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Heidi Hendy: “Part of being a successful business leader is knowing when to step away and assess what’s happened, what needs to happen and how you will get there”

Step away, reflect and plan. Part of being a successful business leader is knowing when to step away and assess what’s happened, what needs to happen and how you will get there. Once a year, I take a two week break to reflect and plan for the future, leaving my phone and other distractions behind. […]


Step away, reflect and plan. Part of being a successful business leader is knowing when to step away and assess what’s happened, what needs to happen and how you will get there. Once a year, I take a two week break to reflect and plan for the future, leaving my phone and other distractions behind. During this period, I also look ahead and consider social and economic factors that may impact my business. When I return, what I’ve reflected on is directly integrated into the firm’s business plan.


I had the pleasure to interview Heidi Hendy. Heidi is managing principal at H. Hendy Associates (Hendy), a national interior architecture and planning firm commemorating 40 years in business. With a deep love for art, architecture, and business, Heidi founded Hendy in 1979 upon recognizing that interior architecture and business practice form the functional nucleus of every workspace — an intersection where design influences human behavior. Today, Heidi oversees the design development and project operations for a prestigious list of clients including Behr Paint Company, Toyota Racing, Monster Energy, Kawasaki, Yamaha Music, among others. Recently, she was named a 2019 “Excellence in Entrepreneurship” by Orange County Business Journal.


Thank you so much for doing this with us Heidi! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart. I landed my first job at age 13. In those early days, I had to make a decision on whether I wanted to babysit for 50 cents an hour or mow the front lawn for $1.50. It was an easy choice. I was the first female lawn service in the neighborhood and remembered starting my first year of high school with $550 for new clothes.

My journey into interior architecture was more a metamorphosis than a planned event. In 1978 while in college, my commercial environmental design professor asked if I wanted to partner with him on a business venture. Enticed by the offer, I quit college to start a full-service branding company. The services offered did not stop at letterhead and business cards, it included the organization’s communications platform as well as the entire built environment. This was an early adaption of what we see today with four wall marketing and branded environments. My professor continued building the company by hand picking students, pulling them out of college, and making them partners. After six months and at the point of not being able to afford the telephone bill, he brought on a sixth partner and that was when I decided it was time to move on.

Unable to transition back to college immediately, I branched off and began my own business venture. At that time, interest rates had climbed to 22%, inflation hit 13%, and unemployment was at 10%. I started Hendy with a passion for great design and an idea of how a well-planned environment could positively impact an organization’s bottom line. Over the next three years, Hendy grew tremendously with over 64 employees and two office locations.

In the early 80s, working very closely with many industrial engineers in the South Los Angeles manufacturing industry, I learned about time and efficiency, return on investment, and attaching a business plan to the work environment. Integrating these principles to our corporate clients’ work environment was key to our early success.

As the recession of 1990 came Hendy never slowed down. Our deep understanding of our clients’ business needs allowed us to proactively answer their questions about whether they should relocate their spatial footprint and the cost, far before even looking for a new space. Our ability to question the status quo and help our clients make the right move in an economic downturn is why we are still successful to this day.

Today, Hendy has become a leading industry force as one of Interior Design Magazine’sTop 200 Architecture Firms for 37 consecutive years. This year, with over $10 million in revenue and 25% year-over-year growth, I’m proud to share our firm is celebrating 40 years of helping our clients to “Look Great and Work Great.”

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

In 1982, battling against a global firm, we were finally awarded the largest corporate headquarters project in Orange County. It was a 209,000 square foot space with a condition attached — all contract documents were to be done on AutoCAD. This was back when very few architectural firms were using, or even understood, AutoCAD. Upon stating the condition, I looked at the developer and without hesitation said, “we’ll do it.” I remember my partner, Kerry Wilson, subsequently kicking me under the table for spontaneously taking such a risk. As we walked out, I assured him that we would draw the documents twice if necessary.

The wireless communications company from that day on continued to be our client for 10 years and we installed hundreds of thousands of square feet for them nationally. Not only did we receive the headquarters project and a lasting business relationship, but we were the first interior architecture firm in Orange County that was up and running on AutoCAD. When considering a risk, understand that the reward can be more than just a new client, it can be a new proficiency that becomes your competitive edge moving forward. After that day we looked beyond the short-term gain and pushed our organization to the next level by staying at the forefront of technology.

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?

Upon returning from a six-month extended maternity leave, I found that the organization was taking shortcuts on deliverables Hendy was producing for its clients. The first program I reviewed had been dwindled down to exactly what our competitors were providing, essentially taking away our competitive advantage. Later I found that many of our deliverables had been oversimplified in this way.

