As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Amanda Gunawan.
Amanda Gunawan is the Founding Principal of OWIU Design and Inflexion Builds, an Architecture and Construction company based in Los Angeles that take on projects from design to build with an emphasis on thoughtful design. At 29 years old, she has successfully helmed two companies that are at the forefront of the design scene in Los Angeles.
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?
I knew from a young age that I wanted to be an architect. I loved solving problems and found so much comfort in deeply analyzing a problem and figuring out the best solution to a particular problem. I found out that I could express these things visually. I decided to combine those two passions and learned to express myself in a visual way and through problem-solving, and thankfully was able to turn this into a career. I was very lucky to have discovered this passion very early on and have never looked back.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
By some odd twist of events I ended up hiring someone I rear-ended in a car accident.
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?
I used to think that I could do everything on my own. It’s true that if you apply yourself, you may be able to figure out most things on your own, but there is so much time and effort wasted by doing everything yourself. If you hire the right people for the right roles and learn to delegate, you’ll save time, money, and energy. I remember when I single-handedly bought, moved, and assembled furniture for a space when I could have outsourced and paid someone only $200 to do the same task, which would have freed up my time. It took me more than three days to complete the job, and at the end of the day, I didn’t do it as well as a hired professional would have.
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?
There is no one particular person, but a whole group of people who helped me along the way. I credit a lot of success to my team of coworkers, friends, and family.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high-stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
It is so important to be in tune with your body. You also should be aware of times when you are not in a state to make decisions or interact with certain people. You also need to know what practices work for you to restore your mental and physical well-being to its usual state. For me, that is running. I do a 15-minute run just to get myself into the right state of mind to think properly, clear my mind, and recenter. Nothing ever comes in the way of this practice. It’s very high on my priority list, and rightfully so.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
Differences are so good for a team. A melting pot of ideas that come from different cultures, backgrounds, and experiences is necessary to keep a company’s creativity high.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
We have to have the modesty to accept that we don’t know everything and therefore have so much to learn from so many others. We must never be fixated on a predetermined idea about anything or anyone and lead without judgement but rather an open mind in trying to understand and embrace diversity. You should not hire based on anything but merit and reward on that basis as well but with the understanding also that the starting points of people vary as they come from different backgrounds.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
The CEO or the executive should be the person with the best foresight for the company overall. They should be able to organize people into their roles, evaluate everyone’s strengths and weaknesses, and delegate tasks accordingly. They should always be impartial, not allow personal issues to cloud their judgments, and always have the company’s best interest at the forefront of the decision-making process.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive? Can you explain what you mean?
That being the CEO means you are the star of the show. Being the CEO simply means you have good foresight, but it most certainly does not mean you are at the top of the food chain. What people forget is that a CEO is absolutely nothing without their team and that most of the time, the CEO does not even have the skills to succeed in every single role within their own organization. A successful company is similar to a working machine, and each component of that machine has to work together to see results. If one piece stops working, the whole machine breaks down and alternatively, the machine cannot exist as just one part.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
It is more difficult to have people recognize that you have opinions worth listening to. We always have to be exceptional or be in a higher corporate position to have people feel like our words are worth hearing. There is also an unfair stigma of women not being as resilient or tough as men, which is not true.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
When you tell people that you are an architect, they assume you spend your days sitting at your desk sketching really cool building designs all day. In reality, you are handling the day-to-day of running a company. On a typical day, I am attending meetings, replying to emails, delegating work, checking in on existing projects, and constantly communicating with consultants, clients, and all the different stakeholders. It is not quite the whimsical picture people paint it to be.
Do you think everyone is cut out to be an executive? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
It is not what people expect, and people need to stop putting the role of an executive on a pedestal. Every person has strengths that make them better for a particular type of job and not as good at another. An executive should be very comfortable about making decisions for the group. If you don’t like making decisions, this is not the job for you. Therefore an executive cannot be people-pleasing because unfortunately, you cannot satisfy everyone. Sometimes you might even hurt people’s feelings. An executive must always be able to put their own personal feelings aside for the greater good of the collective. If you are a highly sensitive person, this may be a tough job for you.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Focus on your team’s well-being but don’t forget to focus on yours as well. When you’re taking care of yourself mentally and physically, you are able to work at peak performance, which will only benefit everyone around you.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I would hope I’ve been able to do this. I love using Instagram as a platform to mentor other people who come to me for advice. I make mistakes and learn from them so that hopefully other people don’t have to.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- That everyone’s journey has bumps in the road. It is more realistic to view your journey as a long series of constant hurdles versus a smooth road. When you see it this way, you start the journey being prepared for bumps in the road rather than thinking it would be a smooth journey and ultimately being under-prepared.
- That planning is always necessary to successfully complete a task. If you succeed at something without planning, that is merely luck and businesses cannot depend on luck.
- Do not try to do everything yourself. Outsource! Especially things you are not good at. You should focus on what you’re good at and not waste time because you are too proud to ask for help.
- Make sure you have a solid financial business plan before anything else. If you’re not good at this, make sure you have a partner who is. Someone has to be the one to keep your company finances in check.
- Nothing is worth sacrificing your health for. At the end of the day, overworking yourself is not going to do anyone any good. Find out your limits and maximum potential early on so you are always leveraging that knowledge and working at your most effective state. Take breaks when you need them.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would want everyone to incorporate physical exercise into their daily lives and companies to enforce this into their workforce. I can’t stress how much this has helped me. Starting off the day with exercise can really help the physical and mental well-being of everyone in your company. There are so many benefits to exercise, I don’t even know where to begin.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You can have just about anything you want, but not everything you want. Maturity is the ability to reject good alternatives in order to pursue even better ones.” To keep trusting yourself and the decisions that you are making and to keep looking forward. You should not live in a state where you have a fear of missing out or the fear of making moves.