Haril Pandya of NELSON Worldwide: “People are focused on their futures”

Is what you’re saying going to be relevant in the future? Is it an editorial of a current trend, event, or thinking? Or is it something that will outlast? People love the weather because they can ‘predict it’ right or wrong, but people rely on it. Can we talk, write, discuss, or debate about topics […]

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Is what you’re saying going to be relevant in the future? Is it an editorial of a current trend, event, or thinking? Or is it something that will outlast? People love the weather because they can ‘predict it’ right or wrong, but people rely on it. Can we talk, write, discuss, or debate about topics that its effects will stand the test of time? People are focused on their futures.

As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Haril A. Pandya.

Haril A. Pandya, FAIA LEED AP, is a Senior Vice President and Managing Director of NELSON Worldwide’s Boston office. Previously, Pandya held the position of Principal and Director of Asset Strategy and Repositioning at CBT Architects, a leading design firm in Boston for 16 years, where he oversaw several significant ground up, repositioning, and adaptive reuse projects. Pandya has led nearly 100 transformative projects nationally, including 1 Post Office Square, 225 Franklin Street, Post at 200 Smith, 99 Summer Street, Center Plaza, Schrafft’s City Center, and 28 State Street.

Pandya was recently elevated to FAIA — a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (FAIA), the highest recognition for an architect for progressing the field of architecture. Additionally, he was one of eight recipients of the AIA Young Architects Awards and has been recognized by Building Design + Construction as a top “40 Under 40.” Pandya previously served on the Board of Directors of the Boston Center for the Arts, The BSA Foundation Board, the AIA Government Affairs Committee, and the NAIOP Gavel Board. Pandya received his Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Architecture from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He is a thought leader, innovator, speaker, moderator, TEDx presenter, writer/columnist, and blogger, not to mention a guitarist in a cover band and independent filmmaker in his spare time.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I have worked in the field of architecture since the start of my professional career but have never stopped pursuing my passion for filmmaking and performing live music. I hope one day, I can be seen as a true Renaissance man, between my love for art and music mixed with my career in design.

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?

I have had a couple of personal and meaningful bucket list moments so far in my career. I’ve been fortunate enough to be ranked on Building Design and Construction’s 40 under 40 list and have also had the opportunity to give a Ted Talk on the “Death of the Corner Office: The Fluid Future of the American Workplace.” But one of the proudest moments in my life is being elevated to FAIA, the highest recognition for an architect progressing the field of architecture. If you look at the ceremony photo, I am both sad and proud to be one of the few people of color. Like most industries, the field of architecture has steadily looked to diversify. I am hopeful we can continue to shatter ceilings and be more diverse.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Like many others in my generation, I have worked through a few economic downturns, but two recessions standout — the first in 2008, and the other we’ve just experienced this past year. However, some may not recall that immediately following the 9/11 tragedy, the AEC industry was also stagnant and struggled to recover for a short period of time. Those experiences have taught me not to fear recessions, and in fact, I have become much more comfortable being strategic, creative and working through them. When our country faces a difficult time, it makes the job of an architect that much more valuable. In a sluggish economy, we are challenged to find innovative ways to stay relevant, while also maintaining the ability to secure new projects that put people back to work. I compare working in a recession to skiing in New England. In the Appalachian Mountains, there will be ice patch after ice patch, but at some point, that’ll be far past you — leaving you no choice but to continue blazing a trail. It’s those challenging times that force us to turn to our strengths and creativity. How can we face adversity, yet still rise to face it and overcome; and as a leader elevate others around you in the process?

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I remember working as a project manager for a design firm and one of our clients was a real estate giant with a project in Florida. While we were in construction, it was my responsibility to release the order for about a million square feet of glass that was needed for installation. I took different samples of the facade over to the person in charge of selecting and approving the glass and asked for their opinion. This person nonchalantly pointed to one of the samples. A few months later, a million square feet of that glass arrived on site and no one was expecting it. The client was surprised because no one “gave final approval”. The person who pointed to that sample said he liked the sample but never agreed that it was the final choice. I had never felt so helpless in my life. That happened 15 years ago and only recently have I started to look back and laugh at that moment. The lesson I took away from this was to get everything in writing, no matter how small or how simple, get it in writing.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is? How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?

For me, a thought leader is someone who has had distinctive experiences that set them apart from the rest of the crowd. Thought leaders differ from the average leader because they have endured, but have been able to overcome failures, and hardships that ultimately improve their ideas and how they navigate through life and their careers. They take their experiences, share them, and help others learn and grow from them. For many individuals, becoming a leader isn’t difficult, it’s continuing to evolve and innovate as a true thought leader that provides the biggest challenge.

Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader? Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?

