MCG color logo upd

Insights Post

Line 1 resized 1

Building Community From the Inside Out: LinkedIn Live with Pope Design Group

horizontal FW teal

Pope Design Group was growing and evolving. They needed to refresh their brand identity and messaging to align with the evolution of their business and their team! Hear from Pope Design Group President + CEO Ward Isaacson and Vice President + Principal Erica Larson as they join Mercury Creative Group Founder Justin to discuss building community from the inside out.

Video Transcript

Justin Bieganek: Hello, everybody. Welcome to another LinkedIn Live. I’ve got Ward and Erica with me today, and you’re gonna hear all about them and their brand transformation and the evolution of Pope Design Group over the years. My name’s Justin. I’m the founder of Mercury Creative Group. We are the branding professionals who bring clarity and purpose to the teams that we work with to propel their organizations forward. I’ve had a lot of fun working with these leaders over the last 24-plus years. So what I’m doing with these LinkedIn Live events is bringing their stories to all of you, to a larger community. To share their transformations, both personally – their growth – and the organization’s transformations. At Mercury, we really believe in nurturing community. So that’s the reason I’m pulling our clients and colleagues together, is to share our community with a broader community and to grow our community. 

I want to introduce Ward Isaacson, who’s President and CEO, and Erica Larson, who is Vice President and Principal, of Pope Design Group. Today, you’re gonna hear from Erica and Ward about their brand transformation, but also the long legacy of people-centered design and how that’s been a unifying theme throughout their organization from their early beginnings. This is a very talented group of designers and architects, and they really believe in collaborating to enhance the lives that they are serving in the end. So, with that, welcome Erica and Ward. Share a little bit about who you are and tell us a little bit about Pope Design Group before we kick into this interview.

Ward Isaacson: All right. I’ll start, Erica. Just a little bit of history about the firm. We are almost 50 years old. We were founded in 1974 by John Pope Pope Architects and his dad Bob. They kind of grew up as a design build architectural firm for several contractors in town here and have always been a St. Paul firm. Have evolved through the years to diversify quite a bit. And I think we’ll be talking a little bit about, you know, kind of the transformation of the founders to kind of where we are today and why that plays into some of the branding that we talked about and the timing of that. We specialize, we’re architecture and interior designers. We have really three market sectors. A commercial team, which is very diverse. It’s kind of what Pope Architects was known for, you know, 30 years before I joined the firm. And they do worship and they do industrial and they do office and they do, schools are becoming a big part of it. So very diverse practice within that commercial group. And then we have a healthcare group, which Erica will talk about cuz she heads that up. And then we also have a housing group which was really the reason that I came over to Pope. So right now we’re about 75 people. Again, just architects and interior designers. Very kind of fun collaborative culture we’re building here. I’m sure we’ll talk about that more. So yeah, anything to add, Erica?

Erica Larson: I’ve been with the firm for 20 years, so my journey’s been a little bit interesting. I like to call myself a unicorn. It’s the only firm I’ve ever worked at. So I started with the firm when I was in college as an intern. I was the first intern and probably the youngest employee at Pope for almost a decade, probably. And just worked through the firm and you know, started as an intern, was elevated to Director of Interior Design, then became a Principal and took over the healthcare practice. And now here I am. So the journey’s been very different. Like Ward said, when I first started and when he first started, you know, we really just had our commercial market and now, we practice so diversely today in so many different markets. And so it’s been a really interesting growth and journey to see it along the way for these last 20 some years.

Justin: Erica, how did you find out about Pope?

Erica: Well, I applied to every place in town. No, I actually, when I was looking, I mean, that is a true story, but when I was looking, I, you know, I went to school actually, my degree is in interior design and when I went to school, I knew I wanted to be on the architectural side of interior design. So I really looked for firms that were strong in the architecture market as well as with an interior design practice. But at that time in my career, I was really targeting more of the commercial design and corporate office, which is still a big part of what I do today, even though I also do healthcare. And so I really wanted a firm that had a heavy architectural presence and also I was really drawn to the appeal that it was a St. Paul firm and the culture that they had.

Justin: So Ward, tell us a little bit about how you got connected with Pope.

