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  • Suzi Wong: the power of investing in you

    February 16, 2018

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  • Behind every business there’s a story. And for AXA customer Suzi Wong of Grey Rose Architects, that story started when she was just seven years old…

    After deciding to become an architect from such a young age, she’s been following her dream ever since, and even in the face of adversity her belief never wavered.

    ‘I decided to become an architect when I was 7. My teacher said it was boy’s job. I’d love her to see my client list now’.

    Today, only 26% of architects in the UK are women1 and Suzi is proud to be one of them. ‘I see my gender as a differentiator, not a weakness. That’s what Grey Rose is all about. To challenge the industry norms.’

    We believe every business has an inspirational story to tell. That’s why we caught up with Suzi, who built her business on her own ambition.

    Can you tell us a bit about how you started the business?

    I was in practice for about four and a half years and, even though I really enjoyed my job and the projects I was working on, I just found that it wasn’t very personal. It was always in my mind that I wanted to do something a bit different but in the same industry.

    So one day I was out with my husband at a local art gallery. We saw this pencil drawing of a bird cutting away a rock that was weighing it down. And it really resonated with me. I saw it as an analogy for my own life. It was the spark that made me think: “I want to cut off the last rock too. I want to be free and do my own thing.” And the rest is history.


    Suzi Wong


    And do you still find working for yourself more freeing?

    Absolutely. It’s so liberating. I know people talk about ‘being your own boss’ quite flippantly, but it’s very freeing. And don’t get me wrong, although it is amazing having that freedom, there’s a lot of worry attached. Especially being an architect and dealing with physical construction. But the positive absolutely outweighs the negative. Having that non-structured routine, not having to do the 9 to 5, having that flexibility. It is very freeing.

    Why is it important to you to challenge industry norms?

    It’s extremely important. I’m passionate about promoting female involvement in architecture generally. It’s a very male dominated industry. I probably have around two female contacts in a list of 100. But I want younger women to know that this is an industry you can get involved in and succeed in.

    In terms of standing out among your competitors, you obviously want to win work. If you’re just the same as everyone else it means you’re competing on a level platform, but we’re a small, new company and their experience probably trumps mine. So offering something different from the industry norm in terms of modernity, innovation, non-traditional materials, and being quite young and tech-savvy, all that helps me stand out from the crowd and helps with what we’re trying to do.

    What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve had to face?

    I’d say it’s been gathering experience. Starting from scratch is really tough. In architecture when you work for another company, the designs aren’t yours. So you can’t use them to promote yourself and market your experience. Now it’s been about a year and a half and we’re just at a stage where projects are just completing, and now we have the finished article and professional photographs that we can show to really prove what we can do. The hardest part initially is really selling yourself and backing it up as a new business.

    And what keeps you going?

    Wanting to succeed, always. And making myself proud and making my friends and family proud too. It took me ten years to fully qualify, it’s a long slog. So after all that time and money, it’d be soul destroying to not then pursue what I set out to. Just fulfilling my childhood ambition as well is amazing. I can wake up and say I achieved what I sent out to. That motivates me.

    You tutor other young architects too. What advice do you give to young people thinking of following in your footsteps?

    Persevere. Don’t be afraid. Like I said it’s a long slog. I predominantly teach undergrad, and I tell them if it’s not something that you feel passionate about, don’t force it, but don’t give up on your degree either. There are always other avenues that you might find you want to pursue instead. So still persevere and get your degree.

    But if you are really passionate about it and you live and breathe it, keep going. The satisfaction you get going from just a few scribbles on a page to seeing people inhabit or use a building you’ve designed, it’s indescribable.

    What advice would you give other small businesses?

    Don’t think you can do everything. Don’t try to do everything. That was probably my one mistake at the beginning. I thought ‘you know, I can do accounts. I can design my own logo.’ But don’t be afraid to invest in yourself. Tap into resources that you’re going to need.

    And what’s next for Grey Rose Architects?

    For Grey Rose, hopefully all our designs in the future will get better and better in terms of their carbon output. And who knows where it’ll go from there? Maybe we’ll get so busy we need to grow and hire more staff and create some award-winning buildings. Hopefully that’s the future!

    We're proud to protect Grey Rose Architects. For more about Suzi Wong:

    Web: Grey Rose Architects | Instagram: @greyrosearchitects | Twitter: @greyrosestudio

     

    1According to the ARB 26 per cent of those on the register are women.

    Businesses start with a story. Protect yours.

    Suzi built her business on ambition. Now she’s changing the view of tomorrow. What’s your business’ story? Share it using #AXABusinessStories and protect your legacy with tailorable business insurance from AXA.

    Get a business insurance quote

     

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