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Female Disruptors: Suzette Subance Ferrier of TPG Architecture On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

Train your replacement — You can’t move up into your next role unless there’s someone to take over your current responsibilities. Pass down your wisdom to the next person in line so that you’re ultimately able to move forward with ease.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Suzette Subance Ferrier.

Suzette joined TPG in 2012 and has more than 20 years of experience as a designer and professional. As a Managing Executive and Studio Creative Director, she has been responsible for the successful design and completion of some of TPG’s most prestigious projects, and she was named Contract Magazine’s 2017 Designer of the Year. As a result of her diverse project experience, she is able to articulate and meet project goals, budgets, and schedules, no matter what the project requires. Spending time with her children, doing jig-saw puzzles, and knitting are some of Suzette’s favorite past times.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Early on I had a natural curiosity on the interior environment and its effect on people. Retail design in particular caught my attention since I was curious as to how consumers are influenced through subliminal cues and messaging. The idea of being able to move people through design was powerful to me.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

We’re living in a transformative time of workplace design. Designers like me are changing the way the office is going to look when we finally get to go back in. Even before the pandemic, we were working with our clients on some drastic changes like taking away people’s desks in exchange for address-free work environments. I think especially in American culture there’s this idea of ownership that’s hard to sever, so when we introduce non-traditional work elements employees are sometimes taken aback.

The way I view my profession is that if I’m able to create thoughtful solutions through design that improve someone’s work-life then I’ve done my job. From selecting better ergonomic furniture to putting the coffee machine on the right side of the floor, the details make a difference.

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?

This is not so much a mistake but just a humorous time in my life to look back on. When I first started my career I worked on a lot of projects for law firms. One firm, in particular, was thinking of making the switch of their paper size from legal to letter. Before doing so, they wanted to calculate the number of inches of files the lawyers would be losing. With this in mind, I was tasked with counting all the files in the office by floor, by attorney, by partner, etc. As tedious as this was, it taught me to be very analytical in my approach and use both sides of my brain to solve challenges.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

When I was in High School, my English teacher exposed me to the DECA Emerging Leaders Group. This program allowed me to travel the country, attend various seminars, volunteer, and meet people outside of New York City. This further instilled a business/leadership mindset in me with an emphasis on helping my local communities.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Back in the mid-90’s the TBWA Chiat/Day advertising agency decided to go off course and create a very powerful, high design workplace. Founder Jay Chiat believed the conventional office structure was antiquated and needed to be reimagined. This new virtual workplace pushed the limits on what space could achieve, but it was conceived way beyond its time. The untethered office model of no offices, no desks, and no real places to sit didn’t support the limited, or lack thereof, technology of the time. Ultimately, this disruption did not work in the agency’s favor and became a barrier to achieving productivity.

Disruption in design can be positive as long as you look at the organizations you’re working with on a holistic level. You have to understand the values of the workforce, operational needs, and available technological infrastructure. We can’t just design for the sake of design. At the end of the day, the workplace is a business tool and it is so rooted in people, productivity, and performance. As designers, we need to stay mindful of this and help to reimage spaces that can further enable employees and empower our clients as a whole.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Train your replacement — You can’t move up into your next role unless there’s someone to take over your current responsibilities. Pass down your wisdom to the next person in line so that you’re ultimately able to move forward with ease.

Always say thank you — This goes hand and hand with treating others, no matter what their position may be, with respect and sincerity.

Take advantage of spellcheck — Make sure your ideas are always clear and concise as possible. You never want your words to be misinterpreted, especially when speaking to diverse audiences.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

I’m shaking things up daily with every client call and collaborative session with my team. As I mentioned earlier, we’re working with a variety of clients on their strategies for returning to the office. What decisions we make now are going to affect the lives of thousands of people — will they have a desk, how often will they go into the office?

This is a challenging time where we’re faced with a lot of unknowns and new information is coming through every day. As a designer, I need to use all of the resources I have to make the best recommendations. We can’t take for granted any piece of insight from our clients. Also, when taking into consideration the real estate market, these decisions will stick with our clients for the foreseeable future of up to 15/20 years. My main focus now is finding solutions that keep our clients and their employees feeling safe, well, and secure.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

In my observations and personal experience, I’ve felt that we as women feel this innate sense to prove ourselves in our professional settings. This is because many of us suffer from imposter syndrome. We might be the first woman at the table, or the first person of color, or the youngest, and we wonder, “Why am I here?” For some reason, we can’t accept that we’ve made it to where we are today because of our merit and hence we feel the need to continue to prove ourselves to our peers.

In the later part of my career, I feel like most of the men I’ve encountered are more “enlightened” and treat women as equals. I do think that the times are changing, and as more women are represented in their respective industries perhaps the feelings of internalized inadequacy may start to fade.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

I’ve been listening to Michelle Obama’s podcast lately. She touches on a lot of interesting topics outside of her life in politics. Mentorship, family, health, and wellness are themes that are tied to her episodes. I find it very inspirational and multidimensional — I highly recommend it.

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 have always been an advocate for helping more women stay in the workforce. Time and time again women are faced with the difficult decision of taking leave from their jobs when they want to start a family. I strongly believe that on the government level we need to do better to address the growing issue of available childcare.

Time is such a valuable thing, and if we can create a supportive working environment that allows for more flexibility for working moms I know that would make a difference. We need to change the mindset of employers and start leading with empathy. I do foresee hybrid work continuing after the pandemic. While that will help make a difference, there is a lot more work that needs to be done.

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

My aunt used to say something along the lines of, “Always fluff the grass after you’ve walked across it.” What she meant by this was that we should leave the places we’ve been in a better state than we found them. Respect your surroundings so that the next person who comes along can appreciate them just as much as you did.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can connect with me on LinkedIn:

You can also follow the work TPG Architecture, my firm, is doing via Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!



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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

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