Ward: I’m in my 20th year as well. The way I ended up at Pope was kind of what I started talking about a little bit was Pope was, you know, focused on sort of all those commercial markets that we talked about and wanted to diversify. And the two areas that they were really looking to diversify into were housing, including senior living within that realm, and healthcare. And so I was doing a lot of senior living at my previous firm that I was at for about 13 years. A larger firm, you know, a couple hundred people and had built some, you know, clientele and somehow John Pope got my name. They needed someone to come in and kind of kickstart that market cuz they really weren’t doing housing, and build a practice and manage that practice. So I thought that was a great opportunity.

I love the size of the firm, you know, much more personal than what I was used to. I thought, you know, very approachable leadership, and that appealed to me. So, I came over to take over the housing practice and that’s what I did and grew that from very little or nothing to now, it’s half the firm or a little bit more. And in doing that, almost eight years ago now, John Pope was looking to transition out and was looking to me to start thinking about taking over the president’s spot in the company. And so we got through that transition and that’s what happened and brought Erica in as a vice president and here we are today.

Justin: So I would coin you both as growth drivers. You were certainly brought in to do that. And hey, you have really grown the firm considerably. What are you hearing from your clients now or seeing in the industry that is really exciting for both of you to share with our listeners?

Erica: Some of this might be market specific, but you know, I think on the healthcare side specifically, we’ve seen a lot of organizations really take a step back and really look at strategic long-term growth. The shifts that they’re having, you know, healthcare is always something that’s going to be there, but, you know, how can it be delivered differently? And so we’re seeing a lot of our clients really taking a step back and looking at their campuses as a whole. And we’re in a cycle of master planning right now, so we’re working with a lot of different organizations to really take a high-level strategic look at their operations as well as their facilities and figure out how they can best do a master plan to get them to that long-term growth that they need to be.

And then also, you know, in the office market, where I also work, has, I think, been really affected by the post pandemic. Some of the evolution was happening before that too, but I think really, really thinking about operations of their facilities and, you know, we were talking before we went live about flex policies and how that works and retention of employees and efficiencies and how those all work together. And so we’re having a lot of those really strategic conversations with our clients, I guess in both of my market sectors to really figure out, you know, how their facilities can best drive their business. And so it’s been really great to be a part of those, even more so than we were those conversations about strategy and operation.

Justin: So right away when I think of operations, I think of the operations part of the business, but a lot of what you work in is with the spaces. Tell us a little bit more about what is operations in your point of view?

Erica: Yeah, so it actually is, I would say, you know, to the point it’s actually discussing operations of the business more with our clients. And we really need to design, each space needs to be designed, specifically tailored to that operation or that organization and how they operate, what their long-term strategic goals are, how the space can affect that, you know, where can lean processes be put in place to make the space more efficient and also their businesses more efficient. And I think ultimately we see in all of our market sectors, you know, we see the space as being a driver for business, right? Your space should really work in tangent with your business to drive your business in regards to efficiency, employee attraction, retention, all of those things that really then drives the bottom line. So in our initial planning, I think across all market sectors, you know, we’re talking about the operation, first of their business, and what their strategic long-term goals are. And then we’re adapting the space and designing the space to fit what those goals are and how their business can grow and thrive based on their space.
Justin: So it’s space and people.

Erica: Space and people, definitely.

Justin: Ward, what are you seeing? Are you seeing anything different?

Ward: No, I think Erica covered it pretty well. I mean, the discussion about, you know, knowing the business and operations, and we’ll probably talk about that more. But part of what came out of our branding and the interviewing that Mercury did with some of our clients is that that is a differentiator for us. That, you know, we don’t design with an ego. We love to win awards when it’s appropriate. But, you know, we really try and understand the business and the operations and the efficiency of our clients and we feel we’re good listeners. So that business-minded designers kind of mantra that came out of our branding, I think is an important part of who we are. In terms of, you know, things that are exciting me, I was at a conference last week, and they’ve been a little – it was a senior living conference – and the mood at those for the last year has been a little dismal, especially on the senior living side with, you know, the pandemic kind of beat people up and interest rates are tough and staffing, our projects are really tough.