I brought my first redlined set of documents, detailed in narrative form (which had changed drastically in the new format) to our administrative assistant to update. I explained to her how I wanted it and asked that moving forward she was to complete redlines exactly as I had asked. A week later I gave her a hurried rough draft of a letter to a client and per my request, she gave it back to me exactly as redlined, spelling and grammatical errors and all. This was a turning point in my career and taught me to lead through sharing objectives instead of micromanaging. Today we believe employees at Hendy don’t work for us, they think for us. I’m happy to say that the administrative assistant who opened my eyes to the difference between managing and leading has been working for Hendy for over 20 years and is now a part of the leadership team.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

At Hendy, we are a group of principle-driven leaders. Our principles have not changed since the company’s inception and our original values are still our values today. We have always been working toward the same goal: to deliver tools that make our clients successful. Our original company mantra, “Somewhere between business objectivity and creative sensibility lies great workplace design” has passed the test of time and transformed to the modern day “Looks Great Works Great.” We continue to challenge the status quo and provide our clients with a tool for their business that exceeds expectations.

Our comprehensive hiring process is a true testament of Hendy’s commitment to finding future principle-driven leaders. All employees go through a five-and-a-half-hour interview process to ensure they not only have the talent and technical skills, but more importantly, that they share the same values that hold true in times of extreme stress. Our investment in these employees is demonstrated by various professional development opportunities, flexible work schedules and unique holiday parties and events that thank both employees and their families. At Hendy, we bring in top talent who are eager to learn, think outside the box and have a positive attitude. We don’t hire people to work for us. We hire people to think for us. In addition to our A-class team of LEED certified professionals, our Lean Six Sigma and WELL accreditation sets Hendy apart. Our ability to create process and data-driven spaces, as well as cutting-edge workplaces that incorporate wellness not only wins over clients but creates environments that look and work great and generate valuable ROI.

Hendy’s principle-driven leadership is reflected in our practice of continuous learning and the advancement of our design strategies and services as the needs of our clients evolve. This approach is what has enabled us to compete with global design firms and build a robust client roster of Fortune 500 and nationally recognized brands that include Toyota Racing, Behr Paint Company, Kawasaki, Monster Energy and Yamaha Music, among others. Now in our 40th year of business, we attribute our growth and success to focusing on the long run and truly understanding and delivering on the needs of our most valuable asset: our people.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We’ve had quite a few exciting projects this year. Recently we completed the design of a 20,000 square-foot innovation hub — a first of its kind in Newport Beach — for enterprise application software provider SAP. Designed to connect ideas and capital, the SAP Innovation Center Network and HanaHaus seamlessly unites the software giant’s two marquee segments — collaborative workspace and a research and development center. To deliver on SAP’s promise to create an unconventional and creative workspace experience that serves Orange County’s hotbed of innovative activity, the Hendy team leveraged ‘design thinking’ — a solution-based approach to problem solving and a key component of SAP’s DNA. This is truly a best-in-class example of a workplace environment designed to bring public and private entities together.

We also worked on a new 230,000-square-foot corporate headquarters for Behr Paint Company (Behr), one of the nation’s largest suppliers of architectural paint and exterior wood care products. The new space reflects the history and culture of Behr and Kilz paints and primers, supports company growth, inspires existing and new talent and enables the company to fulfill its brand promise of delivering world-class products and services. The project received a Grand Award for the “Best Interior Renovations” category at the 2019 PCBC® Gold Nugget Awards Ceremony.

The Hendy corporate studio also finished the renovation of a center that integrates autism therapy and disability services with administrative offices for Easterseals Southern California, the local chapter of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit offering indispensable resources and services to 13,000 children and adults with disabilities. The new center delivers on Easterseals’ two-fold vision to create a branded space that offers both an inviting and playful experience for special-needs clients, and a functional space that enhances the wellbeing of its employees. The project received a REmmy Award from CoreNet Global, Southern California Chapter in the “Innovative Workplace Less than 50,000 SF” category and a SPIRE Award from CREW-OC in the “Superior Performance in Tenant Improvements” category.

These are just a few recent examples of how Hendy is creating workplace environments that foster collaboration, fuel creativity, bolster employee wellness and productivity, and ultimately serve to change people’s lives.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team thrive?

  • Believe you can and you will. Train your mind to think in positive affirmations, write them down, and remind yourself and your team that there’s no such word as ‘can’t’. I’ve always believed that what you continually tell yourself will eventually become a self-fulfilled prophecy. If you allow your mind to think you can’t do something, then it’s likely you won’t.
  • Realize your competitive advantage. Today, many women allow themselves to live prophecies of unfair advantage. From my perspective, being a woman is a competitive advantage in business. While biologically men may be physically stronger in the gym, women have an innate ability to balance power with compassion. That’s a key strength in the business world.
  • Always make time to plan. As a leader, you need to know when to step away from the business demands to assess where you are and where you want to be. Even if your dreams seem unbelievable, write them down. Document your goals, thoughts and plans — and revisit them at least once a year. It’s incredible what you can achieve once your dreams become part of your subconscious mind.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

