be made and make it more about what we're doing to fix it moving forward. And you, as the person on the team navigating your own path, know not to do this again. And now you know what not to do. But, I like to put some ownership on the leaders also.

 Jen Knox: It's all about that safe space that you're creating. And if it is conducive to learning and development, and saying, I have a question about this, or you don't fully understand, can you explain it to me, or I have a new idea, or could we look at it doing this, I like doing it this way? That is a cultural component of how your firm is run, and you need to build it intentionally.

 Bolanle Williams-Olley: Yes. Now, if you ask after the 10th time, then that's a different case.

 Emily Lawrence: There's a little resourcefulness.

Bolanle Williams-Olley: So you, like, listen, we're in the technology age, so let's get to it. But yes, it has to be a two-way street and creating that space. 

Emily Lawrence: Thank you for saying that and sharing that insight from a leader. I love that. It sounds like, in your journey, leadership and continuous learning seem to be such a key part of your career path. We also talk a lot about passion and learning and that being a guiding light in people's careers, they make choices. But how have you leveraged that passion for learning outside the career path? And you do a lot of work with nonprofits and have this real passion for education. And I would like to know if you can speak to that.

 Bolanle Williams-Olley: Yeah. One of the four pillars of my life is service and what that means to me. As you know, and as you have the opportunity to give back, I'm actually doing that. Right. So, I'm a lifelong learner, but I'm also always thinking about what people are learning. How can I create resources, for example, through my nonprofit called She Builds Lives? How can I give back to Nigeria, where I was born and raised and lived until I was 17? How can I give back to children that are in, disadvantaged communities? How can I provide better quality education or improve the access to education that they're receiving? My nonprofit is now 11 years old. Wow. And, we do really important work. One of our flagship projects is called Project Tutored. We teach children in these communities 2 or 3 skills and also academic intervention. We have a school on a floating community. It's all on water. I want to give some context. Let's quickly go back to COVID in America, for example, where most kids went to remote learning, and kids had access to school through the internet. In this particular community, there's no electricity, no 24-hour power, no internet, no Wi-Fi, and all of that. So, we had to think about how do we deliver education during this period where we didn't know when the kids would be able to come back to school?

 We ended up buying radios because the state was broadcasting Math, English, and Science lessons through the radio. So we bought radios for every child, and they attended school for free. We also provided some rice so that they could have some food at home. These kids were listening to lessons at home through the radio. Something like that makes me want to continue to give or help bring more awareness to the situations of children there, over here in the States. I have access to an amazing AEC community. Why wouldn't you want to help deliver however little we can? That goes a really long way there. And then, really quickly, I started two other organizations. One is called She Builds Waves, and it was when I became a leader; it's a space for other women within the industry, regardless of department, to connect, come together, talk, and share resources that help them during their career path and journey. Then, She Builds Money, created for small farm owners, breaks down financial concepts easily; I call it KISS Keep It So Simple so that they can run financially successful firms. So, I created a couple of free resources that they could use to help them navigate their finances and make them feel more empowered.

 Right. So, these are things that I've learned right along my journey at becoming leader. How do I help others on their path? I have now 17 years of experience in finance within the industry. How can I create something that can help others? So that's where passion outside my very, important and busy role, these are things I've done to help others along the way.

 Jen Knox: And it sounds like when we're giving back in that way, yes, we are pouring out to others, but oftentimes that fills our cup mentally. Those are the things that sustain us. And, it's that full circle moment where we're able to pass it on. But it's also just an amazing thing to do for that community and for yourself.

Bolanle Williams-Olley:  Yes. Yes, it's finding some outlet, be it one person, it could be your coworker you connect with because not everyone has that calling to go, set up an initiative and do all of that, it just happens to be mine. But not everybody has that. It doesn't mean that you don't have a way to pour back or give out, or that your way, which we all define, is not less important than the other. So again, if it could be one person, it could be one child or your license, and you want to help somebody during their license. Your path could be anything. Or you want to help kids with Legos or whatever it is.

 But I want to go back to what you said. The things that help us when work gets tough are those areas that we plug in to outside of work, or that that fills you up. Work is tough. It is hard. So, how are you fueling yourself? And if you don't have something that is your spark of joy, then a lot of burnout comes in because you're just not doing things you enjoy. And I'm not going to say that throughout your entire career, it's all about smelling the roses. No, but during those periods where it's more of lulls, how do you find your joy? I always say it's by taking your thoughts off yourself and looking into somebody else. And for that little moment, you're plugged into something that is not just about you. That's kind of what helps you until you get back to the mountain, the feel-good times.

Emily Lawrence: Yeah. There are highs and lows, and some of that seasonality in your career. And, I mean, you are just incredibly impressive. Not just what you have done, your passion for building others up, I think is so incredibly inspiring as well. And on this podcast, since we are geared toward that next generation leader and younger people, we really try to focus on guiding that next generation as they're navigating career paths and making those strategic choices along the way.

