These interviews took place on May 20, 2008, and November 5, 2009, at Rowland Associates headquarters in Indianapolis, Indiana.Learn more about Sallie Rowland
Part oneSkip to next interview transcript
SCARPINO: The recorder is on, we’re on the record, and my name is Philip Scarpino. I’m a professor of history at IUPUI and the director of the Tobias Center for Leadership Excellence Oral History Project. Today is May 20, 2008. I’m interviewing Ms. Sallie Rowland at the offices of Rowland Design in downtown Indianapolis. Ms. Rowland retired as CEO of Rowland Design in 2003. She’s also held volunteer leadership positions in a range of civic organizations. I’m going to work my way roughly chronologically through your career with a focus on leadership and I’ll also work into the interview our standard leadership questions. So, for the record, I want to ask your permission to record this interview, to transcribe the interview, and to deposit the recording and the transcription in the IUPUI Special Collections and Archives for the use of the patrons.
ROWLAND: You have my permission to do that.
SCARPINO: Okay, and we’ll start with something easy and that is when and where were you born?
ROWLAND: I was born in Baltimore, Maryland at the height of the Depression, November 14, 1932.
SCARPINO: Who were your parents?
ROWLAND: My parents are Cleo Goff Wilkins and Jacob Howard Wilkins, both born in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
SCARPINO: Fort Wayne, Indiana. What did you father do for a living?
ROWLAND: My father was a salesman. A good deal of his life he worked for General Electric in sales, appliances, and after that he worked in subsequent selling positions—CertainTeed Roofing Company. He dabbled in real estate which was a disaster [laughing] but actually didn’t retire until he was 72.
SCARPINO: My goodness.
SCARPINO: What did your mother do?
ROWLAND: My mother was a bookkeeper before she was married. She was an only child. Then when my sister and I came along she pretty much stayed at home with us until it was time for my sister to graduate from high school and go to college. My father really didn’t think there was much point in a woman having a college education. It was a good old German school, you know, but mother said timeout, not so. So she went to work as a bookkeeper again, took up her old profession, and earned money to get my sister through college.
SCARPINO: Now was your sister older or younger than you?
ROWLAND: She’s older. She’s five years older.
SCARPINO: What’s her name?
ROWLAND: Molly Wilkins.
SCARPINO: Did you grow up in Baltimore?
ROWLAND: I was in Baltimore until I was about out of high school. I moved briefly to York, Pennsylvania and then back to Fort Wayne when I graduated from South Side High School. I was in Fort Wayne for the last year and a half, as I recall, of my high school.
SCARPINO: Did you move for your father’s work?
ROWLAND: Actually, my mother was an only child and her parents were in ill health, and it was to some extent to come back and take care of them. My father was in a position where he could either stay with the company in a different capacity than he had been or he chose that as the time to come back to Fort Wayne too.
SCARPINO: To move on to something else?
ROWLAND: Yeah, move on to something else, right.
SCARPINO: You mentioned, I think, you went to three different high schools?
ROWLAND: Well, yeah, if you count—in Baltimore, junior high school is the seventh, eighth, and ninth grade, so the freshman year of high school is in what they call junior high school. Then I was in York, Pennsylvania and then back to Fort Wayne. So I was in three different high schools.
SCARPINO: Were you a good student?
ROWLAND: I was a really good student in Baltimore. [laughing] Actually, it was probably, you know, in your life if you run into a handful of teachers that make a difference in your life, that was the place. When I, we moved from Hagerstown, Maryland to Baltimore when I was, I think, in the fifth grade. When I got to Clifton Park which is where the seventh, eighth, and ninth grades were, I was kind of a goof-off, and these teachers that were at that school were the most fantastic bunch of teachers I don’t think could ever assemble in one spot, including the principal who set the stage for it. In math class we had these exams, spot quizzes, almost weekly it seemed like. If you didn’t pass them you had to take them home and have your parents sign them. Well I was flunking so many of them I started forging my mother’s signature [laughing] and one day, not being real smart, I went back over my mother’s signature once and the teacher said wait a minute Sallie. What’s going on here? And she allowed as how she thought it might be easier if I’d just learn the stuff. They were just a marvelous bunch of supportive—and I went from being this goof-off to when I got out of there I had straight A’s. But I never had that good of teachers since.
SCARPINO: You know, when I was doing some background reading on your career I actually ran across that story and when I read it, you indicated that the teacher said to you wouldn’t it be just easier to do the homework. Then you went on to conclude that as you became a business leader that you continued to stress doing the homework.
SCARPINO: That you urged your employees to be prepared with strong client presentations and so on.
ROWLAND: That’s true, yeah.
SCARPINO: So is there really a direct connection back to. . .
ROWLAND: . . .Oh yes, oh yes. I mean the ramifications of not showing up prepared to those classes was just absolute humiliation. I mean it just was ridiculous. You wouldn’t think of going in there unprepared and, you know, it was so hard, but I learned so much, which is the way I think it usually is. They took such individual interest and pride in what you were accomplishing. You know, that kind of thing which I hope also I have done in my career for people that work for me.
SCARPINO: Do you think it’s part of the reason your firm was so successful?
ROWLAND: Well, I hope so. I’ve always said to everyone that comes to work here, your only limitations are your own. You show me that you can do something and you get to do it. But you need to do it well. [laughing]
SCARPINO: I can hear your teacher telling you that when you look at me. [laughing]
ROWLAND: That’s right.
SCARPINO: Did you consider yourself to be a leader in high school?
ROWLAND: No. No, I don’t, no, not at all. I don’t know that that was necessarily, you know, it was such a difference between Baltimore and when I got to York, Pennsylvania, I mean the quality of teaching just, they weren’t even in the same ballpark. I had, first of all in Maryland, you were taught a certain respect. You always addressed your teachers as Mr. Smith or Mrs. Smith or yes ma’am or no ma’am, no sir. You didn’t just say yeah, no, or whatever. So that was just inherent. Maybe that’s a little of the southern part, I don’t know. But when I got to York, Pennsylvania and this is 50 miles up the highway, across the Mason-Dixon line, I was in study hall and I got called down for—apparently I was talking or something I wasn’t supposed to be doing—and the moderator, the teacher that was in there said, you know, wanted me to behave and I said yes sir. And he said don’t get smart with me young lady. So here yes sir went from being required and a respect that you showed your elders to being a smart aleck. Isn’t that interesting? That’s 50 miles up the road.
SCARPINO: Do you think that respect for other people is a quality of leadership?
ROWLAND: Oh, yes. Big time, yes.
SCARPINO: How did you as a leader show respect for those who worked for you or your customers?
ROWLAND: Well, I think, let’s talk about the customers for one thing, because without the customers you don’t have any employees.
SCARPINO: That’s true.
ROWLAND: My feeling was to really listen to the customers and get a really good grasp of what they were all about and what they wanted or what they thought they needed in order to succeed in what we were doing and then interpret that in the best way to coincide with the budget that they had, the time that they had to spend, and to actually push them a little bit on making it better than they might possibly have imagined to help them do, to succeed better. I about hit the nail all the time. My feeling was that my job was to interpret what they were all about not what I was all about. Which does, I think, make a difference in this design field because there are certain designers and architects who have a certain look. You can almost walk in the place and tell who did it because they use consistently the same colors and materials. The look is there. If you want to buy that look that’s fine. But that was never me. I felt my job was to make it look like the client. That still is the philosophy here because not everybody is alike, and so I would regard that as an important part of our success is that we designed to understand the client and interpret what their needs were rather than looking to see if this was something we can get on the front page of a interior design magazine or something of the sort. Check the ego at the door.
SCARPINO: Although you did make the front page of such magazines more than once.
ROWLAND: Yes we did, but that was the byproduct, not the goal.
SCARPINO: The book that I found that quote in from you about your math teacher telling you it would be better to do the homework. . .
ROWLAND: . . .Uh huh. Just do the homework. Get on with it, girl.
SCARPINO: . . .than to fake it with your mom’s signature. The book, for the record, is called The Inner Work of Leaders: Leadership as a Habit of Mind. Barbara Mackoff and Gary Wenet, and it came out in 2001.
SCARPINO: You’re one of 65 people quoted in this book.
ROWLAND: Is that right?
SCARPINO: But I noticed that their argument was that a key aspect of successful business leadership is something they called habits of mind, that is, kind of a combination of family experience and role models and life experience that shapes the way a person thinks.
SCARPINO: Do you think that leadership has anything to do with habits of mind?
ROWLAND: Well, yes. You know, I think that the way you’re brought up has an awful lot to get those established well and early, and my example from both of my parents of how to conduct yourself—honesty, reliability. Frankly, we were expected to work, earn our way so far as getting that allowance is concerned. It wasn’t a gift, we had to earn it. Those are just the basics that lead you all the rest of the way, and so certainly—my mother was an amazing person too and she was, you know, and the interesting part of my mother is she grew up during the suffrage movement and we never talked about that. I thought since then, why didn’t she ever talk to me about that?
SCARPINO: Was she a suffrage advocate?
ROWLAND: No, apparently not. Although she drove a car before women were driving cars. She did all these things that maybe they weren’t supposed to do. But I never heard her talk about getting the vote for women. Now she became the first president of the Fort Wayne Allen County Historical Society. She was a genealogist. She was the person who talked Fred Reynolds, who was the librarian in Fort Wayne, into establishing the geological, genealogical division which is just huge now.
SCARPINO: Right. Very well-known, yes.
ROWLAND: Huge in Fort Wayne.
SCARPINO: Your mom started that?
ROWLAND: My mother got, yes, and he acknowledged that she was the one that got him started. She wrote articles about genealogy in the Fort Wayne papers. So she was quite an inspiration, frankly. I remember when we were, I think when we were still in Baltimore, so it must have been maybe in the ninth grade or something and she said Sallie we need to figure out what you ought to do career-wise with your life so that you can make a good living as a woman. So this is in the forties, okay. So we’d get the newspaper out, The Baltimore Sun, read through the want ads to see what positions were open for women and what they paid and whether they were interesting work. So Mother and I decided that I should be a buyer in a department store because women could be buyers. They couldn’t be the merchandise managers yet, but they could be the buyers and they made a good living and so there was a—so that frankly is what I studied in college.
SCARPINO: That’s why you became a business major.
ROWLAND: That’s why I became a business major.
SCARPINO: I’m going to ask you a few questions that sort of play off the idea of leadership as a habit of mind, and the first one’s kind of a big question.
ROWLAND: Uh huh.
SCARPINO: You were born in 1933 as you. . .
SCARPINO: . . .’32, as you pointed out in the depths of the Depression.
ROWLAND: Uh huh.
SCARPINO: You were about nine when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the country entered World War II. You were about 13 when World War II ended and following the dropping of the atomic bombs over Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and then of course you rocketed through your teenage years in the Cold War.
ROWLAND: Mm hmm.
SCARPINO: I’m wondering, did your experiences growing up in the Depression and World War II and the beginnings of the Cold War have any impact on the leader you became or your identity in the leader that you became?
ROWLAND: Well, I think that there certainly was an awareness of frugality. During the war we were all on rationing—shoes, sugar, meat, gasoline, tires, you name it. So you became very aware of things that were important and you were conscientious about that sort of thing. So I don’t, I think it was a point in time where you just didn’t take things for granted and that’s probably good. That probably has bode
well for me, still does. To some extent I still stop and agonize over whether I should do some of these things or not. So I do think that that is important in the building of character. I guess I didn’t really remember the Depression. You know, I was an infant. I often thought I must have been a mistake because why would anybody in their right mind have a baby in the middle of the Depression. But I was never led to believe I was a mistake. [laughing]
SCARPINO: Your parents didn’t let on if. . .
ROWLAND: Didn’t let on if it was the case, that’s right. So I don’t remember that except that we were fortunate that my father was employed. He was working with General Electric then so we were not on the breadline or anything of that sort. I became more aware of the impact of what was going on in the world more in the second World War.
SCARPINO: During the years that you were growing up and attending middle school and high school, besides your mother, were there any individuals who had an influence on your development? You mentioned the teachers in your middle school.
ROWLAND: Well the teachers, certainly. They were fantastic. Even one of the teachers as extracurricular—they probably wouldn’t let them do this—she, if you could get your parents’ permission, she arranged for some of us to take our first airplane ride. Imagine that.
SCARPINO: I don’t think you’d get that by the insurance company now.
ROWLAND: I don’t think you could either, and then they were small planes. You know, they just went up over, flew over the Chesapeake Bay and everything so you could get a sense of orientation as to where you were. She would, she took a bunch of us to Washington, D.C. to see things that you never see in Washington, D.C. Not the usual.
SCARPINO: Such as…?
ROWLAND: Well we went to a convent. We just went to places that had a different story to tell. They were just an extraordinary bunch. The principal was so strict. She was no nonsense lady. I remember the prom. There was this big long list of rules as what you could do and what you couldn’t do just to even come to the prom. When you were going from one class to another you had to carry your books in your right arm, walk against the wall, single file. I mean there was no horsing around.
SCARPINO: This was a public school?
ROWLAND: This was a public school. The girls had one playground; the boys had the other playground after lunch. I mean it was, there was no hanky-panky going on, but at the same time, as long ago as that was, they had the girls take electricity and woodshop. This is a long time ago. And they had the guys take home economics. So we as girls learned how, I learned how to wire a doorbell. I can still wire a lamp. Learned how to put things together with dowels and screws and how to finish. I mean all things that, frankly, I’ve used. The guys learned how to sew buttons on, iron their pants, make cookies. You know, things which, though now I suppose they do it all the time. But if you think how long ago that was, that was very progressive thinking within this very strict environment. It was, I was blessed to have been there.
SCARPINO: You mentioned the teacher that took you to Washington to places that were off the beaten path like the convict, convent rather, and you used the phrase—stories that places tell.
ROWLAND: Uh huh.
SCARPINO: Has that been a part of your character as you got older to pay attention to the stories that places tell?