But there was an optimism, there was a, I guess, a cautious optimism about moving forward. And so we actually kind of kickstarted a lot of work, and what made me really feel good, what made me excited about it, is that we were really leaning in to relationships to, you know, kind of move to the next step and the trust in us that we can lead ’em and get ’em ready for that, you know, to beat the competition on the ground. So I really felt good that we leaned on relationships and they leaned on us, and it’s paying off. So I think we’re off to a good start, largely because of that in all markets.

Justin: Well, and you’ve expanded into some new markets as well, right?

Ward: That’s another exciting thing. We’ve targeted a couple of growth areas, well, healthcare being one, which Erica is heading up, and we’ve been doing healthcare for a long time, but they’re really getting some great momentum. On the housing side, we’ve been heavy on the senior living, because that was kind of the world that I came from. But we’re making real headways into affordable markets, market-rate projects, you know, kind of non-senior work that we, you know, we’ve hired some great people that understand those markets, especially on the affordable side. It’s a little complicated. We’re making great headway in that, that’s really exciting. And then as part of the commercial team, we’ve got some folks that are really doing a great job expanding our education market. And so that’s a big target for us, and will continue to be, we’re getting some really good headway there, getting in with some school districts, which isn’t easy to do. So yeah. That’s a real positive sign for the future here.

Erica: Yeah. And I think it’s important to note that all those markets that we’re looking at enhancing or growing really speak to our values, right? So it’s really designing spaces for people and enhancing lives. And so any new markets that we’re really looking to either grow into or expand, really need to fit what our vision is and our mission, and it’s really, you know, creating spaces that really enhance lives. And so that’s really important to us and really important to this decision making process when we’re talking about which markets we should be in and which markets we shouldn’t be in.

Ward: Exactly. You know, I mean, education, affordable housing, what more of a difference can you make? You know, the people that work there, the people that live there, the people that go to school there, people that visit there. And so that is, that’s really what, you know, kind of our motto is here is, and that’s why we enjoy the profession as designers, because we’re in markets that we think that the physical environment and the spaces that we design are making a difference with the people and within the community. And that’s a large part of why I got into this profession to start with. You’ve got something to show for it at the end, and it can affect people in the communities.

Justin: Yeah. I want you to, I was gonna ask you a question about sort of the legacy that got you to here when you’re…I want you to talk about a lot of the impact stories that we heard from you in our work together were amazing. And how you bring it back to the person that you’re serving that’s in that space, maybe individually or as a family or as a group as a team. How has that culture, that legacy from your early founders, just kind of followed through till today?

Erica: You know, obviously, like, Ward said, you know, John Pope and his dad, Bob Pope founded our firm. And so, you know, they were, obviously, it was a family-owned, founded organization. And I think through the growth that we’ve had and the people that we’ve hired, you know, that even though a Pope isn’t at our firm today, I think we all feel as though we are a Pope. And I think that the culture that they created of family first and community is really important. I like to use the word community from that standpoint. And I think, you know, we look for people that really fit our culture when we’re hiring. Yeah, there are a lot of talented people out there that can do the work. But culturally, if there isn’t a fit then it likely isn’t gonna work for us.

And so we’re really looking for people that have those same values that we have and bringing that culture together and maintaining our culture. You know, like Ward said, we’re almost 50 years old and, yes, our culture has evolved over time, but I think the history of our culture and the people has always remained true. And it’s one of the things that I strive very hard personally at our firm to make sure happens, you know, throughout the firm. And I think when the culture that we have is all about people, so that’s our people, which is quite largely why we went through the rebrand, but also the people that we’re serving and how we can make a difference in the people’s lives, the places they work, the places they live, the places they go to school. And so we’re really looking for creative people that are looking at it from a holistic standpoint and really looking at it, not necessarily at what the end product is, but how the end product is used and how it affects the people that are using the space.

Justin: So what made you go for a brand refresh? Share a little bit of what, how did you start having that conversation and what were some of the tipping points that led to that next step?

