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7 Questions with Eric Corey Freed
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7 Questions with Eric Corey Freed
Name: Eric Corey Freed
Current title: SVP Director of Sustainability
Current organisation: CannonDesign
Eric Corey Freed is an award-winning architect, author, and global speaker. As Senior Vice President of Sustainability for CannonDesign, he leads the healthcare, education, and commercial teams toward better and higher performing buildings for over 15 million square feet a year. For two decades, he was Founding Principal of organicARCHITECT, a visionary design leader in biophilic and regenerative design.
His past roles include Vice President of the International Living Future Institute and Chief Community Officer of EcoDistricts, both nonprofits pushing innovative new paradigms for deep green buildings and communities.
Eric is the author of 12 books, including "Green Building & Remodeling for Dummies.” In 2012, he was named one of the 25 "Best Green Architecture Firms" in the US, and one of the "Top 10 Most Influential Green Architects." In 2017, he was named one of Build's American Architecture Top 25. He holds a prestigious LEED Fellow award from the US Green Building Council.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
Since I lead Sustainability at a large organization, my role is really that of cultural transformation. We have to change how we do everything, and that can't happen overnight. The challenge is to balance selling people on a grand vision with the day-to-day steps needed to get us to that vision.
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
For 30 years I've been stubbornly pushing Architects to transform how we build buildings. CannonDesign is a 100+ year old firm that has continued to evolve and today we are an interdisciplinary firm that does everything from design, to planning, to construction, to prefabricated modular buildings.
I was looking for a large firm to change, and CannonDesign was that large firm seeking to change. It was a match made in heaven!
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I tightly schedule everything, but really designed it around my body's circadian rhythms. I know which times of day I am most creative, most in the mood to focus, and which times I need to walk outside and be around sunlight and trees. So the day starts without any talking (just reading), and then we dive into meetings and calls. The afternoon is used for creative things (designing, planning, problem-solving). I know it's a good day if I am on a roll and suddenly it's 6pm. Then I spend time with my wife and daughter (dinner, joking, laughing). By 8pm, I like to relax with focused sessions of writing or research (concentration without any distractions is very relaxing for me after a day of talking).
It's not about working longer hours, but structuring the hours you have and building them into a routine. I also am a big believer in daily, continuous incremental progress (chipping away at a project) rather than trying to find 8 straight hours to finish something in one shot. Time away from a project gives you a chance to reflect on it.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
There are new lessons learned every day, but the biggest recently was that the questions we ask are sometimes more important than the answers they generate. We spend more time now planning the agenda and the questions.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
Just one?! My go to is Simon Sinek's "Start With Why" which transformed my communications to my staff and clients. I was also lucky to read Dale Carnegie early on in my career and that made me into a different type of leader (more compassionate and empathetic.) I use lessons from those two books every day (sometimes multiple times a day).
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
I love this quote from Antoine de Saint—Exupery, author of The Little Prince, which summarizes my approach:
"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea."
You have to get everyone excited about the grander vision.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
When you're looking to transform an entire company, you might not be as far off as you may think. Rather than starting at zero, think of it instead as kindling waiting to be ignited. You can create a groundswell just from the enthusiasm and excitement already in your organization. The hard part is finding the key people to empower and where to spend your time pushing.