ROWLAND: Well I’m interested in history a lot, I really am. So I’m always inquiring about—I’m very active in and I’ve always been interested in historic preservation. Go on a lot of national trust tours. So I am very much interested in what took place in certain things and why and what was going on there when something else was going on someplace else and how might they have influenced each other. Still trying to learn all that.
SCARPINO: Other than the big, big order events—we talked about the Depression and World War II. When you were growing up in middle school and high school, were there any events that took place in your life that influenced the leader you later became?
ROWLAND: (pause) I don’t know that there was anything world-shattering except I can tell you that when you go to three different high schools it makes a different person out of you. That probably, if you look at the little bit bigger picture, oh there might have been incidental things that you would recall, but that’s tough. First of all, in high school most of the kids have their own club or group of people that they know. When you got to Fort Wayne for heaven’s sakes, they all went to grade school together. It was tough to break into those or to even know where you belonged. Because, well if you were beautiful, if you were beautiful or very rich or the combination thereof, you’d sort of get in all right, but when you were Sallie Rowland, Sallie Wilkins, who had neither money nor good looks, you’re just kind of an ordinary person. So you learned how to get along with people. You learned how to, to learn about people. Because very often the ones that were the most solicitous of you right off the bat were not necessarily the ones that you wanted to get to know. So you learned some caution. I think it does take a different kind of personality to have to make friends with strangers at that young age. I look at my kids who have gone all the way through, from practically living in the same house and [laughing] it looks easier to me.
SCARPINO: Do you think that those qualities that you were forced to learn about how to evaluate people and make friends and get along. . .
ROWLAND: Yeah, big help. I think so. Absolutely.
SCARPINO: Let’s see. You must have graduated from high school about 19. . .
ROWLAND: . . .50.
ROWLAND: Mm hmm.
SCARPINO: Okay. And you would have started college then in the fall of ’50?
ROWLAND: Mm hmm.
SCARPINO: So you graduated from high school and you attended college at Indiana University in Bloomington.
ROWLAND: Mm hmm.
SCARPINO: Where you majored in business with a minor in interior design.
ROWLAND: That’s right.
SCARPINO: Why did you pick IU?
ROWLAND: I loved it.
SCARPINO: So you did a campus visit.
ROWLAND: Did a campus visit. I had, one of the groups that I joined in Fort Wayne was the Girls Scouts, the Mariners, as it was. Mariners in the middle of Indiana. It’s hard to believe, isn’t it? But anyway there was a Mariner troop, and two of my friends that were in there were a year ahead of me in school and when they got to IU they invited me to come down for a weekend and I just fell in love with the place. It’s a gorgeous campus, there’s no question about it. At that point in time the residence halls were the old Memorial Hall and Forest Hall, you know, they were right in the heart of the campus. Now the campus is grown so that—the old part of it is still sensational but the outskirts aren’t quite that fascinating. But I just was intrigued with it. That was where I wanted to go, and when I got there as a freshman, well that was, you know, I went through Rush.
SCARPINO: Sorority Rush.
ROWLAND: Sorority Rush. I had been entertained all summer before by one of the sororities that I was interested in joining and they dropped me the next to the last night. It was a devastating thing. [laughing] I’m on the phone with Mother, you know. What should I do? That was another, that was quite something. I ended up joining the same sorority that these girls that had been my Mariner Scouts belonged to because I knew them.
SCARPINO: Which sorority was that?
ROWLAND: Delta Zeta. And continue to have very, very good friends there. I mean it was fine.
SCARPINO: You had a good experience?
ROWLAND: Had a good experience, that’s right, good experience. But that was rather traumatic to get dumped the next to the last night.
SCARPINO: Throughout your time in high school, did you always believe you were going to go to college?
ROWLAND: Oh, yes.
SCARPINO: How did your father feel about that?
ROWLAND: Well I think after he found that my sister graduating from college could get a very nice paying job, probably getting close to what he was making, there was no argument.
SCARPINO: So he changed his tune.
ROWLAND: Changed his tune, that’s right.
SCARPINO: Was your interest in attending college throughout high school, was that similar to or different from most of the other girls that you knew? Were most of the girls that you knew headed for college or not?
ROWLAND: They were. They were all, and I think they all went to college. That’s interesting because neither of my parents went to college. But there was never any conversation about not going to college and as I pointed out, Mother and I were plotting out my career. So I had to get on with it.
SCARPINO: Sounds like an exceptional woman.
ROWLAND: Yes, she was.
SCARPINO: What attracted you to be a business major?
ROWLAND: Well, I think I’m a pretty well organized person. I think that I have a lot of common sense which I think is very good in business. I had worked at Wolf & Dessauer in Fort Wayne between my junior and senior years of college.
SCARPINO: Wolf and Dessauer?
ROWLAND: Wolf and Dessauer, that was the department store in Fort Wayne which was subsequently was purchased by Ayres.
ROWLAND: And I loved it. I really loved it. I was, and fortunately I was working for a buyer who would let me have some free range and I became curious about what merchandise cost and what kind of markup it was. They let me do everything. They even had me come substitute for the president’s secretary when she went on vacation. I got in there and I, what am I doing here? He gave me a speech that he had to make. He said, would you type this up? Well there were so many grammatical errors and things and I said, should I write it correctly or the way he’s got it? It was a real learning experience.
SCARPINO: So what did you do? Did you correct his grammar?
ROWLAND: Oh, I corrected it, yeah.
SCARPINO: But it sounds like you were learning the business from the inside out.
ROWLAND: I was learning the business and I truly, truly liked it a lot. I thought it was quite invigorating and that was another one of the things that I observed about the people that were in that business is they were very vital and they were energetic. They could see, you could see results from what you did.
SCARPINO: You were also more or less doing what your mom had helped you pick out in the newspaper in Baltimore.
ROWLAND: That’s exactly right. I was on the path. [laughter]
SCARPINO: So is that, as you were going through IU as a business major, is that kind of where you imagined you’d end up, as a buyer in a department store?
ROWLAND: Yes. Now I did, when I was I think at the tail end of my freshman year, you could take these tests, aptitude tests, that would show maybe what you were, what kind of profession you should go into. I took one of those down at IU and it showed an interest in interior design which frankly, I had always had, and that was another thing my mother had encouraged me with. I mean I had books of pictures of interiors that I had cut out and she let me do my own room and all this kind of stuff. So I had an interest in that. But at that point in time you could not major in interior design at IU. If you wanted to major in it you had to transfer to Purdue. Well, I’d just gone through the agony of this sorority thing and everything. I wasn’t going to go through that again. So I said okay, we’ll figure out another way to do this. So that’s why, I have to confess to one little thing too. If you took it in the School of Arts and Sciences where you were in the home ec school and then got your business courses as electives, you had to take a foreign language, and I signed up for French class at 7:30 in the morning. I was only there for a week and I said I’m going to major in business.
SCARPINO: So the 7:30 a.m. French class did not agree with you.
ROWLAND: The 7:30 a.m. did not agree with me. Didn’t have to have that foreign language in the School of Business. As it turns out, it was a good move to make. Frankly, it really turned out very well because I could get as much in the way of interior design as that school offered and got a lot more useful education in business.
SCARPINO: So, partly as a result of this unhappy 7:30 a.m. experience, you. . .
ROWLAND: . . .I ended up in the School of Business.
SCARPINO: . . .you decided to major in Business and minor in interior design.
SCARPINO: What kind of courses did you take as an interior design minor?
ROWLAND: Anything you could find. There was a, in the School of Home Economics there were interior design courses. Mildred Rice was my teacher. She was the only teacher in interior design. Took every course that she offered. And there were other courses that they had on—oh, they were kind of allied to some chemistry things because they were fibers and all sort of thing which you needed to know something about. So I took as much as I could over there. But I even actually found some good classes in the School of Business. They had a class, a real estate professor in the School of Business had some good courses where you actually watched a building being built and you learned how to plumb lines and you learned all kinds of things. Again, I’m the only girl in the class and we’re out there on the construction site trying to—but that was excellent. That particular professor was going to build himself a house and so we used that class to, for the drawings, and I didn’t think his drawings were very good. I changed things around and he built it my way.
SCARPINO: Is that right?
SCARPINO: Is the house still there?
ROWLAND: It’s still there. That’s right. So that’s kind of fun.
SCARPINO: Were there very many female business majors?
ROWLAND: No. No. There were not.
SCARPINO: Were you the only one?
ROWLAND: No, no. No, but I would say, I don’t know statistically how many women were in the School of Business then, but I would say maybe there were a dozen of us.
SCARPINO: Out of several hundred?
SCARPINO: Did you, did that present an opportunity or a challenge?
ROWLAND: It was kind of a challenge. It was both. It was both. It didn’t bother me.
SCARPINO: What was the challenge?
ROWLAND: Well, you weren’t supposed to be in there, and you probably really don’t understand this stuff. You know, that male chauvinist stuff. We got a good deal of that.
SCARPINO: I mean did people, for example, ask you were you there to get your M.S. degree and that kind of stuff?
ROWLAND: No, I didn’t get too much of that. I really didn’t. I was serious about my education. I was working hard at it. I really was.
SCARPINO: Do you think that the experience of having been one of a few female students in a mostly male field shape the business leader you later became?
ROWLAND: No doubt. No doubt it became the exception—I mean the rule rather than the exception. When you stop to think about it, see when I was a senior—this may be getting ahead of what you want to know, I don’t know.
SCARPINO: It’s okay.
ROWLAND: I purposely did not interview any firms from Indianapolis because I didn’t want to live here. I’d been up here and I thought it was pretty bad. [laughter]
SCARPINO: What didn’t you like about it?
ROWLAND: Well it was boring and it was kind of ugly. I mean it was just a nothing town. Fort Wayne was better at that point in time, believe it or not. So, when companies that came to interview in the School of Business and I was interviewing obviously for something in the merchandising field with the department stores, I would ask whether they had any openings in their interior design department. About the best you could do there was maybe get in the furniture end of it or something. So that was going nowhere from the standpoint of my interest in design but my interior design prof, Mildred Rice, called me in one day and she said Sallie, there’s been a man in here from a company in Indianapolis called Business Furniture Company and they’re looking for someone to do color coordination for offices and I want you to go for that interview. And Mildred Rice was one of these that you said, yes ma’am.
SCARPINO: And I’ll note for the record that you also saluted. [laughter]
ROWLAND: That’s right. So I didn’t move on that fast enough to suit her because I think it was like a few days later she wanted to know how that interview went. Well I hadn’t even called them yet. So I got on the stick and called and went up for an interview and it was Business Furniture Company which was down here on Maryland Street. They were looking for someone to do executive office interiors. Well, I’d never heard of it. I mean that’s how, this is 1954. I had never heard of it. All interior design was all residential and this was just an avenue I’d never seen.
They had one whole floor of their furniture space down there that had been designed by a gentleman out of Grand Rapids who was affiliated with Stow Davis Furniture Company and that’s the product they were selling. These offices were beautiful. You know, I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Of course the opportunity was something that just never—I had already accepted a job with Wolf & Dessauer in Fort Wayne. I just hadn’t put it in writing. I just couldn’t believe it. So I got on the horn with the parents and I told them what it was about and they said Sallie, go for it. Try it. If it isn’t going to work you can always go back to where you were. Which was kind of interesting because I knew they were anxious for me to come back to Fort Wayne and so here, and I was going to end up in Indianapolis which, (sigh) so I took the job. Of course I was just very fortunate to get in on the ground floor in an industry that was just starting. And it was just the beginning of it. I learned a lot. I got a lot of extra training from that affiliation with the Executive Furniture Guild in Grand Rapids. It was just a wonderful, wonderful opportunity. So that went from, you know, I was the first one through the door doing that. I think I had about eight or ten people working for me when I left there. We had grown that interior design.
SCARPINO: So you really had become a department leader by the time you were ready to leave.
ROWLAND: Yes, right, I was the vice president of the company.
SCARPINO: I want to ask you just for the record because I think people will find it to be interesting. This would have been what, 1955?
ROWLAND: Uh huh, I went there.
SCARPINO: What was the starting salary?
ROWLAND: Fifty bucks!
SCARPINO: A week?
ROWLAND: A week. Fifty dollars a week and you know, benefits, what’s that? You know, there were none of those that I recall.
SCARPINO: I mean was that a good salary in 1954?
ROWLAND: Yeah, yeah. Fifty dollars. Well, that’s probably what I would have gotten at Wolf and Dessauer or maybe 55, I don’t know. But that was sort of the—isn’t that hard to believe, fifty dollars a week. Then they complained because my wardrobe didn’t look very professional. You know, I’m still in sweaters and skirts or whatever from college.
SCARPINO: College student clothes.
ROWLAND: And I needed to look like a designer. Well I didn’t have any designer clothes. So my mother, bless her heart, she’d buy the Vogue patterns and make some dresses for me and send them down.
SCARPINO: My goodness.
ROWLAND: Yeah, she was a great lady.
SCARPINO: I want to go back and ask you a couple more questions about your time in Bloomington.
ROWLAND: Uh huh.
SCARPINO: You mentioned how you got interested in interior design and why you ended up minoring because you couldn’t major there but was that a major, or a minor, that was open to women in late 1940s or 1950s?
ROWLAND: Interior design?
ROWLAND: I think so.
SCARPINO: I mean were there quite a few women taking those classes with you?
ROWLAND: Well, they were all small classes. I’d say there were maybe eight or ten of us in the class.
SCARPINO: So 50% or more or less?
ROWLAND: Probably half of them were women. And a lot of that might be just women’s natural interest in interior design which was mostly residential. But she was a good teacher. We had to build a model of this house we designed. But I didn’t learn how to draw perspective. I’m still really not any good at it but when I went to work in Business Furniture Company, a salesman came in and said would you draw a perspective of this bank interior. And I go, perspective of the bank interior. So you go to the library and get a book on how to draw perspective. You know, you just educate yourself along the way.
SCARPINO: It sounds to me like one of the traits that’s distinguished you, even when you were quite young, was initiative and willingness to educate yourself.
ROWLAND: Yeah. Curiosity.
