William Mandara is the CEO of Mancini Duffy, taking over the position in 2018. He comes from a family in the business; both his grandfather and father worked as general contractors. As a teenager, William used to spend his summers at his father’s job sites, where he was tasked to do the “most thankless” jobs. However, his experience working every summer helped him understand and respect the profession.
Currently, William Mandara heads Mancini Duffy’s architecture studio. He spends most of his time “leading much of [our] efforts in new building design and the adaptive reuse of existing buildings.” Examples of this work include the company’s project on 125 West 25th Street and 575 Lexington Avenue in New York City. William also knows how to work with interiors, as well. He had served as Project Manager for the company’s “stylish headquarters build-out for Peloton.”
For five years, William Mandara worked at TSC Design until Mancini Duffy bought up the firm’s assets in 2011. That year, he was named Senior Associate. Three years later, the company named William as Principal. Three years after that, he became company owner, until he was named Chief Executive Officer in 2018.
William Mandara has built his career according to his belief in having consistent vision and values. He believes that the company “should never put [ourselves] or [our] vision ahead of the client’s.” With this consistency, the company is always able to respond to clients “quickly, with clarity and authority.”
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Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
William Mandara: I graduated college in 1994 in the midst of a recession and quickly found a stint performing field measurements at Chelsea Piers. From there I spent six months working in construction for my father, playing the drums in a cover band, performing freelance work, delivering flowers, and looking for a job. I went on to spend 11 years at a small architecture firm, before starting a satellite office for an established firm. We were acquired by Mancini Duffy, where I had the opportunity to help reimagine the firm based on my vision for the ideal workplace.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
William Mandara: There were two points in particular when I contemplated leaving architecture. The first time I was a few years into my career, I had grown tired of the old-school dysfunctional architecture culture where lack of experience was met with browbeating. I spent every Sunday night wondering about what I was going to be berated about during the upcoming week.
At the same time, I’ve always been passionate about music and was thoroughly enjoying being a drummer on the weekends. I had given serious thought to leaving and trying to pursue a career in music. Logic won when I realized there aren’t a lot of rock stars who start out at 26 years old.
The second time was in 2012 when, following the recession, I found myself going from someone running an office to one of 20 project managers here at Mancini. I started questioning if I really had the desire to start all over again or if I just wanted do freelance work by myself at home. As fate would have it, I met Christian Giordano (who is now president of the firm) when he joined Mancini and not only did we become fast friends, we also had the same values and ideas of what an architectural firm could be. I realized that there was a real opportunity to create something special and carve out a unique niche in the industry.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
William Mandara: I could fill this interview talking about funny mistakes, and the one that comes to mind is fairly recent. While we were all locked down during COVID, my family and I were in the process of renovating our house so we were all basically living, working, and eating in one room. On this particular day, I was on a Zoom meeting while a water heater was being installed a few feet away. One of the workers broke a few bottles and kept shouting about it. Until finally they started yelling to my son who was doing his classwork nearby. I thought the mute button was engaged and I used some salty language to address the broken bottles. Well, the mute button was not on and everyone on the Zoom immediately alerted me to my transgression. Thankfully, everyone had a good sense of humor about it!
The takeaway is: never, ever trust a mute button.
Jerome Knyszewski: Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.
William Mandara: Establish a mission that sets you apart from your competitors.
Create a trusted leadership team — a group of people with shared values who all believe in the mission.
Hire a top-tier staff that exemplifies the core values of the company.
Empower the staff to innovate and grow the business.
Most importantly, stay true to who you are.
Jerome Knyszewski: Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?
William Mandara: Being a purpose-driven business provides focus for the entire company, brings clarity to otherwise difficult decisions, defines your company culture, and sets you apart from your competitors.
Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?
William Mandara: Establishing and focusing on your core customer is a smart strategy to increase conversion rates. Having a clear vision of who you are serving and what is important to them is crucial.
Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
William Mandara: Providing consistent quality and always being honest and open with clients is the only way to earn a reputation as a trusted, beloved brand.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
William Mandara: You can follow Mancini Duffy on social media:
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!
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