In this episode of the Hotel Design Podcast, we welcome Beth Campbell – CEO of global interior architecture firm Wilson Associates. The company has designed some of the world’s most iconic addresses across the globe, and Campbell is looking to ensure its future success.
This episode begins by highlighting Campbell’s personal journey from starting as a designer, to her shift to the operations side of the business, and then to the challenges of being a new CEO. They discuss what it’s like stepping into the shoes of the company’s founder, what starting a CEO role is like, and how one gets to know everyone within the organization. Plus, she talks about the importance of the Chinese market, where many of her staff members live, but also how the country is shaping the hotel market there.
The conversation then shifts to discussing how designs must incorporate changing shifts in technology and how to plan, or in some cases, get caught by surprise about the rapid pace of technological changes. It’s a matter of figuring out what will be the right type of technology to use when the hotel opens, rather than when it’s on the drawing board.
She also discusses the importance of understanding local culture and designing to those traditions and nuances. For example, if the company doesn’t have an office in that city, they try to send a team to the location. The team attempts to live like locals, try the local restaurants, and immerse themselves in the culture and energy of that community – ultimately to arrive at a culturally relevant and appealing hotel design solution.
Campbell chats about strategies regarding how to smartly run a collaborative organization and meshing individual creativity with clients’ considerations. She strives to create a collaborative culture where her designers can stand up for their designs to clients, but also understand when not to. For her, the ultimate achievement is creating a place where people are free to challenge each other and take innovations and design risks in the overarching goal of surprising their clients.
Campbell also speaks about what it’s like for a newly appointed CEO to make organizational changes, and the challenges and opportunities that can be born from that effort. Her intention was to create an organizational design strategy – yet how can you change so many things while keeping the corporate culture intact, and rallying people behind the cause? This is critical because it relates to her ability to morph corporate culture and understand the intricacies of helping people change within the organization at their own pace.
The final part of the conversation focuses on the changing nature of luxury and how its meaning has become much more personalized to individual preferences and tastes. There is no longer a strict script for creating luxury hotels, but there are some rules to follow – and she revels them.