Building Boldly: Leadership Lessons from an AEC CFO

Leadership Lessons in AEC
Emily Lawrence, Jennifer Knox, PE, MBA
May 9, 2024

In the latest episode of the AEC Groundbreaking Growth podcast, we had the privilege of hosting Bolanle Williams-Olley, CFO of Mancini Duffy, a century-old architectural and interior design firm based in New York City. Bola shared profound insights on leadership, the evolution of the AEC industry, and how to harness personal and professional growth opportunities.

Here are some highlights and takeaways from our conversation.

Leadership Is a Team Sport

Oftentimes, in AEC, we get wrapped up in project delivery, meeting deadlines, and satisfying clients. It can be easy to forget how critically important our corporate colleagues and teammates are. They are not just here to support the technical delivery but are also a strategic partner to drive efficiencies, growth, and overall team success.

One of the core themes Bola emphasizes is viewing leadership as a collaborative effort. She described her day-to-day role not just as a CFO but as a vital cog in a larger machine that includes finance, HR, IT, and legal responsibilities. Bola highlights how essential it is for leaders to support and empower their teams, ensuring that everyone can contribute to their fullest potential.

The Importance of Community in Professional Growth

Bola passionately discusses the role of community in personal and professional development. She stresses the importance of being part of various groups, such as the CFO Leadership Council, where she gains and shares knowledge with peers. This sense of community not only helps in navigating through challenges but also amplifies individual growth and confidence.

A community can be found in many places within the AEC industry, be it in role-specific organizations like ACEC, ASCE, ASME, AIA, or SMPS (Society of Marketing Professional Services). These organizations can provide early and mid-career professionals with exposure to new topics, ways of working, and relationship capital.

Continuous Learning and Adapting

Reflecting on her own journey, Bola underscores the significance of continuous learning and adaptability. From starting her career during the 2008 financial crisis to leading through the COVID-19 pandemic, her path illustrates how openness to learning and flexibility in adapting to new challenges is crucial for leadership.

Staying open to learning can be as simple as attending free webinars or shadowing a colleague in an area that may not be your expertise. If you are interested in gaining business and project management knowledge within the AEC industry, Stambaugh Ness offers a wide-ranging library of free videos, micro-learning, and full coursework, all at your fingertips through our Skills and Performance Institute (SPI).

Building Boldly with the BOLD Framework

Career advancement can often feel overwhelming, not being sure of your aspirations or how you’ll get there. Concluding the podcast, Bola introduces the “BOLD” framework from her book Build Boldly. This framework encapsulates the essence of her leadership philosophy:

  • Be Yourself
  • Open Your Mind
  • Lift Others
  • Don’t Wait, Do It Now

This framework encourages emerging leaders to be authentic, seize opportunities, and continuously contribute to lifting others in their journey.

Our conversation with Bola Williams-Olley was not just enlightening but also deeply inspiring. It reminds us that leadership in the AEC industry, or any field, involves much more than just managing projects and people—it’s about building communities, embracing innovation, and paving the way for future leaders. As we continue to navigate our professional landscapes, let’s remember to “Build Boldly,” leveraging every opportunity to grow and make a significant impact.

For more insights and to join the conversation, tune in to the AEC Groundbreaking Growth Podcast. Let’s keep building a brighter, bolder future together!

Emily Lawrence 2021 square

Jennifer Knox