ROWLAND: Yeah and I’m a hard worker. I’ve always been a hard worker.
SCARPINO: Did you meet people at Bloomington, in college, who had an influence on the leader you later became? You mentioned your design teacher.
ROWLAND: Mildred Rice, probably. We did even correspond after I left school for a while. In the school, I guess I better not say anything since it’s getting published, but you know, in the School of Business, undergraduate, you had mostly, didn’t have any full professors. Maybe when you were a senior you might have gotten one, but they were pretty much the grad assistants and some of them were terrible, frankly. I had a statistics professor that was Greek. He’d say you cupulate [sic] the frequencies and substract, [sic] you know. So you go through this class—I mean, I got to the final it had all these—then you take the final. I looked at that final exam and I went back out to see if I was in the right room. Because there was nothing on there that looked at all familiar with what we’d been taught the whole semester. There was not a lot of close attention in the School of Business until I got to some of these real estate classes and things got a little bit tighter when I was in my senior year. Most of that one-on-one closer relationship came from the home ec classes.
SCARPINO: Were you involved in extracurricular activities when you were a student at Bloomington? You mentioned your sorority.
ROWLAND: Yes. I was fairly active in the sorority. I belonged to a Home Economics honorary. But not a whole lot more than that.
SCARPINO: Did you think of yourself as a leader when you were in college?
ROWLAND: Maybe a little bit within the sorority. I ran for president and got defeated. [laughter] So I guess not enough people thought I was.
SCARPINO: Just one more sort of background question. Just because I’m not sure where to put this in, but I want to get it in the record. How did you meet your husband?
ROWLAND: Aha! That was fun. I met him in a snowstorm.
SCARPINO: Oh my goodness.
ROWLAND: Mm hmm. I was working for Business Furniture Company. My husband was working for an architectural firm. He was, my husband went to Purdue. He was a, he majored in mechanical engineering. So he didn’t have a degree in architecture and in those days in order to stand for the exam you had to work for 10 years as an apprentice under a licensed architect. So he was working for Alden Miranda and one of our mutual clients was Grain Dealers Insurance Company which was up here on Meridian Street, and we were doing some remodeling of their offices. They were the architects on it, we were the furniture source, and the particular suite of furniture which was Stow Davis again, was designed by a guy by the name of Jack Bisetti and he was coming down to Indianapolis for a reception to meet, to introduce this line of furniture, and we had invited all these architects in town to come.
Well, I think about I don’t know noon or something the skies opened up and it was snowing and snowing and I think Ayres even closed at three in the afternoon or something. Everybody was heading for the hills. And we were getting panicky. Was anybody going to show up at this reception? Some of the salesmen were calling all of their contacts to try encourage them to come and Wayne Guthrie who was our salesman called Dick and persuaded him to come. Well, we had about four floors of furniture display there. There were not a whole lot of people there but somehow or another most of the time went by and I hadn’t spotted Dick until towards the end and here was this—he was a tall, handsome guy down there—and I said to Mary Lou Langley who is our marketing person, I don’t think I’ve met that guy yet. He looks like a live one. She said well let’s take care of that, so we introduced me and so I go, have you seen, you know, well he’d seen it but he said he hadn’t. So I take him on a walk of all these display floors and everything. Then the party was breaking up and everybody decided we should all go to the Italian Village. So that’s what we—now I had a Carmengia. Do you know what a Carmengia is?
ROWLAND: It was the sexiest-looking Volkswagen you ever saw. I mean still, it was a classic. I had a Carmengia. My husband was nuts about cars and I think he was more impressed with my car.
SCARPINO: Oh, no.
ROWLAND: [laughing] Not really.
SCARPINO: So when were you married?
ROWLAND: We were engaged in two weeks and we were married in six months.
SCARPINO: The date of your wedding was?
ROWLAND: August the 27th, 1960.
SCARPINO: And you had two children?
ROWLAND: Two children, two sons.
SCARPINO: Both boys?
ROWLAND: Mm hmm.
SCARPINO: What are their names?
ROWLAND: Eric John Rowland who is a partner of this company. He’s an architect like his father, and Jason Howard Rowland who is a doctor. He’s a child psychiatrist.
SCARPINO: Where does he practice?
ROWLAND: He’s with the Children’s Learning Resource Center.
SCARPINO: In Indianapolis?
ROWLAND: In Indianapolis, uh huh.
SCARPINO: Let’s see. You worked for the Business Furniture Corporation in Indianapolis.
ROWLAND: Mm hmm. For 10 years.
SCARPINO: And you started in what year?
ROWLAND: Left in 1964.
SCARPINO: Could you talk a little bit about how your position or how your career trajectory developed while you were with them?
ROWLAND: Yeah, and I would have to say to you that I probably learned more there about how not to be a leader.
SCARPINO: Do you think that sometimes learning how not to do things is almost as important as learning how to do them?
ROWLAND: I think, yes, because you can see the effect of not doing them well. I worked really hard there and I was never paid particularly well. I was never given a raise without having to go ask for it and then the tactic was well, let me think about it. Then of course he wouldn’t get back to you and you’d have to get all those knots in your stomach again and go in and ask again. I just thought it was a terrible way to treat people and no one that worked for me ever had to ask for a raise. I always was ahead of them. And I really think that’s how you treat people. There would be programs put in place for the salesmen who, based on those formulas, could earn pretty good money. But as soon as they were earning that pretty good money they changed the rules. That kind of monkey business. I saw men who worked for them who I thought deserved the respect of an elder statesman not treated accordingly. I learned a lot.
SCARPINO: How did your own career develop while you were there? You started off. . .
ROWLAND: I started off as this little green bean person to do color coordination as it was called. There was a good deal of schooling that became available. Business Furniture Company was one of several furniture dealerships throughout the country that were Stow Davis and Steelcase dealers who had formed a relationship or an association in Grand Rapids called the Executive Furniture Guild. It was headed by a gentleman by a name of George Reinoehl. They were promoting the design of executive offices. Obviously they had a product to sell and they needed a way to do it. Their feeling was that if they could have somebody that could put together a color scheme and layout and whatnot, that they ought to be able to sell that pretty easily and they put together a program for doing that which, frankly, was designed so that a colorblind salesman could probably do it all right as long as he could pick out the right numbers and names because it was a fairly professional-looking presentation thing. They used templates for all the furniture thing, it was all to scale. You just had to be able to glue, get on the lines and all that sort of thing. Then they had gone to manufacturers for carpet, fabrics, accessory items, and they had, and paint, and they had developed a color palette with Martin-Senour Paint Company. These colors were suitable for offices and frankly, it would be hard to put any two or three of them together and not have something that was fairly decent.
So with this you could pull from the swatches this fabric and this carpet, and this, and it’d looked pretty good even if you didn’t know what you were doing. But before very long it became evident that you needed somebody with more knowledge than just that. It was through that relationship that I learned quite a bit from George Reinoehl. We all went up there and studied in Grand Rapids and did that for two or three years. It was a very good association but then the role of the designer went beyond just, you know, doing these things. You had to render and you had to do all the rest of this stuff. His palette of colors was no longer adequate and you had a whole other avenue and venue of resources to go to and so that’s where the professional interior designer took over from the salesman. The theory being too, if you had designers back at home doing all this, pass it to the salesmen, they could spend more time out in the field selling.
SCARPINO: So what you got involved in was a business plan to sell office furniture.
ROWLAND: That’s right. Exactly.
SCARPINO: And it was sort of on the cutting edge of where that industry was going.
SCARPINO: Did you learn anything from that?
ROWLAND: Oh my gosh, yeah. Oh yeah. Oh, I mean it was amazing to see that foresight and to see what kind of a program you could put together to sell a product. But also to have respect for maybe when it was time to move on from what was just an entrepreneur idea to where it just wasn’t a one-man deal anymore. You needed greater resources and different towns than maybe you thought. . .
SCARPINO: Was part of your success developing a program to sell a product?
ROWLAND: Mm hmm. Business Furniture Company had a lot of products and they had good ones. The other thing that was fulfilling there was, you know, Indianapolis just
had no interest in contemporary design at all, which was frustrating to me because I was. At that point in time in those years, the Indianapolis Home Show, which was a big deal. . .
ROWLAND: . . .would build as their centerpiece house, a house that was designed by an architectural student at the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture. At that point in time Notre Dame was the only school of architecture in the state of Indiana, and kind of their prize of the winning design was to get that house built. So needless to say there were these wonderful contemporary houses—this is fifties—fifty-four, you know. Now they’re, we’re at the point now where we’re looking at saving those because they’re 50 years old now, so they’re. . .
SCARPINO: That’s the National Register of Historic Places, for the record.
ROWLAND: . . .of the National Register of Historic Places, that’s right. So this was this wonderful opportunity to bring that cutting edge design to Indianapolis. I grew up with a lot of the guys from James Associates—Ray Thompson, Dave Meeker, all those guys who, we were all about the same age there. We were all bringing this wonderful, new, and at the same time getting frustrated because nobody seemed to want to buy it [laughing]. But I talked Business Furniture Company into putting a whole floor display in of Herman Miller, Knoll Furniture. So they were the leaders in getting good design, contemporary design, to Indianapolis. It just took a long, long time to find the audience for it.
SCARPINO: Was that part of your job, to develop the audience or clientele?
ROWLAND: Yes, right. Certainly to try and show those opportunities when they were appropriate.
SCARPINO: Your own position advanced.
ROWLAND: My own position.
SCARPINO: You became a vice president.
ROWLAND: Vice president, right. The, and I had I think about eight or 10 people that were working there. We had co-op students from the University of Cincinnati and then we also had other full-time designers that we added to the staff. It may not have been that big. Maybe it’s more like six or eight rather than eight or 10. Those things get fuzzy as time goes by.
SCARPINO: While you were there at Business Furniture Corporation, did you develop contacts or networks that were helpful when you began your own business?
ROWLAND: Oh my, yes.
SCARPINO: Could you talk a little about that?
ROWLAND: Sure. One of the things that was frustrating to me was that I kept trying to get John Ober to do something other than offices, especially with this contemporary design.
SCARPINO: John Ober was the president?
ROWLAND: He was the president, uh huh. Trying to get him to do other kinds of interiors—restaurants, lodging. You know, there was a lot of avenues that you could go with that. But he pretty much wanted to stick with the office furniture business which is what he knew. So that’s his choice. But I left Business Furniture Company in 1964, I thought two weeks before my son was to be born. Turned out it was two days before he was born. But anyway.
SCARPINO: That was your first son.
ROWLAND: This was my first son. That’s Eric, right. And after that I really had no interest in going back there, but because I was interested in going these other ways and the other thing that was frustrating to me was that working for an office furniture dealer, your first reason for existing was to sell office furniture. I wanted my reason for existing to be to sell a good design. And the other thing was that in an office furniture environment the interior design service was free, supposedly, you know, and I thought that it had value. So, I wanted to go into business where I could be paid for my design knowledge and I could do things other than just offices.
So I was not really interested in going back into that same environment again. When you talk about the networking, the thing that got started were some of my old clients would call up. One of the big ones was Bud Hunter and Bud Hunter was with, it changed, it was originally the Speedway State Bank and then became First Bank and Trust. They got bought out by different things. But Bud Hunter ran that bank, and I had done some work for them while at Business Furniture Company. So Bud would call up and say, Sallie I need a little help on something. I’d say well, come on out, gather around the dining room table, you know. Or, well can I bring Eric? You know, it’s one of those things—I’m not too well-established. Then also I had talked at Purdue about doing some work in their Union building—their guest rooms. I got a call from Purdue. I think we have some money now to do some of those things you talked about, Sallie. You want to come on up?
So this is kind of how it began, is that I had some people that I worked for that were after me rather than the company that I had worked for before, and I liked them. They were fun to do business with, and not only that, but after ten years I knew my product. I mean I knew what I was doing. Which I think is a rather important part of going into business for yourself. So it sort of mushroomed. Bud Hunter became a great mentor. Not only, as a matter of fact, interestingly enough, a lot of the people who were mentors for me were clients first. Bud Hunter is the first one that pops into my mind because he became my banker. I’d come up with some harebrained things every once in a while and bless his heart, he just had faith in me that this was all going to turn out all right. He would even, when I was kind of naïve about this whole thing, he’d say Sallie we’ve got to get you set up with a line of credit. You’re going to have an opportunity to do some things. You know, he helped me with the business part of this that I hadn’t gotten.
SCARPINO: It sounds like he was your coach on your financial part of your business plan.
ROWLAND: He was the coach on the financial part, that’s right. Exactly. He was a great, great guy. He liked to play golf.
SCARPINO: Do you play golf?
ROWLAND: I play golf, mm hmm. So Bud Hunter was one of those first ones and then Purdue, actually when I finally officially opened an office, Purdue was a big client and they are still my client 40 years later. Every year they just renew it, one more year. Isn’t that neat? I love it.
SCARPINO: In talking about networks you mentioned your clients and people like that but as an interior designer did you also have to develop a network on the other end? People that supplied fabric and that sort of stuff, supplies.
ROWLAND: Sure. Mm hmm. Yeah, and that is a little bit easier to come by because, especially the suppliers of fabric and carpet. I mean they’re regular peddlers that are out there selling those things and so you would, I knew those over a period of time and would keep in touch with those and to the extent that you could borrow or beg some samples from them. And they were good friends too. No question about that. The other things that were a little harder to come by were to find the craftsmen because we hadn’t really gotten into that too much in just doing offices. When I got into some other areas, I mean I had a terrible time finding drapery work rooms. I can just tell you some horror stories I went through trying to get that job done correctly.
SCARPINO: So how did you find the people to do those things?
ROWLAND: Well, it’s trial and error and asking. I also joined the ASID which is the American Society of Interior Designers. It was called, it’s changed its name a time through the years, but that was a group of interior designers. They were mostly residential designers. A lot of them worked at Ayres. You know, Ayres was the real center for all the interior designers. They’re a very helpful bunch of people. They could help you with finding these trades people and were generous in doing that. That’s one of the things that’s always been rather interesting to me because you might think that they would be competitive and well, I’m not going to tell you because then you’ll know and you’ll be using my guy, and that’s never the way it was. It was always very supportive and. . .
