Female Executives Share Advice For Future Leaders

Closing out Women's History Month, female executives in the design industry share the best pieces of career advice they've received.

women's history month
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As Women’s History Month comes to a close, Facility Executive spoke with female executives in the design industry to learn about how they achieved their success, and any advice they have for women aspiring to take on executive roles.

The list of successful leaders includes:

Tell us about your background. How did you first get involved with this industry?

Mary Holt: As a Fine Arts student with a concentration in weaving, I had a very persistent professor who insisted I do an internship at Arc Com Fabrics. This opened my eyes to the world of contract textiles, and I have loved it ever since. Now a product designer with over 30 years of experience, I love being able to deliver solution-driven design and promote ethical and sustainable product development.

Kait Paradowski: I have a Bachelor’s degree in interior design from the Fashion Institute of Technology. During my senior thesis year, I had an internship at Carnegie Fabrics. I fell in love with the tactility of design and product development for interiors and have followed that path ever since.

Suzanne Tick: My mother was a set designer, and I worked at the theaters from an early age. From there, I studied weaving in college and always noticed countless ads for textile companies in old interior magazines. I thought, “I could design for companies, just like in the images I saw.” I called, set up interviews with three to four companies featured in the ad campaigns, and planned my first trip to New York City. The rest is history!

Naomi Neilson: I began in the mid ‘90’s by driving my van down throughout Central and Southern Mexico, searching out inspiring artisans determined to help the incredibly talented craftspeople improve their living conditions by reaching a larger market. With a van full of fabulous folk-art, I’d head back to California, focus on my university studies during the week, and show the artisan goods at fairs and art shows. That’s when I realized that the key to helping those artisans thrive was to design more functional, in-demand products – based on their traditional folk-art techniques. With new, exciting products to share, I then moved on to supplying home décor and gift stores, as well as museum gift shops. The next big evolution of my business occurred when I asked my coppersmiths to turn a hammered copper fruit bowl into a sink by adding a drain hole. It turned out there was a lot of demand for a beautiful hand hammered copper sink, and before long, we had transitioned 90% of our handcrafted products from folk-art and décor to sinks and other select products for the kitchen and bath.

Mel Saenz: My grandfather owned and operated an awning manufacturing company in Fort Worth, TX for over 50 years. Every day after school, I would go to the shop and watch the process of manufacturing unfold from the specification stage to the fabrication and hands-on sewing. I got to watch my dad give his sales pitch to architects and designers and loved seeing my grandfather orchestrate welding with his small but skilled team. I would help hammer in grommets and vacuum up scraps and threads that the fabric cuttings left behind and spent hours thumbing through exterior fabric binders.

Since then, I have always had an appreciation for how things are made. In 2006 I had the opportunity to move to NYC to take a sales position with glass mosaic manufacturer Bisazza, where I was given a crash course into the larger international design and manufacturing world. I spent the next several years on the manufacturing and business development side of the tile and stone industry. In 2012 was introduced to the budding design entrepreneur and founder of Juniper, Shant Madjarian at a trade show opening party. I think the term for it now is “meet cute,” but we started dating shortly thereafter. During the week I was talking tile and, on the weekends, I was helping my then-boyfriend assemble light fixtures for a hotel job he landed in Brooklyn. By 2016 I said goodbye to the tile world and began a career in manufacturing lighting with Juniper, and married Shant. Today, working out of our state-of-the-art Connecticut factory reminds me of when I was a kid watching everyone working together to create something special. It’s like a secret language that only we speak.

Vivian Telgarsky: I was originally trained as an Interior Designer and started my career at a traditional architecture firm focusing on high-end single and multifamily residential projects–being in a small firm I gained a ton of on-the-job experience in all aspects of the design and construction process at many scales. When I had the opportunity to join a startup as an interior designer, I quickly found myself forging my own path as I saw an opportunity for me to impact a different part of the business (product sourcing) with my designer’s perspective and as a former customer for the products we were developing. It was a great opportunity to see the process of where all the parts and pieces that had populated my designs had come from and all the work that went into designing and creating them. I fell in love with the process of bringing these products to life and the opportunity I had as a designer to influence the design process before it even started. And that concept is really what led me to KOVA and the idea of a curated product line that encompasses all parts of the building and brings high quality products to market at accessible price points. Creating and curating this brand and product line is like an extreme design exercise–combining the challenges of creating products that aesthetically work together while also layering in the knowledge I’ve gained about bringing quality products to market as part of an efficient supply chain.

Beatrice Ramnarine: After design school, the role that made a significant impact on my path into the field of materials was being the Research Specialist at Material ConneXion, an innovative materials library. Helping designers innovate and problem-solve through the materiality of form and function was a great learning experience. This opened up an exciting interest in manufacturing–how raw materials are sourced, and how they eventually come together as a beautiful, sustainable, and highly advanced product, much like Välinge’s Woodura Technology. As a manager representing a wood flooring manufacturer, it’s all about educating the design community on the next generation of surface finishes and connecting them and their clients to something more profound.

Ilse Beterams: I was introduced to the industry through my brother, who worked for a manufacturer in Belgium at the time. When I moved to France, I interviewed with the owner of Serge Ferrari Group, which was a small, family-owned business at the time of about 55 employees, and I decided to join the Serge Ferrari adventure. The company was back then, and still is, very focused on international growth, which was really compelling to me. My interest in composite materials paired with the international scope of the company made this a very good fit. Now having been with Serge Ferrari Group for 30 years, serving in various capacities and having worked in seven European countries before transitioning to North America, I’ve learned how to adapt my approach for the different professional dynamics and cultures, understanding the unique markets while discovering new opportunities.

What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?

Holt: The best advice I have received is to forget perfectionism. When you keep moving the needle, and are ready to pivot and reiterate, you are prepared to embrace change and continue to adapt to the client’s needs. The other really important piece of advice I cherish and I use as a guiding principle in life as well as business is to surround yourself with good people who lift you up, challenge you creatively, and feed your knowledge.