Ward: I think that’s a good segue from what Erica was just talking about, is, you know, we were built on a really strong foundation of relationships and community. And when Erica and I came in, I mean, that’s how we built our teams based on those core values. And things evolve a lot over time. The industry evolves, our firm evolves. When I started we were like 38 people. You know, we’re way younger. We’re way more diverse now. It’s a much different, you know, higher design culture. It’s just changed enough and then through the transition we talked about, it would really be time. We’ve got completely new leadership. And we’re a different firm. We love where we came from. We never wanna forget that. We love our identity out in the industry. But it was just time for a refresh because it’s a different company and it’s a different world out there.

So yeah, I think the timing was right. We talked about it for a long time, and I think the real tipping point was our discussions about moving offices. Cause we thought, how much more powerful would a rebrand be in conjunction with, you know, brand new, fresh office space? So maybe Erica can expand on how we got to that point. But we kind of moved in and rolled out the rebrand at the same time, and it just, they tied in perfectly together, I think. And coming, can’t say out of the pandemic, but at least trying to get back to work, it was great incentive for people to get excited and to feel like they’re coming back to a, you know, a little bit of a fresh new rebranded office space and culture and, you know, just trying to get people excited to jump back into work in some sort of a normal setting.

Justin: Erica, I’m gonna have you sort of jump in because one of the things we took you through is renaming, that exercise. And that was scary for you, right? Because there is such a long legacy of Pope coming from the founders. Talk to us a little bit about that emotional shift for you and bringing the buy-in for the rest of the team along the way through that process.

Erica: I think, you know, you heard us say that we both worked there a really long time. And I, you know, I essentially grew up at the firm. So I started in college, you know, 20 some years old, twenties. And I was fortunate enough to have really strong connection with the leaders that were there at a very young age. And I was very close, and I still am very close, with John Pope. And from that standpoint and just the legacy that he left behind and the space, and the culture and the firm that he created for all of us. And so going into the process, I was like, oh yeah, we should totally look at, you know, talking about a rename. And then when Justin, when you and your team came back to us with, you know, the options to change our name, and I, I think it was very much definitive that you guys thought we should change our name.
I personally didn’t realize how emotional, I think I was probably the most emotionally driven when that came to the result. I didn’t think that would be, cause I, I always feel like I’m very open-minded from that standpoint. But I think, I think going through the process and having those discussions and doing all the research that you guys did, you know, from that aspect, I think we were able to really take it back to leadership and have conversations that we hadn’t had before about our name and what it means to us in the future. And I think we all, it was really good discussions and a really good process to go through that I wouldn’t change at all. But I think our leadership team really all came to the same agreement on what our name should be. And we felt that your suggestions were obviously looking to the future and all of that.

And I think that the combination of the name that we came up to really does two things. It really speaks to obviously our history and our legacy. But it also really looks to the future. And it, you know, we’re not a firm of just architects. We’re a firm of architects and designers and other people and other creative people. And so we also felt that our old name didn’t necessarily look at us holistically. So it fought a little bit against the brand about community and equality and holistic approach. And so the process was really interesting. I think we’re all, we’re all a hundred percent aligned and extremely happy with where we’ve landed. And I wouldn’t change the process at all. I was just shocked, I guess, from my perspective at the emotional attachment that I perhaps had to that <laugh>.

Ward: Yeah, I thought the road you took us down, Justin, was really eye-opening. And we really appreciated you kind of taking us full circle and your willingness to kind of bring us back to a point where, you know, the leadership team that, that’s the other thing. Our leadership team I think showed, you know, a lot of unity, a lot of consensus in going through this whole process. So you kind of brought us around, kind of understood who we were, what we wanna keep, how we wanna, again, honor the legacy. But like Erica said, you know, what seems like a simple change from architects to design group really is pretty impactful because obviously, you know, design, Erica explained kind of that, how that broadens our scope and group, which, you know, really speaks to collaboration, speaks to our culture. It just made a lot of sense.

Erica: And I think the legacy that John Pope left behind wasn’t a name, right? It was people, it was us. And it was the culture that we have. And I think, you know, from our perspective, you know, people don’t associate our name necessarily with John Pope. They associate the name with Ward or Gonzalo or myself or other partners too. And I think that’s one of the conversations that we had is that, you know, the legacy isn’t the name. It’s the people really that he left behind for us. And I think we all are recognized with that name at this point in time today.

