A conversation with Alex Rolluda, President of Rolluda Architects
“Our leadership team meetings are like barbarians around a table – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Alex Rolluda, President of Rolluda Architects, gets a kick out of the expressive energy of his leadership team, and their willingness to fight for their opinions. “But once we make a decision,” he said, “we all need to align and move forward.”
This kind of creative tension isn’t easy to balance. When personalities get tangled, outside coaching and sometimes mediation helps rebuild trust and open channels of communication. Nora’s first assignment with Rolluda was to mediate interpersonal issues between key staff that threatened to disrupt the collaboration the firm cherishes.
“Nora’s architecture background is a real plus because she knows how we think and process,” said Alex. “As we got to know Nora, we also started talking about solidifying our mission, vision, and values.”
Success on his own terms
The values Alex carries with him go back to the beginning of his career when his graduate school professor called him into his office to offer some advice: Architecture might not be the right field for a Filipino man. Alex took this as a challenge.
“I decided to prove him wrong,” Alex said. “And I did.”
Alex knew that success would have to be on his own terms. After paying their dues at established firms, he and his partner Gary Scott started Rolluda/Scott Architects in 1996. In 2000, the firm became Rolluda Architects and eventually grew substantially to 20 architects. Then came 2008 and the financial crisis.
Learning together through crisis
“It was bleak. We had to go into survival mode,” said Alex. “Within a year, we were down to seven architects.”
Initially the firm had to focus on stabilizing and re-building. When they were on steadier footing, Rolluda understood it wasn’t just talent and hard work that got them through. Culture was key.
The experience showed Alex the importance of nurturing a loyal and dedicated team. “The people who stuck with us sacrificed a lot,” said Alex. “Today they’re all principals on my leadership team.”
Grounding in what’s most important
“We started to realize our values were very important to us,” said Alex. “We didn’t just want to be big, award-winning, or successful. We wanted to intentionally build in values of diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
Each member of the leadership team had their own take on the firm’s values. As a talented, diverse, and confident team, they were passionate about creating something bigger than themselves. But they needed a way to bring their myriad ideas together.
Nora led a series of retreat workshops to help them articulate to each other what was important. Then she facilitated group conversations to merge those individual values into core values for the firm.
A magical moment
That’s when something remarkable happened:
In the midst of an intense brainstorming session, Alex sat back and scanned the sheets of notes and whiteboard scrawls on the walls of their workshop room. He suddenly saw the synthesis of values, vision, and mission in one clear image. “I see a…Mandala!” he exclaimed, rushing to grab a marker and sketch it on the flipchart. His colleagues watched in rapt silence and then started murmuring as they caught on and joined his excitement.
The Mandala shows how the firm’s values, mission, and vision are linked, with the value of “respect” at the core. Together, they articulated a more refined vision: Transforming architecture through the power of collaboration and diversity.
“It suddenly became so clear,” said Alex. “But it took somebody special to get that insight out of us. That was Nora.”
Learning what it means to be a leader
Alex describes Nora’s process was both structured and flexible. He remembers a particularly poignant moment when his team was broken up to work in groups. But he was the odd man out. “Nora took me aside and said, ‘This round, you just stand with me and observe. This is your team. Watch how they interact; observe their strengths, their body language.’ It was powerful.”
Alex still carries that feeling with him: The importance of being a member of the team while at the same time being its leader.
Bringing what’s inside out
Alex and his 10-person leadership team value their ongoing relationship with Nora. Over the past four years she has facilitated discussion of issues that can otherwise get lost in the intensity of day-to-day work.
“We see Nora as an intuitive guide,” said Alex. “She has this ability to get you where you need to be by mining the information that’s already inside you.”
By participating in Nora’s virtual Fearless Leader Executive Forum since the start of COVID, Alex has gained insights from other senior-level leaders who share their ideas and worries with Nora as a guide.
He also has Nora leading monthly listening circles to create a safe place where the entire Rolluda “family” can talk about what they’re going through during the isolation of the pandemic.
“Seeing each employee as an individual and solidifying our values helps us build loyalty and a clear sense of purpose,” said Alex. “Our Mandala represents our commitment to a higher vision, and Nora helped us get there.”