SCARPINO: So you, one more question before we talk about you starting a business. While you were still at Business Furniture Corporation, were you involved in any civic or philanthropic activities, organizations in the community?
ROWLAND: I don’t think so. That was not encouraged. I think to tell you the truth, I was so busy. I worked overtime all the time, and it was nothing that was introduced or suggested or encouraged.
SCARPINO: So there was no example there that professionals should be involved in the community type of mentality.
ROWLAND: No, and I don’t think at that point in time there was too much of an attitude about that in Indianapolis. You know, it was kind of that town that. . .
SCARPINO: In 1968, if I’ve got the date right, you co-founded your own interior design firm with Bill Haskins.
ROWLAND: Bill Hawkins.
SCARPINO: Hawkins, I’m sorry. And who was Mr. Hawkins?
ROWLAND: Who was Mr. Hawkins? Mr. Hawkins was a graduate of Cincinnati, University of Cincinnati, in industrial design and he had been a co-op student working for me when I was at Business Furniture Company. Talented, oh my gosh, just enormously talented guy. When I started doing things on my own after I left BFC, Bill had—he was working for RCA—he was doing product design. I was getting opportunities to do these projects and I couldn’t get them all done and so I was looking for some moonlighters and Bill was doing some moonlighting for me. Then as I got to the point where it looked like we needed to get established, I had a source of business that I felt would, he could get dinner home and take care of the family, that, and I sensed maybe he had about had it with his opportunities at RCA, so I said how about we start this firm? You’ll have to work full time. I have to be home at three o’clock because that’s when my kids are home. But I’ve got enough volume of business to get us going. So that’s how it got started.
SCARPINO: So an industrial designer, specializes in the design of industrial products.
ROWLAND: Products. Products mostly.
SCARPINO: Any examples of products he designed that people would recognize?
SCARPINO: Furniture, okay.
ROWLAND: That’s a lot of what he was doing at RCA were the cabinets for televisions and all that sort of thing. But industrial design also has a technical end to it where they know how things are put together. You can translate that to a room. He had far more technical skills than I did. You have to understand I didn’t get any of that to speak of. He could render. He could draw these gorgeous drawings which, hand-drawn which I couldn’t do. He was a great supplement.
SCARPINO: What was the name of the firm when you started?
ROWLAND: Rowland and Hawkins.
SCARPINO: Okay, that makes sense. The idea for the firm, the vision, that was yours.
SCARPINO: You were the one who saw the points on the horizon towards which you were marching.
ROWLAND: Yes. Yeah. Yes.
SCARPINO: What kinds of considerations went into your decision to start your own design firm?
ROWLAND: Well, it’s interesting. I’ve never been fascinated by housework. [laughing]
SCARPINO: I’m going to remember that phrase.
ROWLAND: And I thought, you know, if I could earn enough money, I could get somebody to come do all this and I wouldn’t have to. Actually as. . .
SCARPINO: I mean was that your original goal was to make enough money so that you could do what you wanted and not do housework?
ROWLAND: Yes. I have to say it was one of them. It was a driving force. I’ve also have always had a little bit of a security problem where I wanted to be sure that I could make it on my own, and having worked for ten years where you were making it on your own, you kind of hate to give that up.
SCARPINO: Was that kind of an unusual profile for a young woman in those days?
ROWLAND: Oh yes. Oh yes. All the people that I went to college with, were for the most part, supposed to be teachers or nurses. I mean for a woman to go in business, and that’s probably a little bit unique with my situation, was out of character. No question about it. Not only that but I came from a generation where a lot of husbands would not let their wives work, and I had a husband who said go for it, and he was very supportive. I think he felt that he’d probably have a nutcase on his hands [laughing] if I was going to stay home all the time. He also said something rather interesting once. He said it was probably the best insurance he could, better insurance than he could ever buy, from the standpoint if you were going to buy life insurance or something to take care of me if something happened to him. But the thing that happened is that a lot of these clients started calling me and business was rolling. I had Bill moonlighting for me. I had another architect that was moonlighting for me. I started getting a lot of projects out in the Quad Cities in Iowa.
SCARPINO: That’s Moline and?
ROWLAND: Yeah, and Bettendorf, Davenport. Moline, Davenport, Bettendorf and what’s the other one? Well, we’ll think of it in a minute.
SCARPINO: It’s okay.
ROWLAND: Well, that was kind of funny how that came about because I got a call from a gentleman out there that belonged to a private club, the Davenport Club. It would be like the Columbia Club, downtown men’s club. He had gotten my name from a gentleman who had seen my work at Purdue, and called me out for an interview and then I got this job. This men’s club was teetering on the brink of maybe going under because there was another downtown club that seemed to be prospering more. It was one of those wonderful things where what I did in the way of the design of this space turned the whole club around. It became very prosperous. The other one finally folded in favor of this one. So you know when you talk about gratification and seeing something within a fairly brief period time, that hospitality field offers you that.
SCARPINO: So there was a real connection between image and. . .
ROWLAND: . . .It was a real connection, yes, where. . .
SCARPINO: . . .outcome.
ROWLAND: . . .outcome, yes. Lots of things, especially when you were doing offices, it’d become hard to measure how much better the gentleman was doing as a result of having this nice executive office than he was when he didn’t have this nice executive office. But in the hospitality field you can make a difference. Then all the people that belonged to that club started calling me, and I did an insurance company. I did a construction company. I did a real estate company. I did Von Maur, they were the department store out there. Did some work for them. An agricultural firm. I did a couple of private country clubs. I mean all this, it’s a hard place to get to, by the way. You know, the Quad Cities.
SCARPINO: Sounds like your initial market development was by word of mouth.
ROWLAND: Exactly. It’s always the best kind.
SCARPINO: By reputation.
ROWLAND: By reputation, that’s right. The interesting part of it is that the gentleman who recommended me to the Davenport Club in the first place was a person I had never met. He also recommended me to a couple of other clients that I got. And I would write to him, say thank you. It was probably two or three years later before I ever met the man. But it was a case of word of mouth. He had seen what I had done. The client was happy and he was happy to make that recommendation. You just never know where these things come from.
SCARPINO: While you’re building a market for your services your firm must have been growing, so how did you go about bringing people on board with the expertise to get the job done?
ROWLAND: Well, Bill and I started out and our first employee, now that was another eye-opener. You know our, when we started out, we didn’t have any salary. It was, after you paid all the bills if there was some money left, that’s what your income was. When we hired our first employee, that was kind of an eye-opener too, because you know, if we didn’t have any money that was one thing, but now you’re obligated to create enough volume of business because this guy is really relying on you to feed his family. I don’t know whether many people find that as shocking as I did, but it was a scary thing when I finally realized that I was now responsible for somebody else’s livelihood.
SCARPINO: Do you think that’s a part of being a leader?
SCARPINO: Accepting responsibility, recognizing it.
ROWLAND: Yes, yes. Makes a big difference. You get a lot more serious.
SCARPINO: So who was, I mean what position did this person fill?
ROWLAND: We hired him as an interior designer to do drawings and assist Bill and I. Then I think the next person was Cynthia Von Forester, who was accountant, reception, secretary, she was everything, and we really just started adding interior designers. A lot of them came from Purdue because that’s where the big school of interior design was.
SCARPINO: So was your job to do interior design or to make rain?
SCARPINO: Were you generating business?
ROWLAND: Oh yeah, both. Yeah, both. But all of our work came from our reputation.
SCARPINO: Where were your offices located in those early years?
ROWLAND: The first office was on College. It looks like we’re stuck on this street. It was College and about 39th Street. It was a couple of houses that had been joined together. There were some other architects in there and there was a kitchen planner and a bunch of us. So that was the first one, and then Bill lived in Martinsville of all places. So he wanted to get someplace that was closer to the interstate so it was easier for him to get there. So we ended up buying a place out on east 38th Street and it’s a terrible neighborhood now, and frankly, we got out of there in the nick of time. But it was fine for the time. It was again, two houses that had been joined together but it had an atrium in the middle of it. It had kind of a garden like this. It was just fine. It worked nicely for us and good old Bud Hunter financed it. It was at that point I thought well, I’m going to pay rent to myself, I’m not going to be renting places. So that’s when I started buying wherever we were going to be housed.
SCARPINO: I’ll just note for the record that your current facility is located at the intersection of College and New York in downtown Indianapolis.
ROWLAND: That’s right.
SCARPINO: How long has this been here?
ROWLAND: We’ve been in here now for about 12 years. But before that we were right up the street here on College, again, at 330 North College.
SCARPINO: Now this has the look of the building that your firm designed.
ROWLAND: That’s right. Eric.
SCARPINO: But you started with an empty lot, I think.
ROWLAND: No. Actually this, I’ll show you the pictures of it. This was an old, one-story concrete block warehouse. It was a pretty ugly looking thing. That’s the original outside wall that you see running through there.
SCARPINO: So the brown concrete block wall that we’re looking at through your large windows here is part of the original building.
ROWLAND: That’s the original, uh huh.
SCARPINO: My goodness.
ROWLAND: Eric did a wonderful job. He worked for a. . .
SCARPINO: . . .Eric is your son.
ROWLAND: . . .is my son and he worked for a firm in Chicago when we hired him to design it. It’s really worked beautifully for us and of course it has parking for 36 cars at your door.
SCARPINO: So you developed a market for your services and products.
ROWLAND: Mm hmm.
SCARPINO: You hired employees. How about capital? I mean, you had a banker, but I mean how did you generate the funds to get the business up and running, particularly after you began to hire people?
ROWLAND: Well, I really never had to put a huge influx of money in it. We were not selling product, so it wasn’t like we had to buy inventory of fabric or lamps or furniture. We were not in the business of selling product. We were in the business of selling design. So frankly, the cash flow was there.
SCARPINO: So, just to make sure that I understand this and the people who listen to this recording understand it, in your kind of business, the client buys the materials.
ROWLAND: That’s right. I mean the way I set this up is that we were paid for our design. We’d bill them by the hour. Send an invoice monthly for the time that’s been spent, and the product, we would write the specifications for and then we would put those out to bid. So the product would still be bought from a business furniture company or a Continental or another office supplier or in some cases it might be different resources. But we did not have to invest in hard product. We had to invest in drafting tables and all the equipment that you need to do it and we had to invest in a library which I’ll show you out here. It’s just staggering, the size of it. But it was not a huge capital influx that you would have to if you were going to be buying inventory of furniture.
SCARPINO: I’m going to switch gears here a little bit.
SCARPINO: We’ve got just 30 minutes or so left. I promised I’d let you go in two hours, but I wanted to drop into the conversation several of the standard leadership questions that we ask everyone. These range broadly across the spectrum, but the first question is, what do you read?
ROWLAND: What do I read? Well, a variety of things. In the way of recreational novels, I read, I’m a Ken Follett fan. Long before Oprah found it, I read Pillars of the Earth and just recently read his subsequent World Without End, I think, which is fascinating to me because it’s about building of cathedrals. I’ve read Jan Karon’s books which we’d all like to live in that perfect little town that she envisions. I’m a John Grisham fan. Dick Francis. I love horses. And I’m a Jane Austen fan too. So a little variety of things there. I do like to read some biographies. I like to read about people. Probably, well I’ve read a lot about some our historical heroes, of course, such as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. I recently read the book between, about Churchill and FDR, their relationship. I’ve read about Katharine Graham, Washington Post. I think she’d kind of interesting. Queen Elizabeth, First and Second. Right now I’m reading Truman.
SCARPINO: The biography of Harry Truman?
ROWLAND: Biography of Harry Truman, which I really. . .
SCARPINO: Is that David McCullough’s book?
ROWLAND: Yes, it is. I read his 1776 not too long ago. I don’t read perhaps as much as a lot of people do because I have a vision problem where I can only read so long and my eyes blur. So I don’t read as much as maybe I could and should. I’m kind of a visual person too so I look at a lot of movies and BBC things. Masterpiece Theatre things.
SCARPINO: Do you think that a leader should read?
ROWLAND: Yes, uh huh. When I was active in the business I was reading a lot of books that had to do, you know, the Peter Principle. I used to love Tom Peter’s examples of successful ways to do business. In Pursuit of Excellence. Those things I found very helpful, very worthwhile.
SCARPINO: Do you ever read about other leaders?
ROWLAND: Well I think some of those people are leaders. Lee Iacocca. Yes, I do. I just finished reading, this is maybe a little one, but this is Carver McGriff, who was our minister. He wrote a book called Making Sense of Normandy. It gave me a lot of insight into him, too. He was in the infantry when we landed in Normandy, World War II.
SCARPINO: So your minister was an infantryman.
ROWLAND: That’s right.
SCARPINO: And wrote about the experience.
ROWLAND: And wrote about the experience.
SCARPINO: Was he in the ministry at the time. . .
SCARPINO: . . .of the Normandy landing?
ROWLAND: No. He was a kid, as a lot of them were, eighteen years old or something. Didn’t know what they were getting into or where they were. Just thought it would be a big adventure. It’s amazing.
SCARPINO: I guess I could say this even though, I interviewed a man yesterday who lost a limb in Vietnam at the age of 19.
ROWLAND: Uh huh.
SCARPINO: So, very young man.
SCARPINO: Who do you think, who in your mind are important leaders?
ROWLAND: Well, I think, when I think of somebody that to me was the epitome of a leader it’d be J. Irwin Miller. He’s dead now.
ROWLAND: Passed away just a few years ago. His son is doing very well in his footsteps, Will Miller.
SCARPINO: That’s the J. Irwin Miller of Cummins Engine.
ROWLAND: Of Cummins Engine.
ROWLAND: I just had the good fortune to get to know him and I would say in almost any way you could think of the characteristics of a good leader he’d be it. Probably the best I could point to.
SCARPINO: What do you think some of those characteristics were that caught your attention?
