2018 Leaders Breakfast Series in Review

Long before the popularity of TED Talks, IIDA Leaders Breakfast, an international, early-morning event series across 8 cities in the U.S. and Canada, has hosted top speakers, entertained thousands of guests, and honored individuals making significant contributions to the world of design for the last 29 years.

With the support of international benefactors Herman Miller and Interior Design magazine, committees in chosen host cities, and additional companies within the design community that sponsor these events, Leaders Breakfasts are consistently raising the bar by encouraging collaboration and engaging new ideas.

Here is everything you missed, and then some, from this year’s successful series:

1. We went to Wakanda

IIDA  Leaders Breakfast 2018 held at the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown Hotel in Los Angeles on Thursday, September 13, 2018.

© Chris Hatcher Photography, Courtesy of IIDA Southern California Chapter

We know Los Angeles sees its fair share of celebrities, but this September, members of the Southern California Chapter got the opportunity to have breakfast with one. Oscar-nominated costume designer Ruth E. Carter took to the stage to discuss her most recent work as the lead costumer on Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther and Reginald Hudlin’s Marshall. Carter’s presentation mapped out her process of extensive research and how she aims to tell authentic stories with her designs.

2. We saw the World’s Largest Connect the Dots

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© Denmark Phan Photography, Courtesy of IIDA TX/OK Chapter

After developing a hand tremor and being diagnosed with nerve damage as an art student, multimedia artist Phil Hansen decided to embrace his limitations and develop new approaches to art making. “Become limited to the limitless,” Hansen told the Dallas Leaders Breakfast audience. Recently, Hansen made it into the Guinness Book of World Records by creating the world’s largest Connect the Dots, of which a handful of audience members took a print home.

3. We heard this 17-minute acceptance speech

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© Linda Dove Photography, Courtesy of IIDA Illinois Chapter

While accepting the Leadership Award of Excellence in Chicago, Fred Schmidt, FIIDA, managing principal of Perkins+Will, not only acknowledged the people who have been a large part of his journey, but described their leadership lessons. Schmidt named the numerous principals, designers, and even members of the younger generation, who were instrumental in his success and urged the audience to “reject the notion that leadership is based on your DNA.”

4. We saw a famous hat

IIDA  Leaders Breakfast 2018 held at the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown Hotel in Los Angeles on Thursday, September 13, 2018.

© Chris Hatcher Photography, Courtesy of IIDA Southern California Chapter

The Los Angeles audience was introduced to the word “craftivism” after Jayna Zweiman,  co-founder of the Pussyhat Project, took to the stage. Her now-famous design became a worldwide phenomenon at the 2017 Women’s Marches as one of the largest crowd-sourced art advocacy projects ever.  What began as a simple conversation in a California knit shop has turned into an iconic symbol of the modern-day women’s movement.

5. We watched a tech entrepreneur jump rope in heels

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© IIDA

Not only does Jessica O. Matthews, founder and CEO of Uncharted Power, know how to inspire a crowd of almost 600, she also knows how to put on a show. At the Chicago Leaders Breakfast, Matthews demonstrated her invention of a jump rope that uses kinetic energy to generate electricity. This small example comes nowhere close to the scale of Matthews’ larger projects, which use harnessed energy to power facilities and underprivileged communities. Her patents and designs are used globally, and she recently announced an undisclosed deal with Disney’s power grid system.

6. We made New Yorkers happier

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© Johnny Wolf Photography, Courtesy of IIDA New York Chapter

“770 New Yorkers can use a little happiness,” joked Carol Cisco, publisher of Interior Design magazine, as she introduced Nataly Kogan, “happiness expert” and founder of wellness app Happier to the largest New York audience to date. Happier promotes Kogan’s values of “mindful awareness” in order to improve happiness and reduce stress, and reminds us of the big and small things in life we can be grateful for.

7. We met the designer of the Microsoft Windows key

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© Sam Breach, Courtesy of IIDA Northern California Chapter

While limited in his physical mobility (a hospital mistake left him confined to a wheelchair), there is nothing that August de los Reyes has not been able to accomplish within the UEX tech world, having worked for huge names like Microsoft, X-Box, Pinterest, and now Google. The San Francisco audience was taken on a visual journey of de los Reyes’s presentation about designing for well-being and the importance of inclusive design. With the utmost generosity, de los Reyes donated his entire speaking honorarium to Project Color Corps, an organization he proudly supports.

8. We learned that building exteriors aren’t always brick or stone

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© Sly Works Photography, Courtesy of IIDA TX/OK Chapter

Socio-ecological architect and designer Mitchell Joachim visualized a new kind of building: a large-scale, double-skinned structure equipped with open plantings of milkweed and nectar flowers, serving as a breeding ground and sanctuary for the monarch butterfly, a threatened species. This project, shown to the Houston audience, is one of hundreds that Joachim’s design group Terreform ONE, a non-profit that promotes smart design and environmental planning, develops.

