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Mavis Wiggins: “Keep your connections alive”

Should you be invited to industry conferences, go. You will be exposed to some of the most brilliant ideologies. Take advantage of those networking opportunities. Keep your connections alive. Whether they be professors, mentors from internships, or past colleagues. Everyone who has been a part of your career journey has shaped your professional life and […]

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Should you be invited to industry conferences, go. You will be exposed to some of the most brilliant ideologies. Take advantage of those networking opportunities.

Keep your connections alive. Whether they be professors, mentors from internships, or past colleagues. Everyone who has been a part of your career journey has shaped your professional life and where you are today.


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

Mavis has more than 30 years of experience as an interior designer and team leader. During her tenure, she has developed a large and multi-faceted workplace portfolio with an emphasis in financial services. She draws upon her experience and evolving vision to design successful spaces for all her clients. As Managing Executive and Studio Creative Director, she articulates a client’s unstated goals, ensuring the completed design reflects their unique ideal. In 2018, she was recognized as an honoree at the IIDA Leaders Breakfast in New York.

Mavis is known for being a reigning Scrabble champion among her friends, and for making a mean gumbo!


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’ve always found myself drawn to the arts. In Northern California where I grew up, I was surrounded by a lot of interesting architecture and visual art. My interests manifested into a love of photography where I discovered my own eye and vision of the world around me. I learned how to frame my surroundings and see things in a more detailed way.

When I entered the Pratt Institute, I became exposed to architecture and interior design, which took my understanding of shaping space to another level. From there, the idea of being able to influence people’s surroundings and the communities within was very appealing. These experiences have led me to where I am today — a Managing Executive and Studio Creative Director at TPG Architecture. I’ve been with the firm for over ten years now and specialize in corporate workplace design.

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

I think I bring a certain sensitivity and awareness in my approach to problem-solving. With my internal teams and clients, I come to the table with commitment and sincerity. Not only am I trying to create better experiences for the people I design for, but I find myself constantly trying to improve myself in any way I can. By taking a step back and seeing what I can do better within my process, I can lead those around me in a stronger light. It takes real passion and honesty to convince people that you are the right person to fill the leadership role.

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

I think my career thus far has resulted in a lot of interesting moments, it’s hard to pick just one. Having had the opportunity to work for some of the top firms in NYC from the start allowed me to be continually mentored by the best designers in the industry. It also gave me the chance to work on some pretty prestigious projects. But I must say, being invited into the Partnership at TPG Architecture is at the top for me.

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?

Not sure if this would be considered a mistake, but it was pretty comical. We were commissioned to design The Rockefeller Foundation’s NYC headquarters early on in my career. We specified a Brazilian slate tile for the project, but the Client was concerned that the mineral makeup of the slate was wildly random. They then asked us to go hand select the desired pieces. Of course, we didn’t hesitate to book the travel before they changed their minds.

After day 3, I could tell the workers were getting extremely annoyed with us marking and having them sort the tiles we thought best. In the end, I believe they threw in whatever was there regardless of our painstaking attempts. In any case, the project turned out great. It went so well that the Client then commissioned Maya Lin to design a feature fountain in the reception area, and back again to Brazil we went to secure that material!

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 a person who isn’t afraid to go into depth on their area of expertise. You have to look ahead AND behind as there are always things to learn from in the past that may inspire thought.

This type of person has to open themselves up to others and be generous with the knowledge they bring to the table and share. I’m not so sure that a thought leader and an influencer are all that different. They each influence those around them, but I think a thought leader embeds more ideals of mentorship in their practice. I know from personal experience that I learn just as much from the people that I mentor as they learn from me.

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?

Being a thought leader makes you a better person and builds up those around you and your industry. If you can influence the way people experience life through the things you have to say, well that’s powerful. The world is constantly changing. If we can pool together our individual and shared ideas, we can inspire movements that are greater than ourselves.

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?

Networking is key. It’s important to always be aware of what’s going on around you — from both an individual and larger, business-oriented perspective. The more in the know you are about the present makes it easier to anticipate what’s coming next. By reading up on what other thought leaders have to say, you gain new information and catch things from nuanced angles. Having this greater awareness for the industry at large allows businesses to better prepare for incoming opportunities.

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. Get involved in your industry. Participate in round table discussions and make your thoughts, ideas, and opinions known. A few organizations that I align myself with are IIDA, Interior Design Magazine, Metropolis, Contract Magazine, & CoreNet.
  2. Should you be invited to industry conferences, go. You will be exposed to some of the most brilliant ideologies. Take advantage of those networking opportunities.
  3. Keep your connections alive. Whether they be professors, mentors from internships, or past colleagues. Everyone who has been a part of your career journey has shaped your professional life and where you are today.
  4. Find ways to continue your education. Webinars and lectures are a great way to expose yourself to new ideas and stay current.
  5. Allow yourself to be open to the world. Find inspiration through art, nature, and those around you.

In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that 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.

Thought leaders come in all shapes, sizes, and mediums. I am inspired by:

Kara Walker: Her creativity and ability to conceptualize brilliant, relevant works that educate the viewer about historically racial tension in America is powerful.

Toni Morrison: Her writing is so amazingly deep and consistently takes readers where you wouldn’t have imagined.

Tadao Ando: His minimalist restraint gives him the ability to capture the essence of space, light, and form with a few powerful strokes.

And of course, our amazing interns and junior creatives who see the world through fresh eyes. They never fail to inspire me in exciting, unique ways.

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

I don’t feel that way and still think ‘thought leader’ is a relevant term. It encompasses someone who wants to influence through educating and sharing their knowledge with others. I try not to get hung up on terms, but I would welcome other ideas: Influencer, Inspirational Guru…

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

It’s important to continually expose yourself to as much as possible. Living and working in New York City, I find myself constantly energized. Through exposing myself to different experiences, creative inspiration comes naturally. You have to move away from your devices and interact with the people and places that make up your surroundings. Keep your eyes and ears open. Stick to your convictions and do not be discouraged by negative persuasion. This is going to help you craft your passions and skills into tangible realities.

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. 🙂

Over the years, I spoken to countless clients about what they want for the future of their office environments. Many have not been able to reap the benefits of what good design can bring to the company. In my practice, good design shapes productivity and creativity at every level of an organization. If I can create a beautiful design solution that fix real issues, my clients can shine. That’s the outcome that drives my work.

I also love the work Samuel Mockbee was doing, and that his atelier is still producing. His work provided underprivileged families a space they can call home, no matter how modest the materials. People deserve to be treated with dignity. I would love to get involved with this kind of work in New York City.

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

One of my favorite quotes is from Maya Angelou, “You may not remember what a person says, but you will always remember how they made you feel.” I try to think about this with every opportunity I have to make a difference in someone’s life. We as designers have a pretty important role in shaping how people feel as they move through space that we’ve created.

On a more personal note, my grandmother always said, “You’ll catch more flies with honey than you would with vinegar.” It was always instilled in me to treat others the way I want to be treated, and that’s how I live my life. I’m respectful towards others in both my personal and professional relationships. I think if you carry a certain level of sensitivity and awareness in your actions, you have a better understanding of the different situations you may come across in life.

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. 🙂

Lunch, breakfast, dinner, snacks, drinks… would love to enjoy a one-on-one with Oprah Winfrey. I’ve learned a lot from observing her, starting at the beginning of her career to the empire she has created. She has touched so many lives along the way, and created real, positive change. One big standout brings back something I mentioned earlier: she never stops seeking advice and learning from others.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow me on Instagram @mswiggins23, and through LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/maviswiggins/.

You can also follow the work TPG Architecture, my firm, is doing via Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

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

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