Allan Guinan

Allan Guinan

What I love most about my work is the challenge of really refining the task at hand and working collaboratively with our clients and internal teams towards a truly awesome solution.

After graduating and moving to Toronto from Winnipeg, what felt important at the commencement of my career was to get as much exposure as possible to every facet of interior design. I began at a boutique firm, mostly focused on retail and hospitality clients. Being small meant that I could work quite closely with the owner of the company. Early on I asked him what his expectations of me were and he quipped that he expected five pages of detailed drawing a day. Not realising he was joking, I threw myself into meeting that goal! Working at that firm was my debut experience of a culture that was hard working and fast paced but good fun too.   The next logical step for me was to move to a bigger, multi-disciplinary environment and surround myself with different, complimentary specialties that I could learn from. I was introduced to a junior partner at NORR Architects through a mutual friend, secured an interview and started in their interior design division.

While at NORR I met my future business partner, Chris Wright but we wouldn’t become firm friends until we were sent to the Middle East to lead the work on an oil producer’s headquarters. I was seconded there for a total of five months and during this time two pivotal events coincided. As team leader for the entire project, I found myself presenting to the entire C-suite defending our design decisions and confidently addressing their questions. Over long days and many late nights, Chris had been seeding the idea of joining forces to set up our own firm. Standing in front of some of the most influential businessmen in the region, I realised I could do it; I could run a successful company.   Chris and I set up shop in the middle of the 90’s recession; I think that experience has profoundly shaped who the three of us became as business owners. We’d seen and heard stories of friends and colleagues rounded up into boardrooms on Friday and told not to come in on Monday. We saw companies large and small alike go belly up. The lesson for me in all of this was two-fold; make company culture an absolute priority and stay humble.   I got to know Caroline through my role as president of ARIDO. I was spurred on to join the association by my frustration of how our industry is perceived as less important than the rest of the disciplines that make up the built environment. As a man in a predominantly female world, I found the misogyny inherent in this worldview really irksome. In Caroline, I found a contemporary who felt similarly and who evidently had a sharp intellect and a strategic perspective on the value of design thinking.   We talked for a long time about merging our companies and eventually made the leap. Almost immediately, we landed a big project with Bell that saw us pull together with each partner playing to their natural strengths. For me, those were creating the systems, processes, and policies that a business needs to become transparent and fair as well as successful. I also took on the role of business development lead, confident that whatever I could bring through the door would benefit from expert strategic oversight from Caroline, and a brilliant creative concept from Chris.   Outside of my role as managing partner at the firm, I’ve committed considerable time and resources to raising the profile of interior design. I have been an ardent advocate throughout my career of interior design’s inherent value to clients. I believe that in order for the industry to claim its rightful ‘seat at the table’, we must continually elevate and improve how interior design is taught. I’ve had the privilege of working with the Certification of Interior Design Association, visiting teaching institutions across North America to observe their students and review curricula. I remain optimistic about the future of the profession.   I feel incredibly proud of the company and the culture we’ve built. As a leader, your role is to provide hope. Hope for the future, hope for betterment, hope for more opportunities. But in order to cultivate a hopeful atmosphere, you have to nurture a positive and inclusive atmosphere. Empathy in business is absolutely crucial, and I think, the secret to our success. We’ve never forgotten that people don’t stop being people when they arrive at the office.


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