Richard Chang is the project director and retail practice area leader for Gensler Greater China. We sat down with him recently to get his thoughts on his career, leadership and overall perspective on how he keeps everything in his orbit working in perfect order. Inside Retail: Tell me about your career journey. How did you get into the industry, what are some of the different roles you’ve held along the way? Richard Chang: I started my working life at Gensler, back in the San Francisco offic
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office about 17 to 18 years ago, right after getting my Masters in Architecture. So I have stayed with the company through all this time. My first retail project, or my first account was Victoria’s Secret. So it was interesting handling a lingerie project as my first account. With my background in architecture, this was definitely something interesting. Funnily enough, for like the rest of my career, I have been on this path which was really focused on retail efforts. Of course, being under the Gensler brand, retail is a big part of what the company does. Luckily, this has been a very good path for me. Starting from a junior position right to a director level right now, I have had good experiences. From 2004 to 2010, I was in the San Francisco HQ, and my job title was the ‘Job Captain’, so I was the one person handling any single project from zero to handing the keys over to our retail clients. It involved a lot of design documentation and a lot of site execution experience. In 2010, I relocated to Shanghai to help set up the retail practice area. From that point on, my role shifted to a more managerial role. I was the project manager, design manager and through the years, I became the leader of the retail practice area. I also became the director for a lot of our projects and accounts. IR: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in your career and how have you dealt with them? RC: Well, I mean every job has its own challenges. I guess early on in my career, one can always have an internal debate as to your role in an organisation. You could be a designer, a technical guy, architect, manager or strategist. So early on in my career, I had these career path challenges. Also over the years, I have observed a lot of younger designers experiencing these kinds of challenges. I will say that one should try to stick to what you are currently doing, absorb the most you can, and then later on, you’ll be more confident in figuring out where to go. You can then say I’m better at that than this, so all the roles and past experiences matter, because you will ultimately find out what you are best suited for. Apart from that, all jobs come with their own set of challenges, and that’s just part of one’s responsibility. IR: What are some of your career highlights so far? RC: When I think of highlights, it’s more of an accumulation of experiences. With 17 to 18 years of experience spread across the United States and China, I have had a taste of all kinds of retail typologies. From pop-up stores, to experience stores, high end Starbucks roastery outlets, the Cadillac House in Shanghai and a whole host of department stores projects, the list is endless. For me, it’s more about the accumulation of knowledge and wide spectrum of typologies that stands out most. The years in China, the speed, the intensity, and I’ve been here for 12 years, and it’s been a really wide spectrum of experiences. I have got numerous awards from the projects that I have led over the years, and all these credentials have been good for me so far. IR: What advice would you give someone who wants to get into your line of work? RC: If we are talking about getting into the design industry, first of all, you’ve got to have passion. Because in the design industry, the first thing that you need is the drive. The drive to keep you going. That’s why passion is so important in this context. Oftentimes, this industry requires a lot of energy to get the desired results. So you need to put in more energy to drive a project towards success. So first of all, especially for students in architecture, you really need the passion to go down this path, and that could be passion for design, strategy, people management or what have you. The key is to have the passion to be in this industry. IR: What are some of the key leadership lessons you’ve picked up over the course of your career? RC: This is a good question. What our founder used to always say was hire or trust people that are smarter than you. It took me several years to really understand the significance of this. Because when you are younger, you’re very competitive, and you probably won’t grasp or understand the true value behind that kind of statement. But really, try to have people smarter than you, and also empower your team members. It’s what I think is the secret sauce in an organisation. It’s definitely one of the most important leadership skills that I have learnt along the way. It has validated a lot of my efforts and brought out successful outcomes for everyone involved. IR: Do you have any business heroes? RC: M. Arthur Gensler Jr, the founder of Gensler. I saw the man work his magic once during a client meeting. This was back during my days in the San Francisco office. We had a client meeting, and there were conversations and debates going on. And you know, there was a plate of cookies on the table, and then Arthur came in, sat down, and started chatting with the client. He quickly assessed the situation at hand, provided some assurances and attention to the client, and basically softened the whole scenario, and then walked out with those cookies in his hand. He told me later on, privately, that all he wanted were those cookies on the plate. But you know, it showed me that years of accumulated experience and of course one’s status in the firm can go a long way. So, when you talk about a role model, you know, you obviously want someone who can solve issues, quickly assess situations and help the team progress. For me, he is definitely my role model.