ROWLAND: Well, he was first of all very honest. Very well educated. Very visionary. Very thoughtful. Very concerned about what he did and how it affected people. His ability to see what the Cummins Engine Company needed and who he had to attract to this dumpy little town of Columbus to really make that thing work. I’m sure that had something to do something with the architecture importance that came to that town where, you know, he just set a whole different mood for the, raised the bar unbelievably high in Columbus.
SCARPINO: Right. But he paid for architect design building in Columbus.
ROWLAND: That’s right and it’s just phenomenal. He’s a very humble person. He really was. When I had the good fortune to meet with him I always felt like I was at the foot of a prophet. A very religious man. He could read Greek, Latin. I mean just way over my head. But I just thought he was a marvelous person.
SCARPINO: What do you think made him visionary?
ROWLAND: I don’t know what about his character or his formation of his personality might have done that whether—because he came from a background of ministers, and I think he just always saw a bigger picture, and some people do. I don’t know why particularly.
SCARPINO: Do you? Do you see the bigger picture?
ROWLAND: I try to. I think for the most part I do try to get past the little picky stuff that gets in your way and remember where you’re trying to go.
SCARPINO: What was the big picture you had in your mind as you launched your firm?
ROWLAND: Well, I wanted to be, I wanted to be an interior design firm that could provide absolutely superb results. I wanted, I know a lot of people have said did you have goals like, and so many people use monetary goals. Like I want the revenue to be twice as much next year as it is this year or 10%. I never thought in those terms. I never thought in those terms. My goal was to do the next job better than I did the last one and the next one better than that one. That was more my goal so that the end result was to provide superb design, to help our clients do better at whatever it was they did. That’s kind of it. You know, along the way you think—first of all you had maybe six employees in there and you think, well this surely will be enough. Then you had 12, and you thought surely this is enough. So I never really saw well, I want to be a firm that has 50 people. You know, I just never thought that way. I just wanted us to be excellent and be as good as we could be and attract the best talent I could find.
SCARPINO: How did you do that? How did you persuade people to come to work for you?
ROWLAND: I think it’s because of our reputation. I think we’ve been well respected. I think that I gave them no limitations. I always knew that I had to hire people that were better at this than I am. And I went after them.
SCARPINO: Did that ever intimidate you to know that you surrounded yourself with people who are better at some things than you were?
ROWLAND: Oh no. No, I purposely wanted people that were better at it than I had been. If there weren’t any better than I was I would never get any better, would I? No. No, no, no. No, actually the greatest thrill is when a client that you may start out working with who insists upon calling you, quits calling you and calls on the designer that you assigned to the project. That’s a great feeling, because then you know they have the client’s confidence.
SCARPINO: Other than Irwin Miller, who else inspired you as a leader?
ROWLAND: Frank Walker. Do you know Frank Walker?
SCARPINO: I don’t, no.
ROWLAND: Frank Walker is, well he’s retired now, but he was head of Walker Research. Frank Walker was a client initially and then became a mentor. I was on his advisory board, corporate advisory board. I think he’s an excellent leader—by example. He’s a positive thinker. He thinks big. He thinks down the line. I just thought he was an excellent example. He was always seeking new ideas, would listen, initiate, very good leader. Frank Walker.
SCARPINO: Seeking new ideas, listen, initiate—are those qualities of an effective leader?
ROWLAND: Oh, I think so. I think so.
SCARPINO: Does that describe you?
ROWLAND: I don’t know. I hope so. Joe Barnett. Do you know Joe Barnett?
SCARPINO: I don’t, no.
ROWLAND: Now these are a couple of local folks. Joe Barnett, Joseph Barnett was head of Bank One, and he was, in the civic activity he was head of the Chamber and all kinds of things. Joe Barnett I think was a, has a style about him that inspires confidence. He has the most wonderful sense of humor and he did an excellent job of heading that bank. He of course, eventually Bank—see I started out on Indiana National Bank’s board and then it became NBD Detroit, and then it became Chicago, and then we merged with Bank One. You know how all this madness had been going on. Joe, I have found has a very easygoing manner about him. I’m sure he must get mad sometimes but I’ve never seen it. He makes you feel, when you’re with him, like you’re the most important person. But it’s his sense of humor.
One of the examples was, you know, a lot of men, in particular, don’t want to tell stories on themselves that might be embarrassing. But Joe Barnett tells this story. They lived in Evanston. He was a banker obviously. In their new house they had carpet put down and the door wouldn’t close on the bedroom because the carpet was too thick. So he says I can fix that. You know, just have to take the door off, plane off some, put it back on, which he did but it turns out that he took it off the top instead of the bottom. Well, you know—but he’d tell this kind of thing where I think a lot of men would have never told something on themselves. But that’s not Joe. I remember he was conducting a meeting one time and you know, you always ask for questions. So it was time for the questions and he said, well I know that nobody wants to ask the first question so would somebody ask the second question, please? [laughing] You know, it’s just that kind of personality. I think he’s an excellent leader and he’s been very ambitious in civic opportunities. Take on some things that others really wouldn’t want to.
SCARPINO: For example?
ROWLAND: Well, I was involved in helping to start the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership. Clay Robbins and I were wanting to get two key leaders to take on the responsibility for chairing that to begin with and we felt we had to have just the right people. We went after Andy Paine and Joe Barnett and Andy Paine felt that it was probably not something that would work and Joe Barnett said, I don’t know Andy, I think maybe we could work it out. And he did. So did Andy, and you know, he’s just. . .
SCARPINO: Could you just say for the record what the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership is?
ROWLAND: Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, it exists now. It is the economic development over Central Indiana. It replaced the Corporate Community Council which used to be in existence just in Indianapolis. When Ben Lytle was—and Ben Lytle was another good leader too—when Ben Lytle was chairman of the Corporate Community Council he asked if I would chair a task force, and I did it with Larry O’Connor, and of course Clay Robbins was footing the bill, Lilly Endowment—he asked whether I would co-chair a committee to look at how we do economic development in Indianapolis and if we had a clean sheet of paper how would we do it over. So that was a task force that, the result of which was that we had to be a central Indiana, not just an Indianapolis, and that we needed to approach this using the strengths that we already had from the standpoint of industry clusters and we needed to get it run by the top CEOs in that community. So that was established. We asked Joe and Andy to be the first ones and then we went off to start the membership. Now it is just doing superb things. I mean we’ve stayed with this industry cluster thing. The Life Science Crossroads thing is an outgrowth of it. It was headed, the person we hired to be the working administrator was Dave Goodrich and now it’s been taken over by Mark Miles, and it’s just doing beautifully.
SCARPINO: So you chaired the task force that came up with this idea for the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership.
ROWLAND: Uh huh, co-chaired it with Larry O’Connor.
SCARPINO: Its mission is to attract and facilitate economic development?
ROWLAND: Economic development and it’s regional. It’s central Indiana and it includes the presidents of Purdue and IU, Ball State, Indiana State. They’ve done great things. They really have. It’s just been a joy to see it happen.
SCARPINO: What are you most proud of about what this organization has accomplished?
ROWLAND: Well, I think that the whole endeavor into these industry clusters, the life science thing. They’re bringing all these incubators that are popping up and all of the efforts that you’re seeing in the life sciences, they’re doing very, very well. They’re now concentrating on advanced manufacturing and logistics and they have a group that Carol D’Amico is heading that’s concentrating on that. Purdue’s been very active in all of this. So, to see this happen and see the support that it’s getting, and the leadership that is has. I think Mark Miles is doing a great job. Dave Goodrich did a wonderful job getting it started from scratch. It’s hard to start something from scratch. What we have is the participation of all the CEOs of all the top organizations. So, it’s exciting to see it happen.
SCARPINO: Does this organization have money that it puts into ventures?
ROWLAND: Yep. Mm hmm.
SCARPINO: What’s the source of the money?
ROWLAND: The membership of the corporations that are part of it and then also they get some grants I think, depending upon what the project is. Lilly Endowment has been very supportive of it.
SCARPINO: Back to another one of our standard questions. As you developed your business and as you developed as a leader, who helped you along the way? I mean, you’ve mentioned a number of people.
ROWLAND: Mm hmm. Bud Hunter, my banking friend. Wes Martin, who is an architect who opened some doors for me. Frank Walker. I think maybe in a sense, you know, there have been a lot of, Dan Evans, Sr., Dan Evans, Sr. Interestingly, they’ve all been men.
SCARPINO: I noticed that. I didn’t want to lead the witness by asking you how come there are no women on your list, but why do you think that’s the case that all the people you’ve named are all men?
ROWLAND: Well, because there haven’t been that many women in business.
SCARPINO: Were there any as you were getting started in town here?
ROWLAND: No. Not that I knew. They were beginning to be in the professions. Lawyers, and even those were new. But no, there were not a whole lot of women my age or from my generation that went into business. It just wasn’t encouraged. Now I have to say that I think I was fortunate because the profession that I’ve been in, of interior design, was okay for a woman to be in. So for that reason I think maybe I had it a little easier than if I had been trying to be an architect, or an engineer, or all these male-dominated fields where women just have no business being. They’ve had it much rougher. So I think that’s been to my good fortune.
SCARPINO: Do you think that having had a mentor or mentors, played a role in your development as a business leader?
SCARPINO: Can you talk about any of those folks?
ROWLAND: Well, one of the first opportunities that I was given to participate in something of a civic nature had to do with asking to be on the Historic Preservation Commission.
SCARPINO: Mm hmm. Indianapolis?
ROWLAND: Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission, and as a matter of fact there was a woman that suggested me for that position. It was Scotty Bennett and it was Mayor Hudnut’s, one of his numerous terms in office, and Scotty worked for the mayor, and there was an opening and she thought that I might be good and be interested in it. Frankly, it became a great love of mine—historic preservation—still is, and if you look at what did you really contribute in your lifetime, I can point to some things there that I’d be proud of. So that was a door that was opened for me that I could get passionate about, and really, I think do a pretty good job. It was at a time when the bulldozer mentality was running rampant and it seemed like every time we turned around somebody wanted to tear something down, and there we were saying no, not so fast. They even had, some of those neighbors were toting guns to those meetings. I mean, it was crazy. Hudnut would pretend like he didn’t know who I was when he’d pass me because I think he was getting pressured. [laughing] I mean, they wanted to tear the Circle Theatre, okay? Well we wouldn’t let them tear down the Circle Theatre now. They would be horrified if we let them. And the Union Station and all those things. But I was in it, I was president of that commission when all this stuff was going on.
SCARPINO: Do you remember when you first went on the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Committee?
ROWLAND: I’d have to look up the dates for you, to tell you the truth. I lose track of those times.
SCARPINO: I mean, I’ll admit that I couldn’t find your start date.
ROWLAND: Couldn’t you? Well, I’ll find out. I think it was in the eighties.
ROWLAND: But I think in that capacity I was viewed by an awful lot of business people as being maybe a reasonable person trying to deal fairly with this.
SCARPINO: Because you were one of them. You were a business person yourself.
ROWLAND: I was a business person myself, yeah, and because an awful lot of the petitions were tear down the building or something, and trying not to be emotional about these things and all that sort of thing. I think that observation of maybe that was another first opportunity that came to me in the corporate world, which was to be on the board of Midwest National Bank. That was the first corporate board I was invited on. Midwest National Bank was headed by Frank Lloyd, Dr. Frank Lloyd. Dan Evans Sr. was on that board, and I think he had a lot to do with my being invited on there. Subsequently, I was also invited to be on the Meridian Mutual Insurance Board of Directors. Dan Evans Sr. was on that. So you know, there’s one of those mentors that opened some doors, who’s always an interesting man, always. I liked him a lot.
SCARPINO: Was there a difference in the way you exercise leadership between running your own business and serving on a board of someone else’s business?
ROWLAND: Sure. [laughing]
SCARPINO: What were the differences?
ROWLAND: Well, you’re normally invited on those boards because of some expertise that you bring. I think in my case it was probably marketing. I don’t think I was ever invited on any those boards because I was a good interior designer. I think it was more probably from the marketing or business perspective and I was not the first woman in all cases. Although, on an awful lot of them I have to tell you, I was the only woman. But not so with Midwest, with Meridian Mutual. Mildred Compton had preceded me there. She was head of the Children’s Museum. She’d been on their board before. But in the capacity of a board member, there’s a good deal of time to learn what the business is of that company that you’re serving on, and try and figure out how your particular expertise might be helpful, and when to offer it and when not to offer it. I found that probably the thing that I did more for those boards I went on was to ask questions. I would sit on some of those things and they’d be telling the board something, and I truly didn’t understand what they were talking about. But I thought I can’t just sit here and pretend like I understand what they’re talking about. I would have to say, I’d have to ask a question. I’d have to ask clarification or I’d have to question why they were doing that or something and I discovered that it opened up the whole conversation. That I wasn’t the only one sitting around that table that didn’t understand, but I was the only one apparently that was dumb enough to ask the question. So a lot of what I did was to ask questions and provoke conversation.
SCARPINO: Do you think that’s a mark of a leader?
ROWLAND: I hope so. I hope so.
SCARPINO: To ask questions.
ROWLAND: Ask questions.
SCARPINO: Provoke conversation.
ROWLAND: Mm hmm.
SCARPINO: I asked you about people who mentored you. Do you mentor other people or have you mentored other people?
ROWLAND: Yes. That’s a term that’s kind of a funny one. A lot of people say, you ought to get a mentor. I think a mentor is most successful when you want to help a person because you admire their potential, you like them, and you want to help, rather than being assigned. That could be a coach but to me that’s not a mentor. So I think I have been a mentor to a number of people that have worked for me. Sarah Marr-Schwartzkopf, who’s the president. I think I’ve been a mentor to her.
SCARPINO: Just for the record, she’s the current president of Rowland Designs.
ROWLAND: She’s the current president. She came to work—did I tell you about how Sarah started?
SCARPINO: No, you didn’t.