9. We met the CEO of Waffle House, y’all

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© Chuckyfoto, Courtesy of IIDA Atlanta Chapter

At the Atlanta Leaders Breakfast, Walt Ehmer, president and CEO of Waffle House, Inc. treated the audience with true Southern hospitality. Standing on stage in a Waffle House uniform, his everyday attire, the leader of the Southern staple discussed how maintaining company culture is key to keeping a business that is open 365 days a year running consistently and successfully for 63 years.

10. We caught a glimpse of Art Gensler in the audience

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© Sam Breach, Courtesy of IIDA Northern California Chapter

“Thank you, Art Gensler, for being so awesome so I can retire,” crowd favorite Bill Van Erp, a now-retired resource director and senior associate at Gensler, stated during his Leadership Award of Excellence speech. Van Erp’s humorous and meaningful speech had the sold-out San Francisco audience of 500 cheering and laughing, but he got serious when thanking all of the reps and designers for giving depth to his profession and allowing him to work with the best of the best.

Leaders Breakfasts will begin again in May 2019 and continue throughout the year in New York, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Toronto. For more information, please contact Anastasia Gedman, director of outreach, at agedman@iida.org.

Atlanta, New York Leaders Breakfasts Inspire Big Audiences with Big Ideas

The 2016 IIDA Leaders Breakfast series kicked off with a record number of attendees filling over 1,000 seats at the first two breakfasts in Atlanta and New York City. The inspirational events featured engaging keynote speakers and local honorees who offered the audience powerful messages in both cities. Here are a few of our favorites:

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Jake Barton, Principal and Founder of Local Projects, a media and physical design firm that creates groundbreaking experiences, gave a moving speech to an audience of 700 Leaders Breakfast attendees. Barton shared with the New York audience his most recent and recognizable project, the 9/11 Museum in New York City. The audience had the opportunity to hear about his creative journey from the museum’s initial concepts, to the strenuous approval periods, to the final product. Barton’s visuals showed installations as well as how all of his designs aim to make the observer an active participant in the exhibit. Other projects Barton featured during his presentation included the Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum and the Cleveland Museum of Art.

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For over 30 years, Deirdre O’Sullivan, IIDA, LEED AP, President of Idea | Span, has been recognized by her peers as a leader in the interior design industry in Georgia. She accepted her award graciously, thanking the audience, which included her clients and teammates, for all they do as designers and industry members. “IIDA has such a huge influence in our community,” she said as she shared with the audience the importance of IIDA within the Atlanta design community. O’Sullivan has partnered with some of the most recognized global organizations such as General Motors, Coca-Cola Enterprises, Home Depot, Porsche Cars of North America, and Citicorp.

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After watching a touching video tribute composed by his colleagues, Julio Braga, FIIDA, LEED AP, accepted the IIDA Leadership Award of Excellence with a heartfelt thank you. Video participants, including David Bourke, Executive Director/Managing Principal of IA Interior Architects, Cheryl S. Durst, Hon. FIIDA, LEED AP, Executive Vice President and CEO of IIDA, and Ginger Gilden, IIDA, President-elect of the IIDA New York Chapter, shared their humorous experiences with Braga, from traveling to working with him. “The good news is, he’s only really getting started in his career,” said Bourke.

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Leaders Breakfast offers designers an opportunity to connect locally while gaining knowledge on global ideas. Each of the breakfasts begin with an hour of networking before the event begins, allowing clients, designers, reps, and other community members to interact with one another. At Leaders Breakfast Atlanta, Durst during her introduction to the keynote Celeste Headlee, encouraged the audience to start conversations about who they are and what they do as commercial interior designers to better represent the industry and educate the general public about the profession.

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NPR personality and Atlanta resident Celeste Headlee, host and executive producer of On Second Thought on Georgia Public Broadcast, spoke to the Atlanta crowd about how communication has suffered due to technology. “People listen to reply, but not to understand,” she said. Headlee provided the audience with 10 useful rules for having better conversations from her insightful TED Talk.


The IIDA Leaders Breakfast is an annual international event series that celebrates design’s importance in the global market place by honoring the people who are both the legacy and future of design. Each breakfast features a renowned keynote speaker to provoke and encourage new ideas, and recognizes a local honoree who has made significant contributions to the design industry. IIDA Leaders Breakfast series’ international benefactors are Herman Miller and Interior Design magazine

Upcoming Leaders Breakfasts will be held in Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and Toronto. For more information about purchasing tickets in a city near you, visit the Leaders Breakfast page on the IIDA website.