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.

Have You Been to Leaders Breakfast?

Raise your hand if you’ve been to an IIDA Leaders Breakfast. If you’re lucky enough to live in one of the eight cities that hosts the annual international series, your hand should be up. As one of the premiere events select IIDA chapters have the opportunity to host, Leaders Breakfast is the perfect way to cultivate connections and change your morning routine – leaving you feeling inspired! With the support of the event’s International Benefactors, Herman Miller and Interior Design Media, Leaders Breakfast is the place to be when you want to impress your clients or showcase your company to hundreds of industry associates. With record numbers of attendance at the first two breakfasts of 2015, the series is gaining the momentum it well deserves.

The IIDA Leaders Breakfast event series celebrates design’s importance in the global market place by honoring the people who are both the legacy and future of design. Each chosen host city organizes a breakfast that features a renowned keynote speaker to provoke and encourage new ideas, and recognize one city-selected honoree who has made significant contributions to the design industry. Honorees receive the coveted Leadership of Excellence Award and a special edition Charles and Ray Eames stool awarded by Herman Miller.

Image courtesy of Herman Miller

Image courtesy of Herman Miller

The sunrise networking gala begins around 7 a.m., when top-tier professionals from the largest companies in the industry start pouring through the doors. Designers, architects, directors, CEOs, industry members, media, sales reps, dealers, and students join forces, socializing and networking before the event. Soon enough, the coffee reception feels like a cocktail party filled with chatter, laughter, and camera flashes.

The Leaders Breakfast program begins by recognizing the honoree. The introduction and acceptance speeches are very moving; giving the audience an understanding of the path the honoree took to get here. The honoree for the 2015 Leaders Breakfast Atlanta, Stephen Swicegood, IIDA, FAIA, NCARB, LEED AP, Principal and Managing Director, Gensler Atlanta, reflected on leadership and early conversations with Art Gensler himself. Swicegood urged the audience to “let go of who you think you need to be and be who you are.”

The program concludes with a thought-provoking, renowned keynote speaker to jumpstart your day with a dose of creative inspiration. Having had the opportunity to get to know the keynote speakers prior to the show, it is interesting to see their cool demeanor before they present as larger-than-life characters on stage. The 2015 Leaders Breakfast New York keynote, Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator of Architecture & Design and Director of Research & Development at MoMA, was calm as anyone simply attending the breakfast. She leaned over and asked me if her hair looked okay prior to stepping on stage before 700+ attendees. Her presentation awed the audience by combining art with critical analysis. Antonelli’s speech referenced MIT Media Lab’s Neri Oxman and her silkworm project, which Oxman presented at the 2014 Chicago Leaders Breakfast. “Design is not only cute chairs and fast cars, but it is also origami, 3-D printing, and, as much as possible, design is critical,” said Antonelli.

During the Atlanta breakfast, I spoke with keynote David Burkus, author of The Myths of Creativity: The Truth About How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas, who saw the breakfast as “the dichotomy of someone who spent their whole career in the industry paired with someone from the outside who is providing an outside voice,” and described the event as “not just a meal for your body, but a meal for your mind.” His speech inspired audiences to recognize how to get better ideas by growing their network and collaborating differently.

Not all Leaders Breakfast keynote speakers have messages of art or design, or even creativity.  The upcoming fall and winter keynotes will stretch from award-winning writer Cheryl Strayed, who will tell her powerful story of endurance, to Jonathan Perelman,  Vice President of Buzzfeed Motion Pictures, who will address how to create shareable, social content and offer insight into how to maximize the content’s impact.

Whether your pocket is full of business cards of new contacts or your head is full of new ideas and perspective, a morning at Leaders Breakfast will always leave you with something brilliant to take away.


Learn more about Leaders Breakfast and register to attend an event near you!