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WLI Leadership Connection with Virginia McAllister

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Women’s Leadership Initiative Leadership Connection with Virginia McAllister

The WLI Leadership Connection Series kicked off on March 26th with a lunch with Virginia McAllister, Principal and Owner of Iron Horse Architects, Inc. (IHA). The series provides opportunities for leading women in the real estate industry to candidly share their career story, lessons learned and advice for future women leaders in an intimate group.

Virginia McAllister hosted the inaugural luncheon at her downtown Denver office with a group of about 15 women of ULI. She offered great life lessons and insight into succeeding as a women in our industry. The perfect kickoff to the Leadership Connection Series.

Originally wanting to be a doctor, Virginia McAllister attended Colgate University as a pre-med. After working with the Johnson O’Connor Institute for Aptitude Testing, she learned that she had multiple skills, but her primary skillset would either make her an excellent Neurosurgeon or an Architecture teacher. She quickly learned that she was not cut out to be a Neurosurgeon when she took her first bio-chemistry class! Thus…the other.

A full-ride scholarship to Syracuse University took her to Syracuse, New York to study architecture. Upon graduating, she started her career in architecture in Denver. A complex road in the industry lead her to jobs at several companies and included a move to Boston and work on high-end residential to eventually Denver Union Station.

Virginia chose to start her own company after working 80+ hours a week on salary and not getting the recognition for her work. “If I’m going to work this hard for salary, then I’m just going to do it for myself…and that’s when I opened the company [Iron Horse].” She started Iron Horse Architects to foster a design philosophy that moves beyond traditional sustainability and creates design solutions that incorporate sustainability, adaptability and longevity. Her expansive repertoire includes design for projects in varying levels of government, along with her work in the markets of transportation, aviation, science and technology, and hospitality. She is enthusiastic about the practice of architecture and embraces technology.

Her team is always looking to the future and practices Responsible Design, which takes a holistic approach to sustainability. Through her leadership, she strives to create an office environment where employees are recognized for their individual accomplishments and encouraged to live a balanced life. Iron Horse Architects celebrates their 10 year anniversary this year.

Virginia imparted 6 key lessons at the luncheon:

  • Great lessons “we”

“This is a team sport and it’s essential in our industry…you are always responsible for the other person’s success.”

  • Get it in writing
  • Know when to ask for help!

“Know when to ask for help, this is a small world and a small industry…you never know who you will meet, who you will need, and who you will work for.”

  • Climbing the ladder…become what you want to be.

“The best advice I ever got was from Brad Buchanan…[he said] if you want to be something, just start doing it…and something I learned from that is, let people know you are doing it.”

  • Who buys the toilet paper? and Be careful what you wish for

“When you go out on your own in architecture you don’t actually do architecture…you manage others who do architecture. Be careful of knowing what you really want. My first office, it didn’t come with toilet paper! We had to buy it.”

  • If it had to do it all over again

“If I had to do it all over again, I would rethink my partnerships…Going into a business partnership is like being married to your partner. If you would not marry them, you should not go into business with them. Also, the best thing I did was have a business person as a partner versus another architect. It was a great move in terms of getting the company going and making it healthy.”

The ULI Colorado Women’s Leadership Initiative plans to host around 4 more lunches for the Leadership Connection Series in 2015. Keep on the lookout for the next lunch if you want to be part of this amazing event!

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