BUSINESS
How I Made It

From intern to CEO, 30 years later Wendy Rogers reaches the top at Irvine architecture firm

Wendy Rogers, 52, is the new chief executive at LPA Inc., an Irvine architecture and design firm that builds sustainable corporate, educational and municipal projects. The company employs 395 people in architecture, landscape architecture, interior design and engineering at six locations in California and Texas.

The firm has completed several high-profile projects in Los Angeles, such as the Malibu library and West Hollywood’s automated parking structure, the first on the West Coast.


An eye for design

Growing up in Hollywood, Rogers was introduced to architecture when she was 5 or 6 by a family friend who was designing a home in Sherman Oaks.

“My parents told me he was an architect and ever since I saw that property … it’s always been something I knew I was going to do,” Rogers said. “I wasn’t taking home ec in school — I was taking the classes that gave me exposure to architecture and drawing. I entered competitions and focused as much as I could in high school on design.”

Support — and some concerns — at home

Rogers said her parents, both English immigrants, were always very supportive of her ambitions and endeavors.

But her father, an insurance executive, had his concerns about his daughter going into architecture. Rogers said he had heard that architects didn’t make much money.

So he arranged for his daughter to go on a tour of a big architecture firm in Los Angeles and told the organizer to spend a lot of time on the most boring and tedious parts of the job. That involved the floors with rows and rows of men doing drafting all day, Rogers recalled.

“It was his way of trying to dissuade me from the profession,” Rogers said, “but it ended up being the most exciting day I had ever had. I loved it and was very grateful just to be there. I left with even more conviction to do it.”

Rogers went on to study at Cal Poly Pomona, and landed an internship with LPA in 1987. She was hired full time after graduation.

Rising from intern to CEO

Rogers said she was immediately put on projects at LPA and appreciated the chances they gave her.

“LPA has always been an environment that allowed me to take on more opportunity — a place where I could raise my hand and say, ‘I’ve got this, I can do this,’” Rogers said.

“Architecture is something where you learn the craft in school, but it’s really something where you are mentored and take what you can learn from others in the industry,” Rogers said. “[It’s] a problem-solving process. You’re working with the clients bringing to life what they envision.”

Rogers was a principal designer for 18 years, starting in the company’s civic division. She moved on to its schools unit and oversaw K-12 design work before transitioning to chief talent officer, a position she held for the last two years. The company announced her appointment as CEO this month.

It’s become something of a workplace anomaly to stay at one job for an entire career, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But Rogers said finding a new employer never crossed her mind.

“With every opportunity, there was never any consideration to leave … and suddenly it was 30 years” later, she said. “When you find the right company the focus is on the work and — added bonus — finding joy with the people you share your life with.”

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Don’t think you take an architect out of the work — that’s what keeps the heart beating.

— Wendy Rogers

Finding passion

Rogers said she has a soft spot for the education-based projects she’s worked on. Though she’s been a part of so many projects, one of the most memorable for her was Sage Hill School, an independent high school, in Orange County.

“It was about five core people trying to establish the first independent school in Orange County,” Rogers said. “They just had an empty plot of land, and we were trying to envision a school and what the school could be.”

She found the clients’ passion to be one of the most inspiring aspects of the job. They were able to create a multi-level campus terraced into the hill with classrooms that open up to courtyards.

“Those are the most amazing projects, when you have that kind of level of care,” Rogers said. “It’s an amazing profession to be a part of … to be able to make a difference in people’s lives, it makes the whole process more meaningful.”

In this 1999 photo, Wendy Rogers, then a project architect at LPA, holds up a model of a portion of the Sage Hill private school that her team designed.
In this 1999 photo, Wendy Rogers, then a project architect at LPA, holds up a model of a portion of the Sage Hill private school that her team designed. ( Kevin P. Casey / Los Angeles Times)

Looking Ahead

Rogers hopes to continue the legacy her predecessor at LPA, Robert Kupper, left in his 30-year tenure as chief executive.

“My job is continue to let the talent here do their best work and give them the resources they need to do their best work,” Rogers said. “I believe our creative and collaborative process is different and that culture that we’ve established here is something I have to fiercely protect.”

But even with more administrative duties, Rogers plans to stay involved with the design process.

“Don’t think you take an architect out of the work — that’s what keeps the heart beating,” she said. “I hope to always have a foot in projects.”

Advice

“Most importantly you have to be open and listen. You never know what you’ll learn when you’re receptive to everything.”

Personal

Rogers lives in Anaheim Hills with her husband — also an architect — and three dogs. She and her husband have two children, a junior at the University of Oregon and one who just graduated.

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