  • Pick the right people. Your employees and leaders are the key driver behind business growth and success. Make sure you choose people who not only want to work for you but who share common goals and values and are committed to continuous learning. At Hendy, we encourage our employees to share key learnings with one another and to engage in mentorship.
  • Be open and proactive in communication. The key to building trust in your organization is to have open, honest and consistent communication with your employees. At Hendy, we’re candid with our team members and regularly educate them on the firm’s short- and long-term goals and financial status. Honest communication is key to promoting positive morale within an organization.
  • Allow freedom for creativity. Once you formulate your plan and objectives, communicate them to your employees, but don’t prescribe how to do the work. Focus instead on educating employees on the expected outcomes and empower them to deliver the final product with a personal sense of pride and ownership.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am grateful for my mother who gave me the freedom to figure things out on my own and taught me about self-reliance. I also attribute my success to the guidance and valuable life lesson I learned from my dance instructor of nearly 10 years, Margaret Baker. If I ever said I can’t do something she would reply “there’s no such word as ‘can’t’, do it again.” She encouraged me to believe in myself and never let me settle for something less than my capabilities. And believe me, those capabilities astonished even myself. This paved the way for the rest of my life and taught me not to look at failure as the victim, but as the opportunity. Today, I welcome challenges even if they are perceived as failures because these events become my learning platform to greater successes.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I have always been very passionate about giving back to the local community and encourage my employees to use their talents to help others. I have personally been involved with the Group Home Foster Care and Emancipation Program, WE CARE, Boys and Girls Clubs of America and Working Wardrobes. During the holidays, Hendy employees also may request a corporate donation to a worthy cause of their choice. Last year, the firm introduced its inaugural “philanthropy challenge” in which employees are allocated a budget and timeframe to lead or participate in a philanthropic initiative of their choice. Employees then share their experience through photo and video presentations and the team with the most votes receives $500 to donate to the charity of their choice.

To honor our beloved partner Kerry Wilson who passed away in 2013, the Hendy team partnered with the University of Southern California School of Architecture to establish the Kerry P. Wilson Memorial Scholarship Fund. The program helps future architects realize their dreams by providing financial support to generations of talented architecture students. Hendy and other industry organizations have pledged to donate dollar-for-dollar up to $30,000, and to-date, the fund has raised more than $82,000.

I also am grateful for the opportunity to have been a foster parent. Being a foster mom enabled me to provide a loving, family home to a child who deserved the opportunity to live a better life. I also had the opportunity to mentor another foster child who was transitioning through emancipation. Throughout this journey, I worked closely with the child’s emancipation team and attorney to help the grandmother of the child attain legal guardianship. This rewarding experience touched my life personally and I hope to contribute more time to the foster care system once I retire.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned from My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Learn to love conflict. With conflict, uncertainty and opposition comes jewels of opportunity. Some of the biggest challenges in my life include starting my own business, weathering the economic recessions of 1990 and 2007 and the loss of my business partner. These experiences have all taught me valuable life lessons and helped shape the person and leader I am today. Now, I’m not afraid of conflict. In fact, a good storm with strong head winds always pushes me to where I need to be.
  2. Never stop learning. Despite what your title or position may be, in order to grow you must practice continuous learning. From participating in industry organizations and professional development programs to thought leadership, no matter what phase of your career you’re in, there’s always a challenge to be taken and something to learn.
  3. The power of the masses will always exceed the efforts of a few. It’s important not to focus on a few people’s talents but understand the collective talents of the organization. Make sure employees know the direction of the organization and how they can contribute to its success. Remember, two horses that can each pull 8,000 pounds alone can pull 24,000 pounds working together. Organizationally, the power of the masses will always exceed the efforts of the few.
  4. Don’t let the fear of failure keep you from trying. Business leaders shouldn’t be afraid to take risks. Without risk, there’s no reward. This is something I learned as a child and continue to practice as I lead Hendy. I’ve had to make some tough business decisions over the years, but had I let fear stand in the way of any of them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
  5. Step away, reflect and plan. Part of being a successful business leader is knowing when to step away and assess what’s happened, what needs to happen and how you will get there. Once a year, I take a two week break to reflect and plan for the future, leaving my phone and other distractions behind. During this period, I also look ahead and consider social and economic factors that may impact my business. When I return, what I’ve reflected on is directly integrated into the firm’s business plan.

You are a person of great 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?

My passion lies in helping all mothers, from working moms to single moms. As a mother myself, I believe that if you really want to make a positive impact on society, start with a child’s life and the family unit. As mothers, we are one of the most important role models in a child’s life. The greatest gift you can give is demonstrating love, consistency and confidence. If we’re living lives that are filled with confidence and contribution, it’s likely our children will follow suit. As an advocate for mothers, I’ve made it a business philosophy to offer Hendy moms flexible work schedules so they can pursue their career while engaging positively in their child’s life.

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

“Growth and comfort will never happen at the same time.” Over the years, I’ve learned that if you’re growing a business or experiencing growth on a personal level it’s going to be uncomfortable. You can’t dwell on that. You must learn to accept it and keep forging ahead.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

I would love to have lunch with George Lucas, filmmaker, entrepreneur, and the creator of Star Wars. Since watching the Star Wars series in the 1970s, I’ve been blown away by his talent and ability to break industry norms. Beyond being one of the most successful filmmakers, poets and artists of my time, he also is a devoted father and a very compassionate man who is committed to raising his five adopted children.

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