FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Andrea Freeman
March 15, 2016
Cashier, barista, elementary school assistant, U of C drop out (“I excelled at my options”). Busy, multi-directional career start …
Today, Andrea Freeman, L.I.D., is founder, partner and creative head of her own firm. She doesn’t take work home at night – but she takes the office dog, Oliver.
Where and how did this happen? Born in Calgary, never lived anywhere else, divorced and re-partnered, shared custody of two teenage sons but she’s much more than a hockey-mom. Survivor. Cancer survivor. Thriving ….
Born and raised in Calgary (her parents were too), she’s eldest of two girls. Mom, a stay-at-home, then a school librarian. Dad, an ACAD grad, made his career in the advertising agency game – Freeman-Yip. After graduating from Western Canada High, Andrea attended University of Calgary, in pursuit of a commerce degree – to become an accountant. After two years she ‘took a year off’. “Mom would wake me up and say ‘go find a job’, so I did. Three at once. I was a barista at Bean There, a Safeway cashier – I hated those white uniforms – and a teacher’s assistant at the elementary school where my mom worked.”
Then, off to Mount Royal University (back when it was still Mount Royal College), general studies. “I learned how to study”. She had applied to the Design Program at Mount Royal and to study Psychology at U of C. Accepted at both, she opted not to be a psychologist – and emerged with a two year Diploma in Interior Design. Her path: began with a sales job at Chintz & Co, then selling draperies for a friend’s start-up (“I hated it”), making models for Lawrence Eislen’s firm, then marriage, honeymoon in Europe, Holly Shearer Interior Design (she was employee #3), Evans Consoles, Sizeland Evans (including two maternity leaves), then founding MAKE Design Lab. It's a small firm as design shops go - six people and that office dog Oliver. The firm does corporate interior design – office, retail and industrial – and some residential work for clients on referral.
“I’m not good at upheaval”.
Why are you successful? “It’s a personality thing – I’m genuine. Authenticity builds trust. Selling myself has always been accidental, a by-product of engaging, talking to people. Getting better at asking for help …”
What has held you back? “The change thing, early on. But really, in 23 years I’ve had just four jobs. When I was younger I was uncomfortable in social situations – and I talked too much! Fear of failure – taking that next step, out of my comfort zone.”
She took medical leave in 2007 – for 18 months. “I’d had symptoms for a year … was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma, Stage 3. Chemo. My mom went to every treatment, every appointment, with me – and I couldn’t have gotten through it without her. I read everything I could find. I found a great naturopath. I changed my diet.”
Her cancer story’s ending … “I’m cancer free”. Seems like she’s done very well in the face of upheaval …
How do you see your business – interior design – going forward over the next quarter?
… there is a concern there isn’t enough work to go around – yet we are finding our work isn’t focused on a certain type or category. There is a lot going on in Calgary right now – lots of thinking outside the box.
And over the next five years?
… work evolves out of work. More diversity in design. Adding value by bringing more elements into our group – collaborating with stakeholders to deliver a more diversified range of service for clients.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… I am very loyal. It depends – for clients price is always a factor but quality shouldn’t be sacrificed. High quality doesn’t always mean most expensive. The devil is in the details.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Andrea Freeman and MAKE Design Lab, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… when we compete, it’s rarely price that drives client decisions. Personality – you like me, trust me. Communication is key, keeping everyone in the loop. It’s about effort, about respect. Being valued for what we bring to the table. Understanding needs, showing them they are listened to …
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… I’m a sink or swim manager – I like people to ‘figure it out … with mentoring’. I don’t delegate so much. I do things. That’s how I’ve learned.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… I’m a worrier. I always have a hamster-in-the-wheel going in my brain. That’s why gardening is my ‘going to the gym’, it relaxes me.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my dad – he’s always been passionate about his work, gave me lots of exposure to ‘personal goal’ stuff, commitment. Always interested in what I’m doing. My mom, very committed to family.
Work-life balance – do you have it?
… YES. I don’t work all the time. I just came back from a hockey-tournament weekend in San Diego.
… trying new restaurants, being a hockey-mom, gardening. Vegetables, and growing flowers. I’m a landscape architect wannabe! I’d like to create a yard worthy of a horticultural award. Time at family cabins at Windermere.
What do you read?
… I buy magazines but don’t seem to read them. I love the Sunday New York Times in the summer – that’s patio reading. In terms of novels, I like historical fiction. I hate those yucky romance novels. Favourite book – The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.
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