Authority Magazine
Published in

Authority Magazine

Ariane Steinbeck of RPW Design: “Perfection simply does not exist; But don’t let that be an excuse for substandard work”

Listening engenders respect. I find that I learn a lot from listening to almost anyone. My love of reading adds to that too, just in a different way. Don’t let yourself be intimidated by men, your competitors or a huge task. And although perfection is a nice goal to have, it simply does not exist…however, don’t let that be an excuse for substandard work or attitude.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Ariane Steinbeck.

Ariane is the Managing Director of RPW Design and fully involved in all the practice’s activities, working closely with the different design teams on ongoing projects and new proposals. Prior to joining RPW Design, Ariane was one of the founding partners of a US-based hospitality design practice. Ariane spent nearly a decade working and living in Hong Kong, where she established the firm’s Asia-Pacific Headquarters and worked on projects in SE Asia and the Middle East. She is an active contributor in the hospitality & interior design industry, serving as a frequent speaker and judge at hotel industry events and awards. She is a commentator on changing trends and guest expectations in numerous notable trade publications and documentaries. Aside from English, Ariane is fluent in the German and Spanish languages.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Upon graduation from Cornell University in 1987, I received a job offer from a highly respected hotel interior design practice in LA, with the princely annual salary of USD 14,000. At that time, the hotel design business was still in its infancy and I did not have a lot of job offers to choose from, so needless to say, this offer was too good to come true. Excitedly, I called up my dad to ask for help with a car, as I would certainly need one in LA. His response was that he had just finished paying for four years of college, so I could probably find a job that paid more…and hung up on me! So, out of necessity, I had to become an entrepreneur and joined a business start-up in Chicago focusing on hospitality design and consulting. Out of humble beginnings, we grew that business from four founders to over 100 employees with offices in Miami, New York and the West Coast. In 2007, right before the Great Financial Crisis, I moved my family (husband and two young boys aged four and six) to open the Hong Kong office, followed by an additional one in Manila. After almost a decade in the Far East, the distance from the US, diverging interests and business strategy, I decided to leave the company that I helped found — after 28 years.

At the same time, I met Jan Wilson who was the Principal of RPW Design and was looking for a successor so that she could take a step back — it was the ideal timely coincidence.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Well, I think that story still remains yet to be written! Given COVID-19 destruction of the hospitality industry on a worldwide scale, we are anxious to find new business and emerge stronger — although that smacks of a platitude right there. I continue to be hopeful of and for the future. I have survived a few recessions; we will survive this one too.

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?

When we were starting out, finding work was quite difficult because we had no completed work to show on our portfolio.

So, on the request of my then-partners, I hopped on a flight to a forlorn midwestern town to check out a prospective job…a motel that looked as if it might have potential, but I strongly disagreed. The owner picked me up from the airport but the owner’s wife had apparently not agreed to hire a designer. Touring the property, we happened to stumble upon the owner’s wife spray-painting a black pattern onto a gold-painted barstool using a doily as a template. She screamed at me that I shall not DARE use her secret techniques for other clients. I could not get out of there fast enough.

Lesson: Go with your gut-most of the time, your gut is right.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Because we are a relatively small team, I am very much in favour of people setting their own schedules, where they want to work from and how they want to work. Of course, this is only able to be realistic when good internal communication is functioning, so you know deadlines are not being missed and you know where the team is at all times.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We are fortunate to be working in an industry that helps create and make memories…a hotel stay, a great meal, a retreat from everyday life. Most projects that manage to keep the quality through the execution phase end up being special.

We are currently working on the guestroom portion of the renovation of the Four Seasons Hotel in Hampshire and are eager to see the outcome after having renovated the meeting spaces earlier this year! We can’t wait to see people using it and making great memories — when it is safe to do so.

I also want to see our Beach Club at the Four Seasons Hotel in Bahrain open, it is a great concept for teens, kids and the child in all of us. Something for the entire family to enjoy.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Listening engenders respect. I find that I learn a lot from listening to almost anyone. My love of reading adds to that too, just in a different way. Don’t let yourself be intimidated by men, your competitors or a huge task. And although perfection is a nice goal to have, it simply does not exist…however, don’t let that be an excuse for substandard work or attitude.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Do your best not to become personal friends while you are still working at the same place. Real or perceived, playing favourites is a terrible idea, especially when things go wrong — and they always do.

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?

My godmother. She was incredibly generous to people who she liked. Her sense of style and her assuredness has been a great inspiration.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

My financial resources are limited but I do support the Philippine couple who took great care of us in Hong Kong and their children. They are my family now. I like to give back to Cornell University and really, be as hospitable as I can to my family and friends.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Nobody looks out for you, but you

I relied blindly on business partners to look out for my best interests — twice, and that is one time too many.

2. Do not compromise on your convictions or morals

If clients treat their colleagues or partners with disrespect, they will not treat you or your team any better. Sometimes you need to fire a client who misbehaves. The customer is not always correct and you have every right to be treated with dignity — even if you are “the help”.

3. Understanding a culture through food

I have found that common ground can easily be found through a shared meal, no matter if you speak the language or not.

4. WOMEN! Don’t try to be a man

I went on a business trip to Japan when my son was 5 months old and I was still nursing. Standing in a toilet (they have the right electrical outlet!) in a speedy Shinkansen train pumping my breasts so my milk would not dry up is not a highlight I am proud of, in hindsight.

4. Delegate!

The problem so many competent people encounter, is that of delegation. Delegating something does not absolve you of the responsibility, however there is no way you can get everything done by doing it all yourself. When you delegate you must accept that the outcome will not have been exactly what you have envisioned, but micro-managing the task that you just delegated will drive you and the person you delegated to, ‘round the bend’.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would love to be effective at working to erase inequality in general, and argue for better pay in the hotel industry specifically. I think anyone working a 40 hour week — and then some — should be able to keep a roof over their heads and feed themselves. It is baffling to me that so many people in the USA are working three or four low-wage jobs, and can barely provide the basics. Healthcare not even included… it is simply unconscionable to me that a civilised society allows that to happen when many major companies don’t pay any taxes, and all that’s entirely legal.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Trust, but verify. It is a Russian proverb, favoured by Ronald Reagan. Unfortunately, I am way too trusting and don’t verify enough — and it gets me into trouble.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

Can I pick someone in politics? I cannot wait to see what Alexandria Ocasio Cortez will do next, she is a remarkable force and I greatly respect her passion.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis


Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.