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Career Spotlight: Frank Webb (F'86)
White Webb, LLC
Describe your current position and what led you to your job?
Four years ago, after a successful, 17-year career in financial services, I decided the time was right for a major change. What kind of change, I wasn’t entirely sure, but I knew I wanted to do something creative. After a lot of soul searching, volunteer work, and far-flung networking, I finally found my answer very close to home. In fact, it was in my home. After recently moving into my apartment, I happened to meet Matthew White, another new tenant, in the elevator. As fate would have it, he was an established interior designer, who was looking to grow his business. We quickly established a rapport, and within 6 months time, joined forces to launch White Webb, LLC. Today, we operate a bi-coastal business where we specialize in the design of high-end residential interiors and furniture lines. In addition, we periodically undertake commercial projects and special events, such as the design of the Architectural Digest Greenroom for the most recent Academy Awards.
What has been the most rewarding moment in your career?
Oftentimes, I think the most rewarding moments are when you surprise yourself with what you accomplish. Having only worked in highly structured, corporate organizations, I had no idea whether I could cut it as an entrepreneur. As a small business owner, I knew I’d be responsible for everything, which was both daunting and exciting. Fortunately, I’ve found that I love the variety of my days, the ability to exercise both the left and right sides of my brain, and the challenge of building a business. With only three years under our belts, we have a financially viable business, our work is regularly published in all of the major trade magazines, and we’ve received numerous honors for our work. Rising to your own challenge can be especially rewarding.
What is the best career advice you have received?
Network, network some more, and then network some more. I’ve always considered myself a shy person who wasn’t genetically predisposed to be a social butterfly. When I decided to leave finance for something new, I had no choice but to meet new people who could help me explore unknown territory. Painful as I thought it would be, I found that I actually grew to love it. What you have to remember is that you’re looking for advice, not a job. If you take that approach, you’ll find that most people are eager to help, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the outcome.
What would you recommend to someone interested in working in your field?
As with any career move, I think it’s very important to do thorough research before taking the plunge. Take some course work, particularly on the history of interior design. A familiarity with historical styles will inform everything you do, regardless of whether you consider yourself a classicist or a modernist. From there, focus on developing technical skills, such as perspective drawing or AutoCAD. Visit the websites of various trade organizations. The American Society of Interior Designers
and the International Interior Design Association
provide helpful information and resources. Spend actual time in the field. If you can afford it, take an unpaid internship so you can get a better feel for the true, day-to-day workings of the business. Finally, save your pennies. There’s a lot of competition for jobs in this field, and entry-level positions rarely pay handsomely.
What challenges have you faced and how did you successfully manage one situation?
A frequent challenge for career changers is building credibility in their new field. In my opinion, it’s best to be totally honest about what you know (and don’t know) rather than espouse the “fake it ‘til you make it” approach. Spending a little more time to obtain accurate answers is almost always better than bluffing in an attempt to offer a quick reply. Also, be sure to use your varied background to your advantage. Having worked in finance, I speak the same language as many of our clients. As such, I was able to offer up suggestions for process efficiencies, effective project management, and the value of various investments in their home. At the same time, my business partner would weigh in with well-founded rationale from the aesthetic perspective. Over time, the two streams have blended into an effective whole, and either one of us is capable of covering the other’s original territory. By sharing our different skill sets, we have managed to enhance each other’s contribution and credibility.
What skills are necessary or what prepared you the most for your career?
Beyond the obvious need for a creative sensibility and the ability to express it well, I think it’s extremely important to be able to manage client relationships. Since the design of someone’s home is intensely personal, financially significant, and technically complex, success is dependent on the designer’s ability to forge a trusting relationship with his client. In my prior career, I ran client service for an investment management firm, and I learned the value of listening to my clients, understanding their motivations and goals, and tailoring my interactions with them. Especially when dealing with emotional topics, such as a client’s money or home, you have to be able to put yourself in that person’s position and advise accordingly. Developing a common language takes some time, but without it, the most talented designer will fall short.
What professional associations have aided in your professional development?
See above. In addition, I obtained invaluable training in leadership development and career transitioning through my work with Dr. Joshua Ehrlich and Karen Muchnick, of BeamPines
, an executive coaching firm in New York City.
Anything you would like to add?
I learned a lot of valuable lessons in my prior career and don’t regret a day of it. That said, I also know how easy it can be to get consumed by your job and not devote enough attention to what really makes you happy. Every so often, be sure to step back and re-evaluate. Change can be awfully good.