As a thought leader, you are seen as a go-to person for ideas. It helps not only elevate your own story, but also the story of the business you work for. I have spent a lot of time researching, listening, talking, opining, pushing new ideas and taking chances on them before others- therefore endeavoring to become a thought leader. Just from my Ted Talk alone, I spent weeks perfecting the presentation because I knew if I nailed it, the next part of my career could accelerate. My Ted Talk gave me a known and respected national platform to express my ideas and passions, but also served as a resource for my resume to give clients credibility in my thoughts. If given the opportunity to speak at a conference or an event as a thought leader, it is important to prepare and put forth your best effort because the outcome can have a significant impact on your career.

Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?

Throughout the pandemic, I have received interest from building developers asking me what they should do. Where do the opportunities lie? And if they come to me with sites or assets, they will ask how can we transform this into something wonderful, despite the economic climate. My insight, expertise and portfolio provides me with credibility, and those in the industry hopefully trust it — people reach out if they have projects or ideas. It’s also a great way to build relationships, perhaps someone reaches out just to trade ideas, months later that person could reach out again and hire us. Being a thought leader puts your business in a position to succeed.

Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry? Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.

  1. “The topic must resonate, if you’re not talking about things that people care about, it’s not relevant.” In preparation for my Ted Talk, I had a Ted Talk advisor and she asked what I was going to talk about. I told her my ideas and I went into my 30-minute presentation. Once I finished she told me, “no one cares about that.” After the shock wore off, I realized She was right. It wasn’t a topic the public wanted to hear only what I wanted to say.
  2. “Find what’s important to you and relate it to others. How can you tell that story? How can you tell it different from your competitors? Where will you tell it and who is listening?” Every building, site, and city tells a story. One of the past, present, and future. We need to dig deep and find that story and make it relevant to the audience.
  3. What are you saying differently? Can you use a delivery method that your staff, audience, client or community will better relate to? Sometimes when we pitch projects to a community we have to focus on why that project makes the community better and what is in it for them and their future.
  4. You need to know why you are doing it. Have your own “why”. If you can speak to what you truly believe in, others will listen. Your why and their why should align.
  5. Is what you’re saying going to be relevant in the future? Is it an editorial of a current trend, event, or thinking? Or is it something that will outlast? People love the weather because they can ‘predict it’ right or wrong, but people rely on it. Can we talk, write, discuss, or debate about topics that its effects will stand the test of time? People are focused on their futures.

In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach?

“Two individuals who stand out to me are Simon Sinek and Warren Buffet. Sinek has a unique ability to relay information into an example that makes it impactful for his audience. He focuses on intent, behavior patterns, and human kind with a common denominator we can all relate to. As for Buffet, he has become the ultimate thought leader. The stock market will often react to his commentary, and if Buffet advises investing in a stock, that stock will see an increase in value. His impact on the stock market is so consequential, I would almost call him an influencer instead of a thought leader.

I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?

“I believe the term thought leader is overused and, sometimes, used incorrectly. A thought is a singular thing, which would mean a thought leader has one thing they are good at. I like using the term “knowledge partner.” As an example, I often write thank you letters after having done a pitch or presentation and will say, “we want to be your design partner.” It shows that our company wants to be in partnership with other companies and doesn’t elevate us above the client.”

What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

“Now more than ever, due to COVID-19, avoiding burnout is important. People are looking for guidance on a lot of issues and thought leaders are expected to have these answers or at least paths to get them — when in fact a lot of people don’t have the answers. I think at this moment in time it is OK to admit you don’t have an answer, with so much of the world’s future unknown.” Ideas that transcend are more valuable than opinions of the day. Thought leaders compile, sort, parse, analyze and dissect. Then what they extract and make relevant from that is the leadership.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

“Understanding that failure is not always a bad thing. Throughout my career, I’ve noticed that failure is a learning experience and provides you with the opportunity to learn from the loss you’ve encountered. Have you ever noticed that a lot of good things happen place after a period of loss? Sometimes you have to go through hell (personal or as a community) to appreciate and understand what “good” really is. Whether it’s a national pandemic or a bad work day, your emergence is what defines us in the moment. Even right now, there is a silver lining with COVID-19, even if you haven’t discovered it yet.” We have been brought together, spent more time with family, learned to work differently, spent more time outside, gone for walks, talked to old friends — the list goes on. Things that without the pandemic we may never have done.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“It’s always a movement toward positivity.” This helped me through my rough patches early on in my career, but it has come back to help me more now than it did in the past. As it relates to COVID, Black Lives Matter, politics, family, work, things that started out of something negative always move forward and toward a positive and bring people together.”

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

“It’s tough to choose one person! Instead, I’m going to host a Thanksgiving dinner, which means I’ll have a large table where I can invite more than one person. I mentioned my admiration for Simon Sinek and Warren Buffet earlier, so they will definitely be invited. They have influenced my professional life so much that I would like to share a meal with them to learn more. I’m also fascinated by trailblazers in their field. Individuals like Barack and Michelle Obama and Ruth Bader-Ginsburg (if she were alive) would have to be at that table. Not to mention Tom Brady, Justin Timberlake and Lady Gaga, and finally, to satisfy my geeky side, Bill Gates. Predictable? Sure! — but fun as heck!

How can our readers follow you online?


Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.

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