Justin: So you involved your team with the process with us, which is super vital to get that clarity and the buy-in. And I think that’s representative of your culture overall. How did your team respond to the transformation and the space? Because, like, when we got there to see this space, the tie-in of all the work that was done with all of your team’s talents is a pretty fun collaboration to see. But how that space does create such a Pope community, from small spaces to big spaces, to, you had all of the paintings of the employees’ dogs on the wall. So tell us a little bit about that team culture, that collaboration, and just, your core values and culture in general about Pope.

Erica: Yeah, I think one of the things that’s interesting about our firm is that for the most part, I think we’re all aligned on kind of values and thought process and, you know, running the branding process in conjunction with the office. Like Ward said, I don’t think either one of them could have been successful, or as successful, on their own. And so really getting the team buy-in from everybody, I think was really important. And we feel wholeheartedly that they should be included in that process. And that’s what we sell to our employees, our clients also, is inclusion is key for change. And so the process actually of getting everybody together and having those conversations about it was pretty seamless, I think on our end, you know, both from the branding standpoint, as well as the move standpoint. You know, we have a big ownership group, and everybody resoundingly was on board with the direction that we were going wholeheartedly, on both the office move and the rebrand. I’m not sure Ward, if you have anything else to add on that?

Ward: Yeah, I mean, we use the word transparency a lot, but, you know, that’s really kind of who we are. You know, we try and be an open book and share everything that we’re doing with not just the leadership group, but everybody. And the branding process, I think, gave us the opportunity to do that, to tell people what we’re doing, to get ’em excited that something’s coming, something’s around the corner you know, gather as much input as we could. And when we rolled it out, both internally and externally, I think there’s, you know, there was excitement. It was something new, something fresh. It was something cool. And even the physical space of our office, if you walk around and you see the logo and you see the back of the reception desk and you see the color scheme that we use kind of based on, you know, our palette that we determined, again, the two came together pretty seamlessly. And it was, it was an enjoyable process at the right time, I think.

Erica: I think our new office speaks completely to our brand, and you said it, Justin, I think the connectedness in the community, and that’s what we are going for, you know, our space exudes our brand, which exudes our people. And you know, there’s the little things in the space, like you mentioned, our pet wall that we have, or all of our artwork in the office is employee artwork. And so really just highlighting and showcasing and making people in our staff a part of the process, but also making sure that it’s a space that they know is their space, right. And a space that they wanna come to. And we gather together a lot. And so having spaces to gather together as an office, as a team is important, as well as a larger community with our clients.

We host a ton of events at our office. Our clients come in and just work there some days. And so that community approach is really something that all of our leadership and all of our employees are really heavily really bought into. And it was really created by a space, you know, we had a large number of people from the office involved in the design of our office, which <laugh> designing office or architects and designers with architects and designers, you would think would be an interesting process. But it was much more streamlined than I could have ever imagined actually.

Justin: How is it helping for attracting younger architects and designers from the workforce? Are you seeing any differences or any noticeable changes?

Erica: It’s been a really, really strong retention and attraction tool for us. Our old office was great but it was isolated. It was old, you know. When we were looking for a new office, we were looking for a space you know, that had different amenities, but also this one’s right on the light rail. So we have interns that are able to take the light rail in from the U of M in different spaces. And so it has public transportation opportunities, but it also has amenities nearby. And again, spaces within our building itself to gather, but also spaces nearby. And it’s just, from our perspective, it’s just a really cool place that people really are drawn to. You know, we have a flex policy at our office for working remote certain days, and I would say more of our employees are in the office than they’re out, you know, even above and beyond that, because it’s a destination space for them. It’s a space they wanna come to every day. It’s a space where they wanna see their coworkers and they wanna hang out with their coworkers and talk to them. And so I think it achieved everything we needed to achieve from an attraction or retention standpoint.