ROWLAND: Well, Sarah graduated from Purdue. This was when our offices were up the street here in the next block. She came in wanting a job and I didn’t have an opening. She said, let me work for you for nothing for a while and then see whether you think I might be worth hiring. I’m going, I can handle nothing. [laughing] I can’t pass this one up. Well that told me something about her character right off the bat. Who would come in and ask to work for nothing? So I said okay. So obviously she was very talented and very dependable and very enthusiastic and wanted to learn and all that sort of thing. So we hired her. I can’t remember, she’ll be able to tell us whether she worked here a month or two months or what it was and we hired her. I just have been enthused about Sarah and helping her all along the way, and now she’s the president. I think it’s pretty great.
SCARPINO: Must give you a good feeling.
ROWLAND: You bet it does. You bet it does. She’s doing a great job. There are some other people that I feel I have mentored too by opening doors for them and getting them in positions that they might otherwise not have had an opportunity to do. If that’s mentoring, which is what I think it is, yeah.
SCARPINO: Do you think that networks play a role in the development of a successful leader?
ROWLAND: Now how do you mean networks?
SCARPINO: Networks of contacts, people who know you, know your reputation.
ROWLAND: Oh, sure. Well, as I’ve indicated, most all of our business through the years has been through that networking, if that’s the right word. It’s been word of mouth and that’s even true today. Probably I think 80% of our business comes from repeat customers or customers that have recommended us.
SCARPINO: I asked you toward the beginning of the interview if you played golf.
ROWLAND: Uh huh.
SCARPINO: Did you use your ability to play golf as a mechanism for developing your business? I mean were you doing business on the links?
ROWLAND: Huh uh.
ROWLAND: No, not really. It’s interesting as more and more women have gotten involved in business leadership now, I’ve played with a lot of women. I have, but no, not like the men. First of all I wasn’t that good a golfer. You know, the guys wouldn’t want me playing with, because I’m swinging three times to their one. Didn’t work that well. Couldn’t get any money off of me probably. [laughing] So, no I didn’t use golf as—I think women have always had kind of a tough time of it from a networking thing because guys would have, their wives would have dinner parties and bring customers or business associates for that kind of a social environment. We women don’t have wives, and so it doesn’t work out that well. It’s been more just through, I think that when you get involved in a lot of the civic activities you meet people in a different capacity, and I think that’s had a lot to do with—that might be a networking avenue that would be different from just the social aspect of things. I’ve always felt that it’s important to get involved in the community to give back. I’ve encouraged that through this whole organization, and you’ll find a lot of people are involved in a lot of things.
SCARPINO: Quite a bit different than the Business Furniture Company you worked for your first 10 years.
ROWLAND: That’s right, exactly. I think we’ve done a lot of good. We really have.
SCARPINO: So do you think networking is different for women than it is for men?
ROWLAND: Oh my, yes.
SCARPINO: How so? I mean you started down that path and. . .
ROWLAND: Yeah. Well, just the social opportunities have just not been there for women. It’s beginning to change, but even then—a lot of women, and I would tell you that I’m one of them, that have been fairly successful in business, you’ve got to have a husband that is supportive of that, and in many cases, the roles reverse. My husband finally became the cook in our house. I think I cooked for the first 20 years, but he did it for the last 20 years. We always managed to get to most all these swimming things and everything, but you just have to have a supportive spouse. In my generation there weren’t very many of them.
SCARPINO: I’m going to ask you one more question before I turn the recorder off, and then I hope I can schedule a second session with you but, and it definitely relates to being a woman in business. How did you manage to raise two children and a business? I think you were raising your business and your children at the same time.
ROWLAND: Same time, yeah. Well, I’ve had good child care, and without it you’d be dead in the water. At least I don’t think you could. I really felt that my, if you make the decision to have children, your first responsibility is to get those children raised well. I dearly love my kids, and I was at home with them before we decided that the world… I said, I ended up using one of the bedrooms at home for a little office. Then about the time Jason, my young one, was about two years old, and of course they want your attention and everything. I had some deadlines and I couldn’t get all this done and at one point I thought, I’ve got to close the door. Then I thought, you know, Sallie you can’t do that. When you’re to the point where you have to close the door, you cannot do that in your house. Now, if you want to go out and establish an office someplace and have the right kind of care here while you’re gone, okay. But you can’t be doing both of them at home. That was the end of that.
That’s when my husband, I said, you know Dick, I either have to establish this as a going business and get an office and get serious, or let it go. Because I can’t do it the way we’re doing it. That’s when the decision was made to establish the business and Bill Hawkins and I started up. I had the good fortune—my kids were healthy. A lot to be said for that. You don’t have sick kids all the time. When I look back on it I honestly don’t know how I got through all those times, because you’d take one of them to nursery school and you no sooner get them there and you’d have to pick them up. You know, it was just a freaky time [laughing], but part of my deal was, at least for the first seven years of this, I had to be home by three o’clock, so I was there when the kids came home from school. But I had a very good and consistent housekeeper/babysitter who was with me from the time that Jason was two until they graduated from college.
SCARPINO: My goodness. Same person?
ROWLAND: One time in there we had to make a change. She had three children. Tragically, two of them died of sickle cell anemia, and she was out of it. So, she had to stay home obviously. She was really had lots of things that she needed to get over. So I found someone else that filled that void for about three years who was also very good. She was such a good housekeeper I never could find anything. She’s put everything away. Where is this stuff? [laughing] Then her husband became ill and she had to leave, and about that time I called Nina again and she said yeah, I’m ready to come back. She would come when I know she really didn’t feel very good. She would come when the weather was lousy. She was just so reliable. And without that kind of support I don’t think I could have done it. I know I couldn’t have done it.
SCARPINO: Is child care part of the business here?
ROWLAND: Is it part of the business here?
ROWLAND: No, we don’t have a child care part of it, but we’re certainly very understanding about it. We have an awful lot of the women designers who go on part time.
SCARPINO: Flex hours and things like that?
SCARPINO: Well, we’ve been talking for two hours and I promised you that I wouldn’t run over two hours so I’m going to thank you very much for being kind enough to sit with me for this session, and I hope we’ll be able to schedule a second session with you.
SCARPINO: The recorders are on and as I mentioned before I turned them on I’m going to start by saying today is Thursday, November 5, 2009. My name is Philip Scarpino. I’m a professor of history at IUPUI and director of Oral History for the Tobias Center for Leadership Excellence, and I’m conducting the second of two interviews with Ms. Sallie Rowland. Among many accomplishments, she’s the retired CEO of Rowland Design, which she founded and developed, and we are in the headquarters of Rowland Design in Indianapolis. So I’d like to ask your permission to record this interview, to have the interview transcribed and to deposit the recording and transcription in the IUPUI Special Collections and Archives for the use of the patrons.
ROWLAND: You have my permission.
SCARPINO: All right, thank you. We spoke, the last time we spoke was a long time ago. It was May 20, 2008.
ROWLAND: That’s what I was trying to remember was how long ago it had been.
SCARPINO: A while, and I went back and listened to most of that recording and went through the rough draft of the transcript and there were a couple of questions I’d like to ask you to sort of follow up on that.
ROWLAND: Mm hmm.
SCARPINO: At one point in the course of that interview, you were talking about the importance of showing respect for your employees and your customers as a person in charge of the business. So the first general question is, do you think it’s an important quality of leadership to be able to show respect?
ROWLAND: Oh, no question. Absolutely. Without that I don’t know how you’d make much progress.
SCARPINO: So you do you, how does a leader like Sallie Rowland go about showing respect for employees?
ROWLAND: Well, I think that showing respect for employees has to do with respecting their ability and giving them sufficient opportunity to exhibit that ability. Not having the “my way or the highway” kind of attitude, but encouraging new ideas, encouraging different ideas, perhaps hopefully in the process, better ideas than you might have yourself, and I think that an employee recognizes that. I’ve always said in my firm that I thought the limitations of the individual were their own limitations—nothing that’s imposed on them by the rules or regulations within the organization.
SCARPINO: Can you think of an example where, following that philosophy, one of your employees came up with a new and better idea that you hadn’t really seen coming and that worked well for the business?
ROWLAND: Well, interestingly enough one of them had to do with the physical plant in which we house ourselves.
SCARPINO: Is this the building we’re sitting in now?
ROWLAND: It does happen to be the building we’re in now, but this was not the first place that we lived. Immediately prior to this we were about a block north in a building that we had outgrown and so we were looking for a place to go, and this building that we’re in now was a pretty awful looking thing. It was a concrete block building, one story. It housed a television repair place, but it had all kinds of parking adjacent to it. And our problem was that in order to be able to buy something else we had to sell the building we were in. So we had our building on the market, and one of my partners said one day, Sallie, why don’t we see if that guy up the street won’t just trade buildings. That way we won’t have to move out of this one when we sell it while we remodel that one if that’s the one we want. So lo and behold that was a brainstorm. That’s exactly what we did. We traded buildings, although he gave us money for ours because it was worth more than his at the time and we rented from him and stayed there while we remodeled this building. Brilliant idea.
SCARPINO: And you, actually this building was actually an early example of adaptive reuse in Indianapolis.
ROWLAND: Yes, yes.
SCARPINO: How do you go about showing respect for your customers?
ROWLAND: Ooh, well, without customers you’re nowhere and of course I think maybe the customers, you have to have the customers before you have the employees, and the thing that I’ve always felt very strongly about is to listen to and understand exactly what your customers want of you. They’re making an investment of some substantial amount. They want guidance and yet you need to understand what their goals are, what they expect out of this. It is a more efficient space? Is it just a more attractive space? Is it because they want to retain employees and they’re having turnover because their facilities are so bad? If it’s a residence, what are the things that are sacred to them? And listen. And I really feel that if you listen and you get to know them, and you have to do that—learn about their lifestyle—that then the solution you come with is right head-on. It’s, and it’s only because you’ve listened. If your idea is to take that opportunity to create some thing of beauty that might get published in one of the magazines, that’s the wrong idea. That may be a byproduct if you happen to do it well enough.
SCARPINO: I did enough research to know that you’ve been published in many magazines.
ROWLAND: [laughter] But that’s first and foremost. If you don’t take care of the client, you are dead in the water.
SCARPINO: Do you think that that is a quality that separated your business from your competition?
ROWLAND: Yeah. I really do. I really do because a lot of our competition had a look. You can almost tell who did it because they all sort of look the same. In my estimation, everybody’s not the same. So the solution should be unique to that particular individual’s taste although you try and stretch them. You know, you want it to look better than if they’d done it themselves for heaven’s sake. [laughing] But at the same time they don’t all look alike. They don’t all think alike, they don’t act alike, and so I think it needs to be a reflection of what they are.
SCARPINO: Do you think that there’s any significant difference in the way male and female leaders show respect for employees and customers?
ROWLAND: Well that’s an interesting question. Hmm. I don’t know whether I can say that’s true or not. I’ve seen both sexes where I thought the behavior was one of compassion and understanding and genuine concern. I’ve seen both genders where I thought they were more ego-oriented and “big I and little you,” and so I don’t know that I could say… I suppose I think that in the final analysis, women are more understanding of a situation, maybe a personal situation, because maybe they’ve been through it more themselves than men have. So there may be a little bit greater compassion on the part of women.
SCARPINO: I mean it occurred to me again as I listened to the recording and read the rough draft of the transcript that you were one of the first female CEOs in this area.
ROWLAND: It’s true. Of my age, my generation, yeah, it’s true.
SCARPINO: So do you think it’s important for a leader to be respected? Is that an important quality—to earn or command respect?
ROWLAND: I don’t know that you command it. I think you earn it.
ROWLAND: I think you earn it. And certainly if you want to be a leader, a really good one, you, people recognize you as a leader because they respect you, not because you stand there and demand it. I don’t think that works out very well [laughing] unless you’re Hitler.
SCARPINO: Or my drill sergeant.
ROWLAND: There you go. [laughing]
SCARPINO: A similar question to one I asked you before. Do you think there’s any significant differences between the way male and female leaders gain respect?
ROWLAND: I think it’s harder for women to gain the respect and again it’s because they’ve not had that role in the business community, and there are just an awful lot of men that are of the opinion that they belong in the kitchen and all that kind of stuff and they can’t possibly be competent enough to run a business. I think that, so that makes it harder and at the same time, I don’t think a woman should lose their femininity. I mean I don’t think you want to be one of the guys, necessarily, but if you know what you’re talking about and if you contribute and if you come prepared and you really know your business, you’re respected. And I hope that maybe that’s a role that I played by being one of the first women on some of these corporate boards where I may have started out as a token, but I think that I earned the respect by virtue of the responsibilities I was given when I was on those boards.
SCARPINO: Can you, as long as you brought that subject up, can you mention the key corporate boards upon which you’ve served?
ROWLAND: Well, I was on the board of Midwest National Bank. I don’t know if you remember that as one of the early banks and locally owned. And after that I was invited to come on the board of Indiana National Bank. So Indiana National Bank was one of the big corporate boards. Meridian Insurance Company and IPALCO—that’s Indianapolis Power and Light Company.
SCARPINO: One of the investor-owned utilities that. . .
ROWLAND: . . .that’s right. . .
SCARPINO: . . .we talked about before I turned the recorder on.
ROWLAND: And I was on the corporate advisory board, not an official board, but an advisory board of Walker Research.
SCARPINO: Did you see any differences in the way one would exercise leadership between your role as CEO of your own company and serving on a board?
ROWLAND: Well, yeah, of course they were all stockholder-owned, although Meridian Mutual went from being a mutual company to a holding company during that process at the time that I was on that board when it became stockholder-owned. They were all huge by comparison to my company. Rather difficult to make an exact comparison because I really didn’t have stockholders. I had some partners but I didn’t have stockholders as such that I had to report to, and so it’s a whole different way of conducting business. So the parallel between the two was rather difficult. I can tell you it’s easier to be a dictator. [laughing]
SCARPINO: Well, I mean is Rowland Design still closely held?
ROWLAND: Yes, uh huh. It is. I’m no longer, have any ownership in it at all. But it is owned by five who originally were partners and one additional person who has been invited to share in the ownership.