Your book "Build Boldly, Chart Your Unique Career Path, And Lead With Courage" offers a beautiful framework for that journey. I wonder if you can give us some guidance through that bold framework and how people might use it to forge their career paths.

Bolanle Williams-Olley: Yeah. I love the word bold. That's the name my would have been called, "Bold." I woke up at like 4:00 a.m., and I was like, oh, my God, the book is called "Bold," but because I also love the built industry and I love the word "Build," which is why I was like, no, you have to "Build Boldly." 

But yes, the BOLD framework. I love acronyms, and I love reflecting a lot. I think you learn a lot about yourself and your path when you reflect. When I reflected, one of the strong themes that came about was this idea of boldness. And when I went back to dig a bit deeper, what does being bold mean? That's where the acronym of the framework was birthed, which is B, which stands for "Be Yourself." It sounds very, very simple, but it actually isn't. A lot of us walk around with a facade of who we are. We walk around, especially in our workplaces, where we spend much of our time as people we are not.

And what do I mean by "Be Yourself"? It's thinking about integrity. Who are you outside and inside closed doors? Are you leading your life with integrity, leading authentically to you? Are you being kind to people? Is there respect? Think about who you are. Who is this unique person, and how are you showing up at work? How are you showing up in life? The book is a career path. But think about it overall. I actually sit and say, who am I? And do you like the person that is showing up every day? And if you don't, how do you start this journey to becoming more of yourself? What then happens is that as you sit and show up as this person, you begin to attract and find the right work environment, the right people that you should be talking to, and the right opportunities, which leads me to all that you should be taking. 

O stands for "Open Your Mind" to new definitions and opportunities. What have you defined as your career path? Is this what you should be doing, or are there opportunities to open yourself up to? Are you open to learning? Are you open to plugging into a community? Maybe you weren't in the past, but this is something you need to do to help you develop and gain skills, an understanding, and wisdom to help you figure out your career path. L is "Life Others." That's what you ladies are doing on this podcast. This is your way of lifting emerging leaders. By finding those of us who somehow, someway, found ourselves in some leadership position, you have a passion, a burden to provide and dispel; what is leadership? That's really what both of you are doing. You're hosting this podcast so that an emerging leader is coming up and thinking, "Oh, I think I'm this person." Then, listen blindly to your podcast, "That's my kind of leader." She leads. So, I think I can do this. You have to lift others as you are. At whatever phase in your journey, you have to find a way to lift others. 

 D is "Don't Wait, Do It Now". When I was thinking about the my journey at different points where I either had an inflection point or an opportunity came my way, it was because I didn't wait. I took the opportunity. I got out of my own way. A lot of us are in our own way. Think about something you want to do. Maybe you want to start a podcast. You may want to take the lead on a project. You may wish to be exposed to doing a particular type of work. How do you then get that? It's by not waiting. It's by going up in an organization that encourages that. We know that not everyone is like roses, but Okay, have you tried? And if you have yet to try. Okay, let's try and see. Don't just say, oh, no, they're not going to listen to me. They're not going to hear my opinion. They're not going to give me this opportunity to try. Because very quickly, you begin to see if you're meant to be somewhere, if you're not, or who your tribe is or isn't. It gives you more clarity. It gives you more power to march forth. 

This is all a muscle. Boldness is a muscle. And if you're not exercising it, it's like you're not doing exercise in real life; whatever it is, it will always seem daunting. But when you think about the whole framework and apply it to yourself, your path, and your life, you will see that the journey that you're on is so much better. It's so much fun. You begin to trust yourself more. You start to know what is for you and what isn't, and that comes from something inside of you, but you have to want it.

My book is not for people who don't want to get in that driver's seat because when you read it, it will light something within you, and you'll be ready to go. You need to want to be ready to go as an emerging leader or even as a seasoned leader; you need to want to see a switch. You want to be operating in a different way than you've been operating so far, or if you're already operating in your, in a good zone, you're ready for the next level. 

Jen Knox: I love that. I mean, the framework "BOLD" (to your point, I love that word) to me, you said it there at the end; you have to do it now. You have to try the opportunities to understand and come to terms with what you are interested in and passionate about, which allows you to be that authentic self more often. As you try out, test, different hats, you go through different scenarios, etc. It's like when we started with continuous learning and always having an open mind and understanding of what season in life you are in and what opportunities you can take advantage of. How can you leverage that community and power back in? So, the BOLD framework, I think is a great way to summarize everything you've said, here today and your journey. And we thank you so much, Bola, for being on and being able to share your insights. If you had to get one last comment for an emerging leader in AEC, what would that be?

Bolanle Williams-Olley: Be BOLD

Emily Lawrence: Well, that's amazing. Thank you so much again for joining us and sharing your story with the next generation of leaders lisening. And to our listeners, we hope today's conversation has inspired you to build a career path and move more boldly. Thank you for tuning in, and again, thank you so much for joining us. 

Bolanle Williams-Olley:  This was so much fun. Thank you for having me.