With an education that spans psychology, advertising, marketing and cultural anthropology, Lara has honed her ability to translate complex global consumer trends into understandable, workable and profitable outcomes for her clients. As Strategy Director and a Firmwide Leader for Gensler’s Retail Practice Area, Lara informs the design process through research, trend analysis, and her knowledge of business, brand and consumer needs.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
<<Laughs out loud>>
I don’t have that “I knew from a young age” story. I was always fascinated by people and how they made decisions, and that led me to study psychology, advertising, and cultural anthropology at university, and I had the opportunity to intern in advertising agencies and design firms while I was there.
When I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do as a career, I had determined that I wanted to do something that was both creative and analytical, so I looked up industries and professions that would allow me that opportunity. Truthfully, I instantly got overwhelmed and decided to just get out there and try something. I worked at a dot.com, a publishing company, and a magazine before I ended back up at a design firm!
Gensler puts talent development at the forefront of the business, and as such each year we review our professional development plans. I can definitely say that my 15 years at Gensler has not been a straight line. I’ve gone from marketing to brand to back to marketing to retail back to marketing back to retail, and from New York to Los Angeles to London. I’ve gained perspective and I have embraced every opportunity that has been put forth. Through this amazing set of situations, I have ended up where I am today, and I am enriched from the perspective and the journey.
Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?
For sure—and LOTS of challenges at that! I finished university early, which put me in companies where I was the youngest person by four years in some cases. I entered every role without thinking of hierarchy and thought that anything was possible and that my opinion mattered as much as the CEOs.
I would look for ways to constantly improve or evolve business processes, communication strategies, and culture, and in hindsight, I don’t think that a lot of the leaders knew what to do with a person like me. So understandably, I was met with resistance. But I persisted. Years later, a mentor said to me that I prepared him for millennials entering the workforce (which is a funny thought now!), but being the lone wolf in that situation was a challenge in itself.
What advice would you give someone who wishes to move in to a leadership position for the first time?
Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it?
In all seriousness, I think that people often confuse leadership and management. Both are incredibly important to an organisation, but they are not the same thing. It is important to know if you are best suited to be someone who builds their career on a subject matter and grows people through it, or if you are best suited to manage people. It is important to be aware of your strengths, and to not be afraid to communicate your weaknesses. I have found that I am better at leading, not managing. And in truth, I learned it the hard way. So, I would advise anyone to look for partners that complement your capabilities as it is easier to do things with a partner than on your own.
When faced with two equally-qualified candidates, how would you decide who should have the role?
That’s easy—I choose the person with the best attitude and who demonstrates the greatest amount of passion towards what they do.
How do you manage your own boss?
If your boss is successful, the team is successful. With that, I have found that in relationships with colleagues it is important to remove ego and idea ownership and just be honest and transparent about what needs to get done and why. The “why” is the important part of the equation—if you manage up through the “why,” you provide your boss with the tools and justification to sell ideas to clients or in some cases, to their bosses.
On a typical workday, how do you start your day and how does it end?
Honestly, there is no such thing as a typical day in my world. In some cases, my day starts and ends at Heathrow, in other cases I’m at the office on a deadline and my day doesn’t end! What’s for sure is that my day never happens according to plan, and I have completely given up trying to control how it is going to go. I work until everyone has what they need from me to keep the wheels turning, and that is really the only constant to my day.
What advice can you give to our members about raising their profiles within their own organisations.
Don’t focus up, focus within. A lot of people think that raising profiles is about moving up, but in my experience, if you find something you love to do, consistently do good work, and just focus on being a great collaborator, you’ll raise your profile.
How have you benefited from coaching or mentoring?
I am coached by those who I work for, those who work alongside me, and those who work for me. I recognise that I have faults, and when someone calls me out on them, it helps me to grow as a person and as a professional. I welcome constructive feedback and criticism; It isn’t always easy to take, but when someone is willing to share their opinion about you with you, it is a gift.
As for mentors, I have had three incredible mentors in my lifetime, two seasoned professionals who have had successful careers charting their own paths and one who has peer mentored me over the years. One taught me the importance of owning my instincts, one taught me the importance of empathy and integrity, and one taught me about loyalty, humility, and keeps me in check.
All three have taught me the importance of relationships and that family isn’t just something you are born into, but something you create. I wouldn’t be who I am today without the three of them.
Do you think networking is important and if so, what 3 tips would you give to a newbee networker?
- Be yourself.
- Be yourself.
- Be yourself.
Don’t try to be something you are not—it is hard enough to manage multiple social media accounts, don’t add multiple personalities to the mix!
What does the future hold for you?
I don’t know…and to be honest, I like it that way! But I can say that I hope it includes some great people to work with, more amazing clients, and some unforgettable adventures along the way!!!