Be the author of your own story
My love of beautiful things and my passion for travel inspired me to pursue a career in luxury design.
I started as a first-generation student, and now I’m the first female CEO of PYR, a leading luxury design firm. Curiosity, hard work, and a voracious desire for new challenges fueled my rise. My professional journey has been extremely rewarding and I believe my experience could inspire other women in creative leadership roles.
I was the first person in my family to go to college. I didn’t have a card. My only advice came from a high school counselor who told me about a free Saturday design program at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) in Manhattan. I applied for college there. I was totally alone. My mother provided me with emotional and spiritual support, but paying school fees was a significant obstacle. I found a part-time job at a small design company and stayed focused on my development as a designer. I stayed with the same company all through college, graduating in the middle of a major recession.
Opportunities emerge from a vacuum. I continued to work at this company for over eight years, approaching it as a real-world laboratory for everything I had learned in FIT classrooms. The years after graduation are an incredible learning experience, absorbing so much, almost as if by osmosis. New to design, I said yes to every opportunity. I viewed every task, no matter how seemingly insignificant, as a chance to expand my knowledge in the field. Sorting samples in the materials library was an education in itself; I learned about the nuances and qualities of different materials and met many suppliers that would further impact my career.
Saying yes to new roles gave me a 360 degree view of the industry early on in my career. I seized opportunities that other people missed, like taking measurements in the field, preparing tedious working drawings, and developing renderings. I walked through construction sites with construction foremen when no other designer wanted to. I was also closely involved in new business development.
Over time, I have made it a point to attend industry conferences and events, locally and globally. Immersing myself in these events gave me a global vision of the field, as well as a large network of professionals on whom I could count in the future. Finally, I led presentations and panel discussions as a thought leader and design expert.
Women approach leadership differently. We have had divergent formative experiences from our male peers. We see things through a different lens.
Nobody ever said to me, “You can’t do it.” But in the 1980s, a well-meaning mentor once advised me, “Remember this is a man’s world, learn to navigate it and you will succeed in your career.” Neither baffled nor insulted, I took this as sage advice to a young woman embarking on her career.
We’ve come a long way since then, but change is happening slowly. Just as I have challenged the status quo over the years, today I enjoy the experience of being challenged by the younger members of my team. In good faith, difficult questions serve to open people’s minds and build intimacy and trust between colleagues. Tough questions lay the groundwork for change.
Active listening is one of the most powerful tools a leader can use and model. Often, increased receptivity among team members leaves both the creative team and the client better prepared for challenges and more open to change. Cognitive, creative and professional leaps often stem from feelings of discomfort. A healthy and generative work culture should recognize and accommodate these complex interpersonal dynamics.
The more diversity you have in an organization, the broader perspective you have. Different perspectives, different solutions. Bigger ideas, bigger accomplishments. The complexity of large hospitality projects always involves large and diverse teams of designers, planners, engineers, builders and other contributors. It is important for existing leaders to ensure that everyone has equal access to leadership roles in these long and complex projects.
During my first two decades as a designer, I sought out strong and nurturing mentors. I looked for mentors who explained “the why”, who sat and drew with me, and who inspired and challenged me. Challenges work both ways: the mentor and mentee need to address the discomfort. Discomfort in the face of challenges gives way to new ideas. A healthy mix of peer pressure, competition, inspiration, and collaboration enhances creativity.
What does effective mentorship look like? Active listening. Collaboration. Compassion. In my current company, there is strong support for female executives. Ongoing conversations, mentorships, and friendships cultivate a sense of community where everyone feels supported, regardless of skill level.
Collaboration strengthens professional communities. As the first female CEO of a world-renowned luxury hotel company, I believe I have a moral responsibility to ensure that all of my designers and team members have opportunities to succeed and grow. . The availability of senior management is essential to the cohesion and growth of the team. I make it a point to be available to anyone who needs me.
I have built many amazing relationships through successful networking with people. I value the face to face interaction in the relationship building process. I want to make sure that the teams I coach have the same opportunities as me, because these experiences have made all the difference in my growth as a professional.
As a leader, a powerful vision of the future is a necessary tool for defining purpose, but in our time, qualities such as receptivity, compassion, and a willingness to admit what you don’t know are also major strengths. Vulnerability can be an asset – it makes you human and accessible.
I never see challenges as obstacles. Obstacles often present an opportunity. Although the pandemic has been particularly harsh on women, it has also brought about massive changes in the creative workplace. We enter an almost unrecognizable professional universe. Power dynamics are changing rapidly and we have our seats at the table.
My advice: Be receptive. Listen. Learn. Hit the pavement. The rejection of the field, grow from it. Say yes!
Amy Jakubowski is managing director of the prestigious design firm PYR (Pierre-Yves Rochon).
The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or the CoStar Group and its affiliates. Bloggers posted on this site are free to express opinions which may be controversial, but our aim is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our community of readers. Feel free to contact an editor with any questions or concerns.
Return to the Hotel News Now home page.