William Mandara of Mancini Duffy: “Establish a mission that sets you apart from your competitors”

Establish a mission that sets you apart from your competitors. Create a trusted leadership team — a group of people with shared values who all believe in the mission. Empower the staff to innovate and grow the business. As part of my series about the “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great”, I had the pleasure […]

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Establish a mission that sets you apart from your competitors.

Create a trusted leadership team — a group of people with shared values who all believe in the mission.

Empower the staff to innovate and grow the business.

As part of my series about the “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great”, I had the pleasure of interviewing William Mandara Jr., AIA. He is the chief executive officer and part owner at Mancini Duffy, a technology-first design firm based in New York City. Bill comes from a family in the business: both his father and grandfather were general contractors. During his teenage summers, at his father’s job sites, he got the most thankless tasks. In retrospect, it was a great way to instill understanding and respect for the profession. It was also a not-so-subtle hint from his father that he should be thinking about architecture school instead.

He had been at TSC Design for five years when the firm’s assets were purchased by Mancini Duffy in 2011, whereupon he was named a Senior Associate. He was later named a Principal in 2014, became an owner of the firm in 2017, and named Chief Executive Officer in 2018.

Throughout his career, Bill’s believed in having consistency of vision and of values: that we should never put ourselves or our vision ahead of the client’s. This consistency lets us respond to our clients quickly, with clarity and authority.

Bill lives with his wife and two children in Paramus, New Jersey.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I graduated college in 1994 in the midst of a recession and quickly found a stint performing field measurements at Chelsea Piers. From there I spent six months working in construction for my father, playing the drums in a cover band, performing freelance work, delivering flowers, and looking for a job. I went on to spend 11 years at a small architecture firm, before starting a satellite office for an established firm. We were acquired by Mancini Duffy, where I had the opportunity to help reimagine the firm based on my vision for the ideal workplace.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

There were two points in particular when I contemplated leaving architecture. The first time I was a few years into my career, I had grown tired of the old-school dysfunctional architecture culture where lack of experience was met with browbeating. I spent every Sunday night wondering about what I was going to be berated about during the upcoming week.

At the same time, I’ve always been passionate about music and was thoroughly enjoying being a drummer on the weekends. I had given serious thought to leaving and trying to pursue a career in music. Logic won when I realized there aren’t a lot of rock stars who start out at 26 years old.

The second time was in 2012 when, following the recession, I found myself going from someone running an office to one of 20 project managers here at Mancini. I started questioning if I really had the desire to start all over again or if I just wanted do freelance work by myself at home. As fate would have it, I met Christian Giordano (who is now president of the firm) when he joined Mancini and not only did we become fast friends, we also had the same values and ideas of what an architectural firm could be. I realized that there was a real opportunity to create something special and carve out a unique niche in the industry.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

I could fill this interview talking about funny mistakes, and the one that comes to mind is fairly recent. While we were all locked down during COVID, my family and I were in the process of renovating our house so we were all basically living, working, and eating in one room. On this particular day, I was on a Zoom meeting while a water heater was being installed a few feet away. One of the workers broke a few bottles and kept shouting about it. Until finally they started yelling to my son who was doing his classwork nearby. I thought the mute button was engaged and I used some salty language to address the broken bottles. Well, the mute button was not on and everyone on the Zoom immediately alerted me to my transgression. Thankfully, everyone had a good sense of humor about it!

The takeaway is: never, ever trust a mute button.

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

We listen to everyone’s ideas and encourage entrepreneurism. We have multiple people at Mancini who have expressed interest in specializing in different aspects of business — from technology to interior design to aviation — and we’ve encouraged and supported their endeavors into these new areas of expertise, which has ultimately helped the firm grow tremendously.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Work is important however it can’t be everything in life. It’s important to make time for things that are fun and make you happy to help you maintain balance. I’m fortunate to be able to spend a lot of time with my family who always make me happy. Beyond that, activities like playing music, cooking, and even golf help give me an outlet to keep me and my mind fresh.

None of us are able to 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?

Early in my career, it became apparent that there was far more for me to learn about architecture than what I learned in college. I had the pleasure of working with my great friend, David Lesesne, who was already an accomplished architect. David took the time to patiently work with me and show me how to put together a quality set of drawings. He has taught me too many other lessons to list!

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?

A good company is a stable one that does fine work, turns a profit, and has little employee turnover.

A great company is one that does all those things, but also does something special to enrich the lives of its clients and employees and has a sustainable path for the future. A great company is somewhere that people look forward to doing their jobs and clients look forward to working with them.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.

Establish a mission that sets you apart from your competitors.

Create a trusted leadership team — a group of people with shared values who all believe in the mission.

Hire a top-tier staff that exemplifies the core values of the company.

Empower the staff to innovate and grow the business.

Most importantly, stay true to who you are.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?

Being a purpose-driven business provides focus for the entire company, brings clarity to otherwise difficult decisions, defines your company culture, and sets you apart from your competitors.

What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a stand still? From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?

In order to boost growth, I recommend to go back and re-examine the basics. Why does your company exist? Is it still relevant? Have you stayed true to your values? Keep in mind that it is possible to stay true to your mission while still evolving.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

Being proactive and not reactionary is critical to not lose traction during a difficult economy. As leaders, it’s important to look beyond your own personal needs to evaluate what is best for the company. Beyond just surviving, there are always opportunities — even in the darkest most challenging times and circumstances — though they may not always be obvious. It’s easy to get caught up in just surviving, however, good leaders will look for these opportunities to keep forging ahead.

In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

Being of service and recognizing people’s accomplishments tend to be the most underestimated aspects of running a company. For example, I’ve seen too many people think that being in charge means you get to assign work and receive the credit, when in fact it’s really the opposite.

As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?

Establishing and focusing on your core customer is a smart strategy to increase conversion rates. Having a clear vision of who you are serving and what is important to them is crucial.

Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?

Providing consistent quality and always being honest and open with clients is the only way to earn a reputation as a trusted, beloved brand.

Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?

To create a “wow experience” the key is to understand it’s not about you, it’s about the customer.

What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.

Depending on your business, social media can mean different things. For us, we try to make our social media a true reflection of who we are as a company, both as individuals and collectively.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Trying to do too much by yourself is the most common mistakes CEOs make. It’s imperative to find people you trust and then trust and empower them to do the things at which they’re great.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂

Be yourself — all the time — it’s much easier than pretending to be who you think everyone wants you to be. You’ll be much happier and have a lot more fun.

How can our readers further follow you online?

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

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