SCARPINO: I’m going to ask you a few of our standard leadership questions and then I’m going to talk in some detail about your company. What do you think are the qualities that distinguish effective leadership in general?
ROWLAND: I think the willingness to take calculated risk, and with that comes the willingness for failure if they don’t all work out and to learn from that and move on. I think it requires an awful lot of work. There’s a lot of hours, a lot of dedication that’s involved in it. A lot of people think if you own your own business you can go home early. Just the opposite. You can’t go home. I mean, it does take its toll—I think to some extent on the family life because it does require, especially in the growing stages when you’re getting started, a lot of hours, a lot of dedication, and you have to be there to be sure those deadlines are met, those clients are taken care of, and any mistakes that have been made are corrected. So, it’s that kind of dedication. A willingness to set an example to those that you’ve hired, that this is your level of expectation.
SCARPINO: Right. You mentioned the willingness to take a calculated risk.
ROWLAND: Mm hmm.
SCARPINO: Can you think of a time when you did just that in business?
ROWLAND: Well, sure. [laughing]
SCARPINO: One that you’d care to share for the record?
ROWLAND: We’ve taken some risks in trying to maybe grow the business and expansion that haven’t necessarily worked out. We opened an office in Chicago. That didn’t work out. I think primarily because we didn’t have the right kind of people in it. We tried an alliance, which we called ARTA, which was a joint venture between Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf, an architectural firm; Roudebush Associates, which is a graphic and industrial design firm; and our firm, which is strictly an interior design firm, at the time; to jointly market. We put all our collateral together. It was, I still think it was a good idea, because collectively we could go after things that individually none of us would have a chance to do and we were presenting ourselves not as three firms that happened to get together for that moment, but as an ongoing collaboration. It didn’t work. A lot of it had to do with the economy at the time went south.
SCARPINO: What was the time frame, approximately?
ROWLAND: It was in the eighties. And then each firm was at a little bit different point in their thinking regarding marketing. But it was one where we all put money into a pot to market ourselves rather than just talking about it. We put our money where our mouth was. But it didn’t work. But you learn from those.
SCARPINO: Now, Rowland Design does have an office in Louisville, Kentucky.
ROWLAND: That’s true.
SCARPINO: So was that, did that start off as a calculated risk?
ROWLAND: Yeah, I guess that was one too [laughing]. Now that you mention it, yes. I, it was kind of interesting because where we sit in Indianapolis in the middle of the state, we have always done a lot of business north, east, and west. In the neighboring states we go way up in northern Michigan. And yet, Louisville is two hours, and while we would do some work to the south, it seems like that Mason-Dixon line was still sitting there, and so I saw the Louisville opportunity as a door to the south. The timing of it coincided with a project that we had been invited to participate in, actually in New Albany.
SCARPINO: Mm hmm. New Albany, Indiana, down on the Ohio River.
ROWLAND: It’s right on the Ohio River, but it required a presence in Kentucky. And so that was kind of the time that we chose to do that. We have always, with maybe one exception, always had that office personnel be Kentucky people. They weren’t somebody that we had sent down, but wanting to understand the culture of that area.
SCARPINO: Did it work out as an entryway?
ROWLAND: It’s still thriving. It’s, I think they’ve been down there 16 years now.
SCARPINO: How would you characterize your idea or your concept of leadership? Who is a leader, what constitutes leadership, when you think about that?
ROWLAND: Wow. Well, you know, it, that’s a tough one. I think leadership has to involve someone that has a passion for what they’re trying to accomplish, and I don’t know if you’ve watched the National Park Series lately?
SCARPINO: About half of it, yes.
ROWLAND: Yeah. Well, you talk about leadership. There are so many examples of that in there. Some of them being of course the John Muirs who, what a passion he had, and he used the spoken word or the written word as his ability to provide leadership for the importance of his mission. And then you find many others along the way who, in addition to understanding and wanting to preserve things—not for themselves personally, but for those that were yet to come. A lot of them had money. I mean, look at the Rockefellers. And then of course, what was it Mather, that was the man who started the Parks Department. Well he had some money, but he also had a passion and he also had influence. Leadership is, could be very helpful to have contacts with others that might help in the success of whatever your mission is or your passion is. He certainly had that and he had their respect, and he got so many people to understand what that mission was and jump on board. Those are, just in that whole fathom of, just looking at the people that contributed to the parks, leadership is all over the place. Then you came along with Teddy who actually had some power.
SCARPINO: Teddy Roosevelt.
ROWLAND: Teddy Roosevelt, we’re talking about, well and FDR later on did a lot more. He moved all the monuments over there and everything else. But Teddy really understood it and, but it was a senator from Iowa, as I understand it, who snuck through Congress—I say snuck. He didn’t sneak it through. But he passed a law that gave the president the power to create these, what they called national monuments, I guess, and it was, I bet they didn’t even know what they were passing. [laughing]
SCARPINO: The Antiquities Act.
ROWLAND: The Antiquities Act, exactly, and that gave Roosevelt the power to name some of these things. So you look at all of these people that exercised leadership when they had the opportunity and they had the skills, whether it was political or whether it was pictorial. They were painters. They were photographers. They captured what you needed to understand, or they wrote about it or—that’s all leadership to me.
SCARPINO: You know, one of the things that the individuals you mentioned all seem to have an ability to sell an idea.
ROWLAND: Sell an idea, that’s right.
SCARPINO: Do you think that’s part of your success as well?
ROWLAND: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. You have to. And that sounds kind of funny but I’ve even taken courses in salesmanship. I mean you can feel strongly about something, but if you can’t persuade somebody else and then ask for the order, as it were.
SCARPINO: So the ability to communicate must be up there on the list somewhere.
ROWLAND: You got to be able to communicate. That’s right.
SCARPINO: How would you describe your own style of leadership?
ROWLAND: (pause) I think that my style of leadership would be an illustration of really listening. I think you have to listen before you talk, and understanding whether it’s the client, whether it’s an employee, whether it’s an organizational situation. I think listening and then making a decision and moving on it. I’m probably more a ready, fire, aim person than I am a ready, aim, fire person. You can sit around forever waiting for all the ducks to get lined up [laughing] and meanwhile they’ve been marked on by…
SCARPINO: The perfect shot. [laughing]
ROWLAND: So, at a certain point in time I listen. I think I’ve, I try to hear all the points of views so I’m not overlooking something. But then you have to make a decision and move on. And that’s, I would regard as probably my way of… And then bring the troops along with you, of course.
SCARPINO: How do you do that?
ROWLAND: Well, I think you explain why you’ve done it, why it makes sense, and some of them are right with you, some of them are well I’ll wait and see, and then some of them aren’t going to believe you no matter what. And so they might as well move out rather than wearing yourself out trying to convince them.
SCARPINO: What do you think has worked well for you in terms of your style of leadership?
ROWLAND: Well, I would say the fact that the amount of talent that is in this office—and I’m speaking of design talent—is astounding. Probably most of them are better at it than I am. I look at things that are, you know, we’ve had clients for the 40-plus years we’ve been in business. We’ve had the same clients year after year after year, and of course they’ve all gone back and redone a lot of things I did, and the things I’ve seen them come up with are great. Much better than I could have done, and if that doesn’t make you feel good. I think that that’s one of the important things is that I’ve always tried to hire people that are better at something than I am, and as a result you end up with a lot of people that could have gone out on their own. But I think maybe one of the things I was successful in doing was seeing that combined—stick around folks, you’re given opportunities to do whatever you want to here. We’re better than if you went off on your own.
SCARPINO: Do you think that a quality of an effective leader is the ability to identify and nurture talent?
ROWLAND: Oh, my gosh, yeah. Yeah.
SCARPINO: So, I hope this question isn’t as naïve as it’s going to sound when I say it, but how do you know? How do you pick talent?
ROWLAND: Well, it’s very difficult. I, you know, it is funny. First of all, you can look at some of the resumes and you can spot it right off the bat, if that, in fact, is that person’s work. Part of the problem in schools quite often now they have them work on team projects and so they bring in this thing and you’re trying to figure out what exactly did they do, and so you don’t really know what you’re looking at. So the talent is one thing. The attitude is the most important thing. Are they willing to learn what they don’t know, and they all think they know more than they really do. [laughter]
So attitude is probably the most important thing. It maybe is more important than the talent because they can still learn some of those things. And I don’t think you know what you have till you hire them. I hate to say that but, and I can almost tell it in the first couple of weeks after I’ve hired them, what they’re all about. It seems unfortunate that you have to do it that way. I’ve even given them, in the interviewing process, I’ve given them projects to do, and I’ll say I want you to do this project and I want you to spend no more than this amount of time on it. And that tells you quite a bit. That’s been very helpful in weeding out those that, first of all, don’t have the talent or secondly they quit exactly when I told them to and if they were the kind of person I wanted, they probably would have gone a little bit further. [laughing] So, that’s that attitude and talent combined, and enthusiasm. Their whole demeanor can be so positive in an office. Where it’s such a drag if they’re a pessimistic kind of. . .
SCARPINO: So in a business like this, the team interaction is important?
ROWLAND: It sure is.
SCARPINO: What has not worked so well for you in terms of your leadership style?
ROWLAND: Well, I suppose like anybody else I can be too opinionated at times and that maybe didn’t rub too well. I think I have made errors in—and we’re talking about personnel—I have made errors where I have maintained an employee because of their talent which was maybe extraordinary, but to the detriment of others in the office because of their attitude.
SCARPINO: When I went back and listened to the recording of the interview we did the first time, you used a phrase that kind of stuck in my mind. I’m going to insert it into the conversation here. You said that it was important to know when to check the ego at the door.
SCARPINO: And I’m wondering, how does one exercise effective leadership? How do you find that balance between asserting your ego but not pushing it too far?
ROWLAND: I think the ego reflects a self-confidence that is maybe genuine based on… A good ego is based on a self-confidence in your ability to do what you say you’re going to do and do it reasonably well. A false ego is one where you think you’re hot stuff and you really haven’t proven it and you don’t know what you’re doing but you’re out there convincing everybody that you do. [laughter] So, I think you can tell the difference. It doesn’t take people too long to be able to see and also when I talked about checking your ego at the door, I think that has to do with your relationship with a client, very much so.
SCARPINO: That was the context in which you raised it.
ROWLAND: Yes, right, very much so.
SCARPINO: I’m going to step away from our standard leadership questions and ask you a whole series of questions about the founding and development of Rowland Design.
SCARPINO: And initially when you began your firm, you started with a man named William Hawkins.
ROWLAND: That’s right.
SCARPINO: And I think you may have said something about him last time in terms of who he was and how you knew him, but because of what we’re going to do now, could you just briefly explain who he was and how you knew him?
ROWLAND: Sure. When I graduated from college I worked at Business Furniture Company for 10 years in their interior design department which was designing offices, and the University of Cincinnati has a co-op program for design students where they work a semester, go to school a semester, take some, I think five or six years to get their degree, but it’s a wonderful program, and Bill Hawkins
was part of that program. We signed on with the University of Cincinnati for that coop program and that’s how I got to know him. He came to work for me at Business Furniture Company as a student at the University of Cincinnati. He was an industrial design major. Industrial design in our context is product design, furniture design, as opposed to necessarily spaces, but more product. But he had both. To this day I can remember seeing him walk down the street. I was looking out the window and saw this kid because I didn’t know who I was interviewing or anything. Well Bill Hawkins to this day is a very, very good friend, and he came to work for Business Furniture Company and then when he graduated he went to work for Hubbuch’s in Kentucky, I think for a while. Then he went to work for RCA here in Indianapolis, designing television cabinets, you know, the console kinds that we used to get that were all so gorgeous.
SCARPINO: I remember that.
ROWLAND: And I had left Business Furniture Company and was starting to get old customers calling me up, you know, would you do this, would you do that, and pretty soon it was more than I could do and I called up Hawkins and I said what are you doing? Could you help me out? So, he was sort of doing some moonlighting for me and then he was, he’d about had it with designing [laughing] television or radio cabinets and so I said, you know Bill, I’ve got enough business to maybe get something going here, but I’ve got two kids and I have to be home at a certain time. Do you think maybe we could pull something like this off, and you’d go in as partners—we started out as equal partners. So that’s what we did. So he left RCA and I had a contract going with Purdue University—which we still have to this day—to do some work up there and I had some other projects going. I’d even hired another friend who was an architect, Ken Karr, to do some architectural drawings.
SCARPINO: C a r r? Ken Carr?
ROWLAND: It’s K a r r.
SCARPINO: Okay. I’m just doing the transcriber a favor here.
ROWLAND: Yeah. And I was doing some work, a lot of work over in Iowa over in the quad cities area. So I said I think we’ve got enough business going that we won’t starve but I have to be home at three o’clock because that’s when my kids come home. So that’s the way we started out. It was called Rowland and Hawkins. We took turns being president.
SCARPINO: Is that true? Did you really do that?
ROWLAND: That’s right.
SCARPINO: Do you remember when you first made the decision to say I’m going to start my own business?
ROWLAND: Yeah, I do. I was at home, of course. My husband is an architect, and he was working of course full time. I was beginning to get these projects after I had left Business Furniture Company and they were snowballing and I had converted one of our bedrooms into a little studio. Had samples and drafting board and all that sort of thing there. But the problem was that the demand was getting greater. I was actually turning down some projects which kind of killed me. When I had to close the door to that studio because my kids were bothering me, I said there’s something wrong here. I cannot close the door on my children. Now if I get out of here, that’s different, but you can’t be at home and close the door on your children.
SCARPINO: When you made that decision to start your own business, did you have any, any inkling of where it would end up?
ROWLAND: Absolutely none. Absolutely none. I saw that there was a need, that there was a, see, before when I was at Business Furniture Company, your role there was to supplement the sale of furniture, and I could see that there was a real market for genuine design knowledge. So instead of being able to recommend to your client only those products that that dealer happened to be able to sell, I knew that there were other things out there that would better suit that client’s need as a designer, and that I could get a fee for that knowledge, and then we would put those specifications of those items out to bid so the client’s getting the best possible price they can on a competitive basis, and I’m being reimbursed for the knowledge to get them there.
