Women in Business: Jessica Hester

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 133 views 

Photo by Stephen Ironside

Class of 2024 C Suite Jessica Hester Founder, CEO & Principal Architect Verdant Studio; Rogers

Residence: Rogers

Education: B. Arch., University of Oklahoma; M.S., design research, University of Michigan

Professional background: A Northwest Arkansas native, Hester leads the largest solely woman-owned design firm in Arkansas. Managing an 18-person team, she oversees strategic planning, client relationships and innovation, with a passion for affordable housing design. Under her guidance, Verdant Studio has grown significantly in eight years and practices nationally. Hester is a registered architect in multiple states and is affiliated with several professional organizations, including the American Institute of Architects, the Urban Land Institute and the Congress for New Urbanism.

What do you think of the opportunities that exist for women in business compared with when you started? There has been intentional improvement to advance women in business, but we still have a long way to go to see true gender equity. According to the 2022 NAAB Annual Report, graduates of accredited architecture programs are 51% female and 49% male; however, a 2022 report by Dezeen found that those in leadership roles inside the 100 largest global firms are only 21% women.

Why do you think companies would benefit from having more women at the top? There is extensive data on the positive impact that women-owned companies have on the business community. Female and aligned male designers tend to design from a place of empathy, putting the client’s needs above their ego — creating places that positively impact all those who interact with them.

What is the best leadership advice you have ever received? Approach every challenge by asking the question, “What would you do if you were not afraid?” It allows you to step out of the fear and into the opportunity. Making decisions out of fear is one of the worst things a leader can do.

How should women support other women in their organizations? We should advance, elevate and advocate for each other as much as possible. Offering mentorship and guidance to other women at any level has a big impact, both personally and professionally.

What is the most fulfilling part of your work? My team and the impact on my community. I love watching my team grow, both individually and collectively. We are building a legacy and creating places people love, and it is a joy to see the impact of this in Northwest Arkansas.

What are some of the leadership skills that helped you move up in your organization? Grit, determination, resilience and grace. Since I founded the firm, my leadership skills have been grassroots, resulting from running many failed experiments and adjusting to improve each time.

What is something distinctive that people would be surprised to know about you? When I was a senior in high school, I toured Europe playing the violin. It was a life-changing experience and my first exposure to the impact of incredible architecture.

What’s the most recent book you’ve read? “Fierce Conversations” by Susan Scott is an excellent book. I highly recommend it to anyone in a leadership role.

What do you do to relax when not working? When I’m not working, you can usually find me on the water: fishing, kayaking, boating — you name it.

Who was a big mentor to you in the early part of your career? Because I started my first firm right out of graduate school, I didn’t really have a mentor early in my career. Over the years, so many people in my life have given me valuable guidance: my family, some very gracious clients and other community business leaders.