Origin Stories: Wendy Rogers Went From Intern To CEO At The Same Firm
This series delves into the myriad ways people enter the commercial real estate industry and what contributes to their success.
Wendy Rogers' mind was made up from a young age — she wanted to be an architect. Even a tour of the boring parts of the job, orchestrated by her father to dissuade her from the profession, convinced Rogers it was the career for her.
She has brought that same steady conviction to her choice in the workplace. She started with LPA Design Studios as an intern in 1987, and she never left. Today, she is CEO of LPA, now an integrated design firm with more than 400 architects, engineers, landscape architects and interior designers, including large commercial and workplace practices.
For the past two years, LPA has been the largest firm in the country to meet the AIA 2030 Commitment target for reducing energy use in new buildings.
Rogers spearheaded the development of LPAred, the firm’s in-house research team, working with commercial real estate clients to produce more efficient buildings that work better for people, part of what she sees as a shift away from making decisions based purely on economics and instead focusing on the experience of the people inside.
Bisnow: How did you get introduced to CRE?
Rogers: Ever since I fell in love with architecture during a tour of our family friend’s home at a young age, my parents were always very supportive of my interest in CRE. But my dad had heard architects don’t make much money, so he was nervous about my interest in the profession. He arranged a tour for me at a large architecture firm in Los Angeles and asked the person showing me around to only share the most boring parts of the job in an effort to dissuade me. But I absolutely loved every part of it and left even more convinced it was the right path for me.
I’m fascinated by the idea of creating compelling spaces and soaked in everything I could about design before landing several internships that solidified my love of the profession.
Bisnow: What was your first job in CRE?
Rogers: My first experience in CRE was with a large developer. They were extremely specific about what they wanted to see in their work and took us on driving tours to help us understand what a really good developer looks for in their projects. When I started at LPA, all we did was commercial work, so this experience really shaped my understanding of how to be lean, responsive and have that high level of attention to detail and quality.
Bisnow: What kind of education, certification or official training do you have in CRE? How critical was it to landing your first big role?
Rogers: I earned my bachelor’s degree in architecture from California Polytechnic University in Pomona. Having that degree was extremely important to employers and a big part of landing my first role.
You go to school to learn how to think, but everything else you learn on the job. I’m still learning every day.
Bisnow: What is one skill you wish you had coming into CRE?
Rogers: I wish I had understood the importance of networking, remembering names and staying in touch with people when I first started out. Those are such important skills that I didn’t focus on as much earlier on in my career.
Bisnow: What were you doing before you got into CRE?
Rogers: I’ve been in CRE my entire career. It’s always what I’ve wanted to do.
Bisnow: Can you remember a moment where you felt in over your head or you worried this industry wasn’t for you? Did you ever think about quitting? What changed?
Rogers: I’ve never thought about quitting or thought the industry wasn’t right for me. There have been moments I was in over my head, although I don’t think I realized it at the time. I can look back at various projects and I see that I had the gift of so much responsibility and opportunity given my level of experience.
I distinctly remember going to an interview and seeing a company owner’s hand shaking when he was doing his introductions, though nothing in his voice or presentation gave his nerves away. It really stood out at me — that it’s OK to be nervous. When you’re in a big moment, it’s how you overcome it. I’ve found the nerves almost give you an edge and make you sharper. It’s a lesson that’s really stuck with me.
Bisnow: What were your early impressions of the industry, good and bad? How has your impression changed?
Rogers: When I started the industry was very male-dominated, but that is certainly not the case today.
The industry has always been focused on efficiency. Clients want to understand where they’re spending their money and are seeking design solutions that are cost-effective. These are critical components to any project, but today it’s also much more about the experience, innovation and story you bring to the table. Whereas the industry used to only be about economics, now it’s very focused on the experience of the people in the space.
Bisnow: Have you had a mentor or sponsor? How did that person shape your future in CRE?
Rogers: I’ve had some amazing mentors throughout my career. Our president, Dan Heinfeld, is one of the strongest. He was the one bringing me along to major developer meetings in the beginning of my career and discussing what the approach was going to be as we drove back to the office. I still learn from him every day.
I’ve learned from so many clients as well. I’m a gleaner, and I think in this profession you have to learn from everyone. In doing so, you can add each piece of knowledge to your quiver and apply it to who you are as well as how you can be successful in this profession.
Bisnow: What is a key lesson someone taught you, either kindly or the hard way?
Rogers: Clients have shared the old adage — it’s just business, this isn’t personal. But it’s always personal, even if it’s business. You’ve got to take those lessons to heart and apply it to the next job.
The most important thing is listening. I’ve really prided myself on a career of consensus building and ensuring each person in the room has a voice in decisions being made.
Bisnow: What do you warn people about when they join the industry?
Rogers: This is a tough business, and the markets are very cyclical, which is why LPA has made a strong effort over the years to balance the firm between our public and private work. This helps us stay resilient throughout the different business cycles while providing opportunity for our employees.
I also always tell people that you can’t be afraid to raise your hand. You’ve got to step up to the moment when it presents itself and take your opportunity. Whether it’s taking a risk with what project you’re taking on or asking a big question of a client, you need to lean in.
Bisnow: If you could do your career all over again, what would you change?
Rogers: I wouldn’t change a thing. I really wouldn’t. It’s been amazing to this day and it just keeps giving in a way that I really enjoy.