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Profiles in Leadership: Pearl Huang, Director, Shanghai Studio.

September 14, 2016

Profiles in Leadership series is a place where you can find our Woods Bagot leaders sharing their knowledge, experience and expertise. Find out what makes an effective leader, and how they cultivate success.

  1. What is your background? What career path did you follow to get where you are today?
    I was born in China and majored in International Business in Nanjing University. In 1995, I moved to Australia and continued my graduate studies in Business Administration at UTS in Sydney.  After I graduated, I worked for a Hong Kong developer for 10 years where I gained an extensive knowledge of property development, operations and strategic planning. In 2004, I moved from Sydney to Shanghai, and started the Woodhead Shanghai office (with an Australian architectural firm) with one of the key directors of Woodhead. We started with a team of five people and increased to about 70 employees within a few years. In 2009, the studio was acquired by Woods Bagot and by working with other leaders within the global network, we transformed the Shanghai studio into a cooperative, creative and pleasant working environment. This unique quality of the Shanghai Studio, i.e. a corporate firm with a boutique firm setting, has attracted extensive talents and has produced some amazing projects. As an untrained design professional leading a talented office and a mother of three boys, Woods Bagot’s unique corporate culture has offered a bridge from my domestic life to creating a dynamic career possible.
  2. Can you share three key lessons learned from projects you’ve undertaken in the past?
    Know my blind spots—things that I cannot see, yet other people can see quite clearly. Assimilate constant feedback from third parties, which allows me to understand myself better and improve in my leadership skills to tackle my blind spots. It takes courage to be a leader. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things. Instead of panicking, face the challenges and just figure it out. Success is not complete unless the people around me are also successful. Teamwork is key.
  3. In a project you’re currently working on, what is the greatest challenge you’ve faced so far?
    Chongqing Tall Tower. It is the tallest building and the most challenging project so far. The complexity of the project, the demand regarding the high level of unity as a team, the cultural differences and barriers between the marketplace and corporate setting—all these factors needed to be managed. We needed to communicate our efforts with clarity and coordinate more efficiently to thrive. We overcame the difficulties, resulting in our illustration of excellence in design and effectiveness in communication.

  4. What are the most important decisions that you face daily as a leader in your team?
    To love my work and to show respect towards the people I work with, and Woods Bagot makes it easy to do that. As a leader, I want to motivate and inspire an already talented group of people, to empower my team, give them responsibilities that make an impact and lead them to provide excellent designs and services to our clients.
  5. How do you foster creative and innovative thinking within your team? How are ideas shared and implemented?
    As a facilitator for the design team and a bridge between the designers and clients, I believe in the Power of Story. Stories are the means of communication and a successful story can reach across different levels and connect different cultures and backgrounds. I encourage peer-to-peer dialogues and without any hierarchy, to only have room for creative brainstorming. I encourage the team to take an interest in each other’s professional careers on top of being friends. My motto—sharing is caring! A truly successful professional is one that helps others around him or her to reach their true potential. Failure is not to be feared. Failure is one of the greatest tools. We learn from our mistakes, and success based on failure is one of the sweetest accomplishments.
  6. What are you doing daily to ensure your growth and development continues as a leader? If so, how?
    Be humble and curious. Go out there and learn, find new ways of thinking. Keep a work and life balance and have faith in what you do. Allow time for personal thinking and reflection on the day’s work.
  7. What makes a leader successful? What values, principles and characteristics should this person possess?
    A good leader should aim to help others, to create a platform of innovative resources and tools in solving problems. A leader’s success should be measured by how productive his or her team is. Leaders need to have vision and passion. As leaders their impact is crucial, more than anything else. To be a good leader means to be a caring person with strong communication skills, someone who can educate, energize and embolden the entrepreneurial spirit. Leaders need to have self-sacrificing love, to maintain a sense of integrity, honesty and dedication for excellence.
  8. What was/is your favorite project and what elements did you enjoy most about working on that project?
    Tang Foundation is truly one of my favorite projects in the studio so far. Not just because the design is pioneering, but the nature of the project is meaningful. We accepted based on the idea that this is how we, as designers, can give back to the society. As a leader of so many talented designers in the office, I encourage them to create a meaningful design that serves their purpose and inspires them. The result has far exceeded our expectations. We continue to plan ways in which our designers can participate in community services in a creative and meaningful way.

    Another example is the “A Dream” project where we designed classrooms for the underprivileged students in remote areas. We created a sense of purpose for the studio. Working with our talented designers and on inspired projects always give me great pleasure. I love what I do, and I’m lucky to be able to motivate others and give them a sense of what my world entails.

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