Breakfast with an Impact

The IIDA Leaders Breakfast: then and now


By Genny Ramos

The conversations we have about design today are evolving not only by topic, but in the way we talk about design. IIDA has spearheaded these kinds of conversations from an evolving panel discussion to sold-out speaking events. Before Ted Talks, there was the Leaders Breakfast. What began in New York in 1989, as a morning panel discussion by thought leaders in design and business, has transformed into an IIDA international annual event meant to invigorate the mind and soul—all before lunchtime.

When Jeannie Bochette of Steelcase launched the first Leaders Breakfast discussion panel, the purpose was twofold: to introduce IIDA as the leading association of Commercial Interior Design to the business world, and to inform IIDA Members about major economic issues affecting them and their clients. The need to create such an event emphasized what many designers already knew and what those in the business world knew designers needed to learn: 1) Design impacts the bottom line, and 2) Economics can predict the industry’s fate.

The success of this panel discussion was tremendous and so was its demand. For the next several years, the annual event continued as a free-flowing “meeting of the minds” with lively discussion in the morning leaving one renewed with the excitement and energy to tackle the rest of the day. Though the program has taken on a different form currently, the focus and the feeling of the events has remained unchanged—to cultivate connections

between noteworthy industry leaders and the local design community through a celebration of design innovation and leadership.

Today’s Leaders Breakfast format is quite simple. Each selected host city (eight in total) organizes a weekday breakfast featuring a renowned keynote speaker and recognizes one city-selected honoree that has made significant contributions to the design industry. Honorees are bestowed with the coveted Leadership of Excellence Award and a special edition Charles and Ray Eames stool awarded by Herman Miller. While the format may be pretty straightforward, the outcome dictates a seamless experience where design, business, and leadership coalesce—and not by accident. As the Commercial Interior Design Association, it is critically important that the art, science, and business of design are branded together intentionally.

The business of design is celebrated through the recognition of design leaders, creative pioneers in the arts and enterprise. “The value and importance of the design community is highlighted throughout this event by honoring remarkable people within the industry, allowing the audience to hear their journey and their passion for what they do,” said Anastasia Gedman, special events manager at IIDA Headquarters.

The list of honorees is diverse and past honorees have included Holly Hunt, former mayor of Boston Thomas Menino, Hazel Siegel, and Art Gensler, FIIDA. In charting their careers, what stands out is each honoree’s drive to envision what has yet to be realized. As Mayor Menino once told Boston University’s The Daily Free Press just eight months before he passed, “My experience is 20 years being mayor. I was running a $2 billion corporation and making sure that corporation runs smoothly. My expertise is good management skills and the ability to be creative. That’s what’s important today, finding new ways of doing things. Think outside of the box. Think differently. When you stick to the status quo, it means you’re going backwards. We don’t want to go backwards; we want to move forward.”

The essence of design is storytelling, and the value of Leaders Breakfast is its mission to inspire, engage, and invoke through powerful keynote speakers who embody the Leaders Breakfast spirit. “Our mission for the Breakfast is to offer our guests a morning that will deliver a profound and thought-provoking message,” said Suzette Rhodes, Leaders Breakfast New York chapter committee member.

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