Ward: I think it’s gonna serve us well into the future. It’s a much more flexible space, you know, our desks are all standing desks. There’s a ton of collaboration space. People can grab their laptop and go work in one of 20 different areas. They’re not, you know, chained to their desk by any sense, and all kinds of breakout spaces for collaboration. And I think, especially when younger architects come and see the space, I, like Erica said, I think it is a huge recruitment tool and you know, great retention tools. It’s a fun place to work, so why not?

Justin: That’s great. I love the space. So anyone that’s listening now or watching the recording reach out. I’m sure they’d be happy to give you a tour or share the space. Definitely. I’m gonna kind of move into some questions to each of you about your leadership style. So Erica, how would you describe Ward’s leadership style?

Erica: That’s a great question. I have so, so many descriptions and words to say about this. But no, in, in all actuality, I think, you know, Ward leads by compassion. I think Ward is one of the most genuine, true leaders that I’ve ever, ever been associated with. And I think people inherently, both internally and externally, wanna work with Ward. There’s a level of genuineness, there’s a level of trust which works well. You know, I think he’s, again, when you go to the people first firm or people first approach, you know, Ward really exudes that. And I think above and beyond that he, you know, he is extremely adaptable. You know, our markets ebb and flow and things change on a dime every day, and he’s able to adapt and be flexible and very strategic. When things get tough, which they do get tough, you know, he’s always able to adjust. And that goes, I think, to you know, his strong relationships that he has built internally and externally. And I feel like he just always leads by compassion, he leads by doing what’s right. And he’s just somebody that people just wanna work with.

Justin: Ward, how would you describe Erica’s leadership style? You gotta top that now, by the way.

Ward: I dunno if I can top that <laugh>. Well, I mean, our styles, our styles are different, in a good way. I really think that we complement each other really well. We’re all rowing the same direction. We all, you know, have the same goals in mind. And we have different styles doing it. Erica is very direct and to the point. And people love that about her. She’s kind of the center point in the office, in so many ways. If there’s a party going on, if there’s an issue or the, you know, Erica’s desk is where everyone congregates. So she’s, people love her in the office. She’s super driven, incredibly driven, I mean, and loyal. I mean, she talked about the fact that this was the only place that she’s ever worked.

And she’s gone from an intern to a, you know, again, a vice president of an 80 person architectural firm and taken on anything that comes her way when we needed a healthcare leader, because that was the biggest hole we had to fill. Erica just raised her hand without hesitation and just said, yeah, you know, bring it on. And people rally around her and she’s done an amazing job. So, one example, she’s, so, she’s a healthcare leader, she’s an interior designer, and just on her own time, just decided to get registration as an architect, which takes someone like me, you know, seven years. And she’s incredibly driven, incredibly smart, and I think a perfect complement to myself and the leadership team. So, couldn’t do any of it without her.

Erica: Likewise.

Justin: This is fun. Share a recent win that each of you are proud of. And Ward, I’ll start with you first this time.

Ward: Well, we talked about the new markets that we’re making headway in, so I don’t, I don’t think I need to explain specific projects, but we’ve had some significant wins in the affordable housing side. The Hams Brewery site, which probably everyone in the Twin Cities knows about, was a big city request for proposal with a lot of top designers in town chasing that work. It’s affordable housing and a marketplace, and a huge mixed use. And we were awarded that a month ago.

Justin: Congratulations.

Ward: So that was huge. And that speaks to affordability, it speaks to community. And like I said, just kind of the growth in some of the markets that we really want to grow in. A lot of wins along the way.

Justin: That’s great to hear. Again, people first. Erica, how about you?

Erica: Yeah, people first, I think, you know, know when we were talking before we talked about, you know, Prairie Care. So Prairie Care is one of our longstanding clients, and we’re expanding their hospital up in Brooklyn Park right now. And if people don’t know Prairie Care, they’re an organization that provides services for mental behavioral health children. The Brooklyn Park facility is an inpatient hospital for children. And so we’re expanding that hospital to 101 beds now. So when you talk about need in our community, there’s a tremendous need and a tremendous shortage of psychiatric beds across our state. And so I think that’s one that really speaks to our values. And I think they’re definitely something that I am personally passionate about and the firm is about. So really enhancing the lives of the kids in that community, our entire state actually.

