AIA CEO Lakisha Woods says "her success is tied to their success" at A’22 kickoff
Madame Architect’s Julia Gamolina interviewed AIA’s Executive Vice President and CEO Lakisha Woods on Wednesday, June 22, on the main stage at AIA’s Conference on Architecture 2022 in Chicago. This is Woods’ first conference as AIA’s EVP/CEO, but not, as she noted, her first Conference on Architecture.
Woods assumed her leadership role at the beginning of 2022 and has spent the first five months of her tenure working to position the profession for success in a shifting global landscape.
Woods said that in her first several months in office, she’s been busy asking members what they think AIA’s number one priority should be. “In finding the consistency around where people think our number one priority is, that’s where we’re going to find the greatest opportunity for change and advancement moving forward,” she said.
“I’ve always been seen as a change agent,” she continued. “A change agent is required if we’re trying to make those steps to move the organization forward."
Woods highlighted AIA’s Strategic Plan as one of the main reasons why she was excited to tackle this leadership opportunity.
“I think my background as an association management professional properly aligns with what’s needed for that next step for AIA,” she said. She cited her previous roles at the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, the National Association of Home Builders, and the National Institute of Building Sciences.
“Those big, key issues that are facing one group are facing all of them,” she said. “So I’m excited to be at AIA, where they put in writing what needs to happen next to impact and change this industry and this profession.”
As Gamolina noted, Woods has a proven track record of strengthening the bottom line of the associations she has led in the past – and asked how she was planning to bring that focus to the AIA. Woods cited business acumen gleaned from her father, saying that while many associations don’t currently view themselves as businesses, those times have changed.
“In order for us to achieve our mission, we have to be flexible. We have to operate as a business,” she said, highlighting the products and services that AIA currently offers as potential areas for growth.
“So often, we do it because we’ve always done it that way,” she said of entrenched ways of thinking that can rule an organization’s processes. “I like to ask the question: do we still need to continue to do it? Is it helping the greater number of our members?”
“There are a lot of companies out there that are producing services that compete with associations,” she continued. “So if we don’t learn how to drive the value of why you should pay your dues and become a member of this organization and see it as the best investment you’ve ever made –when you get that invoice, [we want you to say], ‘Deal of the century.’ And if you’re not saying that, we’ve got some work to do.”
When talking about what drew Woods to the AIA, she acknowledged that it was a dream job for her – as well as an exciting opportunity to strengthen both sustainability and equity in the built environment.
“I think about what AIA’s real goal is, and that is being a convener,” she said. “We need all of those [industry] groups to come together and utilize all of our skill sets – for equity, for sustainability – for our designs to truly impact society.”
When it comes to the business case for sustainability and equity, Woods emphasized that there is data-supported evidence that greater diversity and equity in a company’s culture can impact the bottom line – and that sharing success stories from national components and chapters is going to be key to the organization’s messaging going forward.
“For me, that’s where I am focused, and I want to make sure our team is sharing all the great stories that exist across the country,” she said. As leader of the AIA, Woods is unique in two ways – she is not an architect, and she’s also a member of what Gamolina called a “vastly underrepresented group” in the profession.
“How will those qualities help you help the profession thrive?” Gamolina asked. Woods says she’s asking questions that someone from a more traditional architecture background might not ask, and in the process, identifying a “bell curve” where members need help, tools, and resources.
“We have to focus on the solutions that are for the greater good,” she said. “I’m always focused on, what is going to make our members successful? What is going to make them profitable?”
Ultimately, she said, her success is tied to the success of AIA’s members, and that’s where she’s focused as a leader.
“Getting buy-in, finding out what people need, making changes based on what they need – that’s where I am, and that’s where I stay focused,” she said.