Jan 12, 2012

Pivot: AIGA Design Conference—The Rise of the DEO

Maria Giudice's picture
Maria Giudice
CEO & Founder

There’s a new class of business executive cropping up—creative leaders who hold the highest office in an organization and place creativity, design and innovation at the center of the company. Part strategic business executive, part problem-solving designer, these hybrid leaders leverage these potent attributes to disrupt the status quo and affect massive change.

Last fall, I shared my ideas about the DEO at Pivot: AIGA Design Conference. Expanding on a presentation I gave at TEDxPresidio earlier in the year, “The Rise of the DEO” introduces this new breed of executive—the DEO, or Designer-CEO—defines the key characteristics of DEOs, and shows how they are changing the world.

Things are breaking down in the world, big systems. We need creative leaders to take charge. And I think the DEO is the right person for the job. Just how much change can a DEO affect, though?

The story of Ray Anderson gives some perspective.

For years, Anderson was your typical “plunderer of the Earth.” As Founder and CEO of Interface, Anderson oversaw a multi-billion dollar corporation engaged in the profitable and petroleum-intensive business of carpet manufacture. Business was good; Anderson’s conscience was clear.

Then, in the summer of 1994, an employee asked Anderson what he planned to do about Interface’s environmental impact. Looking for answers, Anderson turned to Paul Hawken’s The Ecology of Commerce and promptly had his mind blown.

The book explained a startling reality: industrial activity was destroying Earth. But, because of industry’s scale and pervasiveness, it was also the only vehicle capable of saving the planet. For Anderson, Ecology represented a true epiphany. “It hit me like a spear in the chest,” was his famous response.

Anderson vowed to transform Interface into a zero-waste company by the year 2020, and at the time of his death last August, Interface was more than 60% of the way toward its goal. Along the way, Interface had reduced overhead by more than $400 million, doubled profits and become a company for which employees were proud to work.

Ray Anderson’s story not only points to the massive change that DEOs can effect; it also shows that DEOs are not born, they’re made.

My goal is to continue speaking about DEOs so I can help inspire a new generation of creative leaders.

Check out my presentation for yourself. It’s filled with leadership tips culled from the stories of other DEOs, as well as my own personal story—from an aspiring artist with a Staten Island accent and “Melanie Griffith hair” to CEO of a growing design company with offices on both coasts.

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J. Sean Pace's picture

I absolutely enjoyed this presentation. I myself inspire to be a DEO. Starting my own studio has been a dream, and day by day as I push my self forward through school and building my business, I see myself becoming that very person I wanted to become.
I attended Maria's presentation at AIGA:Pivot, and I am utilizing the inspiring words given. As a hopeful up and coming designer, I am inspired deeply by the words of many influential women in design. Maria I thank you for your kind words of encouragement and determination. I live them to the fullest, daily!

Kevin O'Malley's picture

Nice blog and really cool concept. You did a great job with this at TEDx -- and looking forward to seeing what comes next.

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