Ward: Yeah. I think we’ve made some strides nationally, which is again, one of our three year picture is just, you know, to expand geographically, not just in the senior housing market, but otherwise, and starting to make some great headway there.

Justin: I have a couple more questions for Ward and Erica. One, what is one piece of advice you were given Ward that’s very important to you that you could share with the rest of the team?

Ward: Well, I guess I’m gonna go with you know, Good to Great. You know, the book that many of the leaders have read, I’ve always lived kind of by the “humility and will” mantra. <Affirmative> if you have humility, you’ve got compassion, you’ve got empathy, and if you’ve got the will, it’s gonna drive you to success. So I’ve always tried to kind of live by that, and formulate my leadership style based on that. So I guess I’d go there.

Justin: I think that’s apparent with what Erica had to share with you about you. Erica, what’s one piece of advice you were given?

Erica: Yeah, I would say, you know, leadership isn’t a title. It’s an action and it takes work every day. You know, it’s doing <laugh>. It’s not just a title. <Affirmative>. And so, and I think also just a self realization, you know, that we’re human too. And so <laugh> things happen, but I like words that I think, you know, I like to use words, have grace and humility and really just understand that everybody’s human and just really treating everybody equally. But ultimately leadership takes a lot of work and it’s not a title.

Justin: Amen. So let’s, what’s one piece of advice you were given from Ward, Erica, that is kind of planted in your head? What do you remember most?

Erica: Well, he just told me this recently, but he said, maybe don’t swear so much <laugh>. So, and my response was, I don’t swear at you, I just swear around you <laugh>. So I’m sure I’ll try <laugh>

Ward: Advice. It wasn’t; I’m not saying you can’t, don’t. You gotta be yourself!

Justin: So, Ward, how about a piece of advice from Erica that you’ve received?

Ward: Well, we talk a lot. We are an EOS company just like you are, Mercury. So we have a lot of chance to talk about things like this. And you know, the advice I always get from Erica and others is, we’re all seller-doer leaders here. So we’re all really involved in the practice. We have to be, <Affirmative>, in the business, and I’m always trying to pull away and spend more time on the business, more around the office beyond the housing market that I was brought in to start. Cause that, you know, I’m still pretty involved in that. So just really pulling myself away and finding a work balance between the in and the on.

Justin: Where should you be working?

Erica: Both of us should be working more on the business, but we love the business. So we’re in the business and our clients want us in the business because we’re not selling a product, we’re selling a service, and we’re selling our people. So I think both Ward and I are constantly trying to find that silver lining and that best match of on the business versus in the business. And I think it’ll never be one or the other. It can’t be, or we wouldn’t be as successful as we are.

Ward: Yeah, it’s half and half, but a lot of it, you know, a lot of it speaks to everything we’re talking about, right? If we build the right culture and surround ourselves with the right people and the right leadership, we’re gonna attract other great people. And it’s the delegate and elevate thing. And for us to be successful and spend more time on the business, we have to trust the people that are doing the work. And I think we’ve made a lot of strides in that respect. Still.

Justin: <Laugh>, well said. I, as a doer and a leader of my own business, I feel you have to be in the business doing it and knowing your clients and helping solve the problems so you can actually run your business better and work on the business. And I completely support building the right team. You’re doing it. It’s a world of difference with the right people. So it’s been exciting to hear how you’re doing that. And you really are from the inside out, growing that organization one person at a time.

Quick, little speed round. We’ll get to some questions. So Ward, what is in your wardrobe that you wear most often?

Ward: Well, today is Wednesday. So it’s a great Pope vest day today.

Erica: Anything with a Pope logo on it,

Ward: All the brand stuff. So yeah, I pretty much bought one piece of Pope everything for each day of the month. And so it’s just one less decision I have to make each day.

Justin: I love it. So Erica, what do you crave most at the end of the day?

Erica: Wine. Definitely wine. <Laugh>. Yeah.

Justin: Ward, what do you collect?

Ward: I’ve got this strangely, huge expansive sports memorabilia collection. Mostly like old baseball stuff that I don’t, I have no idea what I’m gonna do with now that I’m getting up in years.

