5 Minutes With… Amena Reza, ML Design


Amena Reza is the Managing Director at the Queensland-based design studio, ML Design. With over 20 years’ experience in managing and leading businesses across the property, financial and not-for-profit sectors, Amena is an exemplary role model to aspiring young women in the property and development industry.

Q. When did you first start in the architecture industry, and what inspired your passion for the industry?
I was plunged into the world of architecture in 1999 when I became financial controller of McKerrell Lynch (the studio now known as ML Design). I have an extensive background in finance, but had never been involved in the property and development industry before.

It was definitely a steep learning curve, but I loved it from the very beginning.

My passion for the industry is two-fold. My main passion comes from building, nurturing and driving the creative family that is the ML Design studio.

I have an immense level of respect for the work our team does, and I’m passionate about continually driving them forward to keep delivering unique and innovative design.

I’m not a designer, but I certainly appreciate the creativity and skill that goes into delivering great outcomes for our clients. I’m also inspired by the collaborative efforts of our team, which is integral to our success.
Q. How do you think your leading role at ML Design inspires women in the property and development industry?  
Although I don’t view myself as being influential for young women, I’m often told that I’ve inspired them to continue pushing themselves – which is a great feeling.

I gain a lot from mentoring other younger women in the industry (and in general). I strongly believe that every woman should feel they can achieve their goals, no matter what industry or position they’re in.

There is a glass ceiling that still exists, particularly in the property sector, but I hope to continue inspiring women to break this down and become industry leaders themselves.

I still go to property industry events and am surrounded by the suits, but the fact that I am a Managing Director of a design firm is the result of pushing through the barriers, backing myself, asserting my own worth and knowing that my skills are very much needed. I strive to embed the same message in other women. 

Q. What’s the most challenging/rewarding aspect of your role as Managing Director?
Being Managing Director of ML Design is the most rewarding position I’ve ever held. One of the most satisfying aspects of my job is celebrating the highs with our team – when we win new jobs, deliver great outcomes and seeing staff develop into highly talented designers.

Design, Planning, Architecture

One of the biggest challenges, but something that has delivered the most satisfaction for me personally, is delivering on the transition of a business built off the back of our founder and seeing a whole new team of owners succeed and continue building their own profiles.
Q. Collaboration is a key part of ML Design – how do you incorporate this into your day-to-day role leading ML Design?  
I believe strongly that all leaders should lead by example, especially when the businesses values are involved. As a leader in my business, I set the tone and by collaborating in my day-to-day life as it shows the studio that it is our key to success.

At ML Design we believe in collaboration not only in how we produce our design solutions for our clients but also in how as an organisation we develop our strategic goals and values. All of our team are involved in this process, resulting in a shared vision for the future of our studio.

By collaborating with everyone internally, we are able to work together and pave the way for the new direction that ML Design is going in.
 Q. You have been involved in the industry for quite some time – how do you think the industry has progressed and changed over the past 10 years?
There has certainly been a lot of change, it seems the property market is always on a rollercoaster with the market constantly evolving. As a business this has kept us on our toes and our responsiveness to market change is critical to survival in this industry.

As design professionals we are constantly challenged by the commercial limitations of projects. This forces us to always work smarter and to find better and more efficient ways to achieve great design outcomes with financially viable results.

Financial constraints and funding requirements keep getting tighter, getting projects off the ground more challenging, but for us this keeps us forward thinking and agile in our design responses.

Clients and projects now demand a much more inclusive and collaborative approach with whole teams coming together to deliver innovative solutions. ML Design embraces this within our design workshop and Charrette process undertaken with our clients and the team at project inception.

There has also been a big progression in innovation and technology, which is something that is definitely not just limited to our industry. We’re now seeing new technologies that enhance the design process making it easier for our clients to come on the journey and to improve efficiency within the design process.

Technology, design, architecture, planning, computer

I still see enormous value in a designer being able to demonstrate a concept to a client with a hand drawn sketch. This is a talent that may be lost as future generation learn to design online. 3D printing is also opening up a myriad of possibilities which is exciting for us as designers.
Q. Where do you see the industry in 5 – 10 years? What significant changes will we begin to see?
I believe there will be a lot of consolidation within the architectural sector, following on from what has happened internationally. I think we will also start to see international players becoming more present in the Australian market, which will definitely impact the way local architects work. In recent years there has been an increase in collaboration with international stakeholders by Australian practices.

I believe these alliances will continue to grow and contribute to the changing face of architecture delivered by studios such as ours.

These changes will all put a great importance on building alliances and partnerships and working collaboratively with others. I also strongly believe that the significance of technology will significantly change how architects deliver outcomes and how projects are taken from vision to reality.

It’s very exciting to see the technology that has transformed not only the way we work, but also the outcomes.
Q. Do you think the role of women in the architecture, property and development industry has changed? If so, how?
Absolutely there is a change. Whilst still outnumbered, there are now many examples of women succeeding in the property industry and now many more coming through.

Design, Planning, Architecture

Women are being recognised far more and I think developing the resilience required to survive in what is often a challenging industry to be in. This will only continue. 

Q. How would you describe your leadership style? Do you have any key principles drive your leadership, and how do these impact on the ML studio?
I have always believed in the four C’s as far as my leadership style has been concerned: Confidence, Commitment, Courage and Communication. Each one of these works to create a leader that is able to deliver positive outcomes for their team.

I apply these every day in how I drive the Studio and I believe this has had a strong impact on creating a culture and team at ML Design that we are very proud of.

It is also key to be passionate about what you’re doing. If you don’t have passion, you’re not going to have the drive to see the business succeed. This passion is often infectious and positively impacts both staff and peers alike. 

Q. Outside of ML Design, you’re the President of Zonta Club of Brisbane City Heart – what made you choose to take on this role?
I am passionate about helping women reach their full potential and fulfil their dreams, and Zonta is one way I can turn my passion into something meaningful.

Zonta Club of Brisbane City Heart

In 2016, I led the establishment of a new division in Brisbane, The Zonta Club of Brisbane City Heart – where I hope to continue encouraging and empowering young women through service and advocacy.

I have worked hard to bring organisations together to help support and make a difference in local women’s lives – a lot of the projects have centred around women in the area of homelessness, addiction recovery and support.

I honestly feel like I am in the position to do my best to help women, and I know I am making a positive difference in many lives through being President of the Zonta Club of Brisbane City Heart.
Q. What are you most excited about when you think about the future of ML Design?
I am most excited about the new direction we’re heading in and our constant ability to keep innovating and delivering some of the most unique projects across the globe. I am also particularly excited for our continued involvement in Queensland’s largest project: Queens Wharf.

This is a project that is going to re-shape Brisbane, and I am immensely proud of our team for the hard work they are doing.

All-in-all, I’m excited to see our team keep growing, learning and collaborating with professionals across the entire property and development industry.

I think we’re in for some amazing years ahead of us, and I can’t even begin to imagine what strategic designs our forward-thinking team are going to come up with next.

The Urban Developer is proud to partner with ML Design to deliver this article to you. In doing so, we can continue to publish our free daily news, information, insights and opinion to you, our valued readers. 

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