What leading means
Ryan Summerlin August 6, 2013
Editor’s note: Art Currier is one of the original founding members of the Vail Leadership Institute, and he currently serves on the Board of Trustees and is a member of the institute’s adjunct faculty. He also is the CEO of Currier & Associates, a full-service interior design firm in Newburyport, Mass.
What has been your most impactful leadership experience?
The most impactful experience has been and is the current turnaround of our commercial interior design business — Currier & Associates Inc. The impact has been very dramatic for Sharon (my wife) and me as partners, my sons as board members, our new core design team, the clients that are relying on us to complete their projects with excellence and those suppliers that we are indebted to for working with us during the past few years.
After developing the business into one that was considered among the top 10 percent nationally, the world changed in 2007 with the financial crises that impacted most construction projects. We adjusted as much as possible, but we kept more people on the team than we should have to maintain capability.
However, we relied upon the Alignment Model throughout our growth and cut back. We finally had to make a dramatic “right-sizing” move this past February and become a very lean organization. I am now in the middle of operations and Sharon is on the front line with every client – where we need to be.
It proved to the best move possible. We stayed on purpose and honored our values, but have had to modify our vision in terms of size of the team more than anything else. Our goals are being updated, and some strategies will change.
The great thing is that we have the best people we have ever had on the team. Our lead designer, who had joined us in December, is a very heart-based and talented individual who has successfully demonstrated the value of mentoring others. We are not abandoning a structure that will even work with a smaller team. The new projects that are coming to us will allow us to add another experienced designer who will have to be 100 percent aligned with us on every aspect of the foundation of our business.
How would you describe your leadership approach or philosophy?
I am a collaborator who believes that when the team or organization wins, everyone wins — including the client or customer. Whether I am the senior leader or supporting that person, I consider my role is to be a steward and to ensure everyone is aligned and able to be very effective and efficient in their role.
This requires constant communication and active listening. It also requires a meaningful vision, as most individuals who truly want to make a contribution to help fulfill a purpose (the only type to have on your team) need to be inspired to something that is plausible and significant.
And how has that evolved over time?
Some have said I was a natural leader, and I found myself in leadership roles in the military service, in businesses and in communities in my life. However, it was not until John, Buck and I connected and began what would become the Vail Leadership Institute that I realized my purpose and developed an appreciation for the importance of inside-first leadership.
What I have experienced with and learned from our core team and such outstanding people as Dick Leider, Frederick Hudson, John Tamerin, Larry Donnithorne, Buck Elliot, Bob Vanourek, Mat Juechter is worth more than two Ph.Ds. Every time I am with people who are part of the institute’s community, I gain and grow while I strive to contribute something to our collective growth. In the end, I always leave a Vail Leadership Institute event or conversation feeling enriched. I bring those experiences and share the key take aways with our Currier & Associates team and others in organizations and initiatives I am involved with in the community and beyond.
What’s the most important leadership lesson you’ve learned?
Never give up on anything worthwhile, as the perseverance you have maintained will pay off and you will be on a new or re-energized path to success.
What program have you been involved with at the Vail Leadership Institute and what have you taken from that experience?
As a certified leadership coach, I better understand the value of intense listening and asking the right questions to help others learn more about themselves and what they value.
What needs to be done in your community now that you are excited about doing?
I am one of the leaders of a new initiative called Storm Surge, which has the following purpose: “to encourage and support our communities as they prepare for the impacts of sea level rise, extreme weather events and other effects of long-term climate change.” This is a very important initiative for those who live and work in the seacoast communities in our region of coastal New England.
I am also a founding director of the Newburyport CleanTech Center, a dynamic clean technology business accelerator incubator committed to sustainable economic development and job creation. A 501(c)3 nonprofit located north of Boston, the center provides industrial-class flex space, services and resources to entrepreneurs and companies developing innovative and marketable solutions to global environmental challenges.
Tell me about the culture you’re trying to create at your company.
Key words to describe our culture include integrity, respectfulness, thoughtfulness, encouraging, seeking excellence and exceeding expectations, family values, fun, meaning relationships, flexibility and professionalism.
Any people who were big influences on you?
My dad was a very thoughtful, kind and loving dad who supported my mom and my three younger sisters in a very tender manner. He was a sportsman and sponsored my taking skiing lessons as part of a church fundraiser. I then got my whole family to became skiers. He involved me (along with some of my friends) in hunting and fishing and allowed me to appreciate the wonder of our natural environment. He led a multi-divisional family business with his two brothers, which had some challenging family dynamics. He took the high road at all times. He contributed to our hometown via elected office and participation in many initiatives. He was a most honorable man.
The Vail Leadership Institute is a leadership development organization that convenes individuals and groups with the goal of inspiring them to lead purposeful lives. For more information, call Brooke Pettersen at 970-926-7801.