Justin: Erica, what is the last show you binge-watched? 

Erica: I’d say I binge-watch a network: Investigation Discovery and every single true crime drama out there. Anything that my husband’s like, can we, can you like not go to bed watching a murder show? I’m like, no.

Justin: Ward, what is the last show or show you’re currently binge watching?

Ward: Like everyone else. Totally into Yellowstone.

Justin: And Ward, self-care. What do you do to kinda rejuvenate or take a break?

Ward: I’ve been trying to get better at this and trying to take one day a month, the same day, you know, third Friday of each month, and just get away and just have a day of quietness and contemplation and catching up. I have a cabin not far from my house and it’s perfect cause I can just get up there, take a deep breath and come back rejuvenated. So I’m just trying to force myself to do that more regularly. You know, a clarity break is what they call it in EOS.

Justin: I have a question from Jill and she’s been waiting since the very beginning. From Jill, what advice would you give to other firms to help foster the kind of employee dynamic and design centered firm?

Erica: That’s a good question, Jill. I think it has to start with leadership, right? And I think it, you have to have leaders in the right position to create their culture. And from our perspective, our leaders are approachable. We try to be, I should say, are we approachable, transparent? And I think we know our staff. It’s not – our staff aren’t employees to us. They are colleagues, they are friends, they are our family. And I think what Ward said about hiring the right people also that fit our firm is like you have to hire and sometimes fire by that as well in order to create the right culture. And again, that’s for internal culture, which then bleeds into our external culture and doing the right thing for our clients.

Ward: Yep. Yeah, it’s all about the people. They’re our number one. I mean, we aren’t anything without ’em. They’re our number one competitive advantage. They’re the ones out there representing us. So I dunno, I’d say build from the bottom up. Build a strong foundation, get the right people that foster that culture and those core values. And you know, that’s been my style. I think you just need to build that foundation. We’re not a firm that thinks we’re gonna make some gigantic move and change who we are. We like who we are, but, and we need to understand who we are first to make the right decisions.

Justin: Well said. Erica and Ward, where could people watching now and in the future connect with both of you?

Erica: We have our information. I don’t know Justin, if you can send our information out or not, but both of us have our information on our website or via LinkedIn. Of course, you can find us later via LinkedIn as well.

Justin: Excellent. You have a shameless plug to send out to everyone. Besides your sports memorabilia Ward, is there anything you’d like to share about Pope or a question you’d like to ask the world?

Ward: Question I’d like to ask the world. Well, you know, we’re growing, we’re expanding, we’re looking at new opportunities and trying to foster our current relationships, but we’re looking for more. So if anyone, if any of this resonates with anybody that’s looking to do some work or looking to, you know, find a job, just please reach out and see what we’re all about. And more than likely we’ll be a fit, whether that’s a project or a job.

Justin: That’s great. Erica, any final words?

Erica: Yeah, I think, you know, we’re always looking for top talent and good talent, even if we don’t have a job posted, which we, by the way, we do have several jobs posted right now, but we’re always looking for creative people that fit our culture or just coming to see our office or whatever. So if you know of anybody that is looking for a great firm to work for, obviously we’d definitely love to talk to somebody.

Justin: Yeah. And I can tell you the space is amazing. The people are super fun, very talented. They’re gonna challenge you. And you could be like Erica coming in as an intern and end up as a partner in 20 plus years or where we’re down the road, right?

Thank you everybody. If anyone is looking to run through a rebranding process and really work from the inside out to find purpose and growth for their organization, we would love to chat as well.

So come back in a month we’re gonna be interviewing Eric Curtis from Curtis Strategies and he will talk about how he rebuilds organizations also from the inside out and has a very strategic approach. So many of you associations might be working with him and this is a great person to meet. And we’ll have a fun interview in a month. Same place right back here.

Erica and Ward, thank you so much. Not just for this interview, but for your partnership and sharing everything that you just shared today. So everyone watching, please reach out to them. They are a wonderful duo, and a really, really great company. Thank you.

Like this post? Share it on:

Want strategy + design solutions in your inbox each month?

Subscribe to Mercury Insights!