SCARPINO: So in addition to the fact that you had the knowledge to get them there, would you say that part of the reason for your ultimate success with this firm was that you identified a niche?
SCARPINO: That you figured out that providing that service . .
ROWLAND: . . .service was a valuable thing that people would recognize and pay for.
SCARPINO: Were there other firms doing the same thing?
ROWLAND: Architects operate that way, but architects by and large are not that knowledgeable in interior design.
SCARPINO: Were there any other interior design firms that were marketing the way you were?
ROWLAND: No, not that I know of. The only other person that started to do it about the same time was Dave Richardson who was an architect.
SCARPINO: Here in town.
ROWLAND: Here in town, yeah. Who did start to market the interior design aspect, and as a matter of fact I gave Dave Richardson some business because I couldn’t handle it.
SCARPINO: So would it be reasonable for me to conclude that you were a pioneer in that area?
ROWLAND: I think I was. Yes, I think that’s probably true, but I think also it came at a time when—because it started out in what we would call the nonresidential field. You know, there were always interior designers in the residential field.
SCARPINO: Somebody’s living room or whatever.
ROWLAND: They were mostly all connected with furniture companies or L. S. Ayres had a huge, huge group of—but that field of residential design was not where I was going. I’m going in the commercial design. I’m going into offices, hospitality, restaurants, a field where what I was doing had not really been tapped. And the whole concept of even doing something in an office that looked decent was really new when I started out at Business Furniture Company. Now I mean I had 10 years of experience at it, so by the time I went off on my own it was going. But I think the thing that I saw that was different was that there was indeed value in knowledge.
SCARPINO: Now I assume that at the time that you started your company with Mr. Hawkins there were other design firms, interior design firms in the nation.
SCARPINO: But you were taking an approach that was different than they were taking.
ROWLAND: Well, a lot of them again were architectural firms. Most of them are architectural firms that were then going on into a specialty of interior design. I was not really thinking nationally at the time. I have to tell you, if I’d written down what my goals were, I’m no good at that. I’ve never been any good at that, which is just contrary to what everybody tells you you should do.
ROWLAND: They would have been so far short [laughing] of the way things turned out.
SCARPINO: So, what do you think accounts for the fact that this firm began with the fact that you didn’t want to close the door to your children inside your house— what became what, one of the top 100 design firms in the nation?
ROWLAND: Well, I think we certainly have been listed as that in the giants magazine at different times and it depends upon what they’re measuring at the time as far as that’s concerned, but we, I don’t mean to say that I started the firm because I didn’t want to slam the door in my kids’ face. I have to tell you that I wanted to do this, but I knew I couldn’t do it within my house. I had to establish a firm in an office outside and so that I wanted to do. My husband who out of, again, my generation was unique in which he said go for it because most men of my generation said you’ve got to stay home. I think he knew he’d probably have a basket case on his hands. [laughing]
SCARPINO: So maybe there was some self-preservation involved in this?
ROWLAND: He might just as self-preservation. And the other thing that he said that was interesting, he said it’s probably the best insurance policy we could have that you can take care of yourself in case something would happen, which is kind of interesting.
SCARPINO: It certainly is for that generation.
ROWLAND: It is, isn’t it?
SCARPINO: Yes. I’m going to ask you a question that I hope isn’t just a softball question, but there are going to be people who will listen to this recording or read the transcript at some point in the future and for the sake of those individuals, could you briefly explain what it is that a design firm does?
SCARPINO: I mean, what’s the task?
ROWLAND: Well, I’ll tell you what our interior design firm is all about, and of course now we offer architecture. An interior design firm is a firm that has the ability to manipulate interior spaces. And by that, there’s a separation between the term interior decorator and interior designer. An interior decorator, in the profession, we think of as someone who does just superficial enrichment of a given space. They paint the walls, they put the wallpaper up, they buy furniture and put in it and call it a day. A designer deals with the entire space, including perhaps changing its shape, changing its proportions if they aren’t good, designing lighting which is probably one of the most important elements of good design, understanding how the space is to be used and its relationship to other related spaces. We go into a space and totally change the way it’s being used because, you know, it’s used because that’s the way it was done but maybe that doesn’t make sense. So you’re thinking about the use and the manipulation of space and finally is what are the colors and what are the things that go into making it accomplish what you want to. You can change the proportions of space by the way you use color. You can make a space warm or cool, relaxing.
Interior design can have an effect on health. We’ve done a number of hospitals and done a lot of research where the colors that are in a patient room can have an effect on how they feel. So, the understanding the total composition of interior spaces and the furnishings. The furnishings of course are part of it. A lot of people think that’s what you do, you pick colors and furniture. Well that’s part of it, but— and if you look at our library out here, it occupies an enormous number of square feet because we think that when we’re making a selection, it should be based on a knowledge of what’s in the marketplace, not only in the way of furniture but in the coverings and things that go on it. Not what we can happen to get on a few shelves. So it’s—we’ve always dedicated a lot of space to our research library.
SCARPINO: I’m going to ask you to sort of talk me through some of the steps in creating your company and if I overlook something important I hope that you’ll say what about this.
SCARPINO: But it also occurs to me as you’re talking, the technology that you use to accomplish your task has to have undergone revolutionary change in your tenure here.
ROWLAND: Oh boy, yeah.
SCARPINO: How did you handle that? I mean you talk, for example, about drafting, and I can remember my father drafting but my son is in engineering school now and there’s no pencil and paper anymore.
ROWLAND: No. The slide rule went bye-bye a long time ago. [laughing]
SCARPINO: I had a slide rule in 1966.
ROWLAND: Yeah. I never knew how to use a slide rule either. Well, technology has been important in a number of ways and certainly now I think there are only probably about two of us still around here that use the pencil and the T-square and the triangle and that sort of thing. Everybody’s on the computer and it’s a constant investment in equipment and software. There are always things being upgraded and we have to dedicate constant education to getting everybody up to speed. We have to replace the computers on a fairly consistent schedule so that they have the capacity for the ongoing increasing capacities. There are a lot of—certainly the efficiency of it is terrific. I think that there are probably—and now the package is to do interior perspectives and renderings and all this sort of thing. Because one of the big advantages that this firm always had was that we had individuals who could draw interior perspective and not very many people can do it. We still do, and I still think in many cases the hand-drawn one is better than the machine-made one because it’s so precise and so exact in the computer-generated work that it seems so final. Whereas, we always like to use the perspective as our tool in designing it. You know, we draw it. Well, that doesn’t look so good so, you know, that was part of the process, and I assume they’re still using it as part of the process but it’s so finite, even if they put the wiggly line thing in as opposed to the hand-drawn one which looks a little bit more, it’s softer and maybe a little bit, leave some vagueness in there.
SCARPINO: And you’re pointing to a. . .
ROWLAND: . . .I’m pointing to a hand-drawn sketch up there. . .
SCARPINO: . . .mounted in the corner.
ROWLAND: That’s right. So that’s part of technology. Now, the other thing that I spent a lot of time on—I’ve talked about this resource library, and one of the problems that we’ve always had is who makes what. So, early on, I set up a program to try and cross-index the library. So if you wanted to know who made folding chairs you push that button, folding chair button, and it gave you a list of every catalog we had in there that made it. So you didn’t spend two hours going through every catalog trying to find it. You went to the ones that had it. And I had that whole library cross-indexed by those kind of categories just to speed up the process. And I have to tell you I was at the head of the line doing this. I had the hardest time finding computers that had the capacity to house what I wanted to put in it. We started out with the Lisa. You know, that’s an old, old Apple computer.
SCARPINO: Yes, it is.
ROWLAND: And I had to have extra hard drives and I don’t know what all on it. And we also cross-indexed the lighting library, because again, you can spend so much time and time is money. You know, you’re being paid for the time you spend. So that was a process that I set up early on within our library that I think truly was unique. So when a catalog came in, the librarian—and we always had a full-time librarian—had to enter those names into those categories. Now, a lot of that’s on the Internet.
SCARPINO: That’s true.
ROWLAND: A lot of it’s on the Internet, but I can tell you that decades of having, [laughing] I was out there trying to use technology to make our process easier and more efficient.
SCARPINO: As you started your firm with Mr. Hawkins, there must have been some challenges that you encountered and it occurs to me that one of them had to be money and cash flow.
ROWLAND: Oh, yeah.
SCARPINO: How did you solve that problem or approach that challenge?
ROWLAND: Well, I’ll tell you how. Initially, if there was any money left after we paid our bills then that’s what we took home. We did not have a salary.
SCARPINO: Do you know how long it was before you were able to take a regular salary out of the business?
ROWLAND: You know, I couldn’t tell you exactly, but I would have to say it was probably two or three years, it may have been.
SCARPINO: Did you have to borrow money to get the business going?
ROWLAND: No. Isn’t that nice?
SCARPINO: Yes, it is.
ROWLAND: I had, well to borrow money from me. I mean I had to use my own money.
ROWLAND: But I didn’t have to go to a bank to borrow money. But the other thing is, I don’t know whether you want to know about this at this point in time, but I had a friend who was a banker. He was a client. His name is Bud Hunter and he was the head of what was then known as Speedway State Bank, then it became First Bank and Trust Company.
SCARPINO: And his last name was Hunter?
ROWLAND: Hunter. And he was a client. As a matter of fact, he was one of my early clients who said Sallie we need your help out here and I said well can I bring Eric along, you know, and he was what I would regard as an owner’s dream banker. He would even arrange lunches with other clients where he thought the two of us maybe could do business with each other. How often do you see that, excuse me? Never. He helped me with, the first thing I needed to borrow money from was when I wanted to buy a building, because our first—we rented a little bit and then we had to buy a building. So he always loaned me the money. He would make suggestions because he’d come out to see it and he’d say, now Sallie you don’t need that garage, which I don’t. We bought a house—two houses that were connected that worked for us. He said you don’t need that garage, you need the parking space, and I said you’re right. So I thought, well I’d just tear down the garage. He said Sallie, you can find somebody that will buy that garage. They will dismantle it. I mean you know I’m just pretty naïve at a lot of this stuff. He was the guy and whenever I did need to borrow—and he’s the one that set me up with a line of credit. He said we need to get you a line of credit because you need to take opportunities and so he helped me get that started. When we went from that building out there I wanted to buy another building.
SCARPINO: Where was the first building located?
ROWLAND: It was out on east 38th Street. And we did that because it was convenient of Bill Hawkins. It was close to the interstate. But then I wanted to come downtown, and I’d take him to see some of these buildings and he’d look at me like he thought I had lost it. [laughing] And the first building that we bought was just up the street here in Lockerbie, which is in a historic district, and we were the first company to come downtown, buy a historic building, and convert it into commercial usage and he always. . .
SCARPINO: . . .was that a Tax Act project?
ROWLAND: Not at that point in time it wasn’t. It was before there was that advantage. And I said this is what I want to do and he said okay, how much money do you need? I mean, he would always loan me. . .
SCARPINO: . . .that was unusual for a banker to loan for that kind of. . .
ROWLAND: It was unusual for a banker but he trusted me. He saw what was going on. He had faith in me. I mean I don’t think you find that. I was so. . .
SCARPINO: What prompted you to buy in Lockerbie?
ROWLAND: Well, that’s when I was really interested in historic preservation, and I first of all thought it would make more sense to be downtown rather than in some part of town, because we had employees that lived every direction. So if you were downtown it was sort of centrally located. There were some parking spaces there. I was interested in preserving an old building and so I did it.
SCARPINO: Do you remember when you bought that building? What year approximately?
ROWLAND: I’m sorry. I’m no good at that sort of thing.
SCARPINO: And I actually know better than to ask a question like that, but I did it anyhow. So I violated my own rules.
ROWLAND: Yeah, I’m sorry. It has to have been 30 years ago.
SCARPINO: So it would have been the seventies?
ROWLAND: Is that right? It would have been, yes, it was in the seventies.
SCARPINO: As I recall, Lockerbie was Indianapolis’ first declared historic. . .
ROWLAND: . . . first historic neighborhood and it was, as a matter of fact one of my partners just about refused to move downtown and you know, he thought I’d, they all thought I’d lost my marbles, but I thought it was a great idea and you were buying it when you could afford it and so I did it.
SCARPINO: And then downtown then is not what downtown is now.
ROWLAND: No, no, no. And then just from that building then we moved to this one. So, and we’ve stayed in Lockerbie.
SCARPINO: How about developing a staff? How did you go about adding employees to your business?
ROWLAND: Well, just Bill and I of course started out and then I think the first employee we added was another draftsperson, design person. Then it became apparent that we needed a secretary/bookkeeper/receptionist all-in-one person who we hired. At one time we had two people in that position or two different people that were taking care of that part of it. Then we started to add more design talent. Actually Ron Strantz, who is one of the partners today, was one of the very early employees.
ROWLAND: Strantz—S t r a n t z. Cynthia von Forester who was one of those early employees became a partner too. She was in charge of everything except design.
SCARPINO: And are those two folks still with the firm?
ROWLAND: Ron is. Cynthia left because of some illness about four or five years ago. But she was here for 20, 30 years. And so we also added some talent again through the University of Cincinnati co-op program. That was a good source of talent without getting yourself obligated to all the benefits and everything that go with it. And then after we were in business for about seven years that’s when Bill Hawkins decided he wanted out and at that point in time I hired Bob Frist who is here still and one of the partners and Bob was an individual whose talent is extraordinary and we had first interviewed him—Bill and I—when he was just getting out of college. He went to Purdue. He had a double major—one in landscape architecture and one in interior design, and unfortunately at the time we didn’t have an opening but we just saw this portfolio and went gaga, and then a few years later we had an opening and we interviewed him again and he thought at that time that he didn’t have the experience for the role that we wanted him to play, and then when Bill Hawkins left I nailed him. [laughter] That’s when I got Bob Frist to join the firm and of course he’s one of the partners. So they’ve been a long time now. Sarah Marr who’s president of the firm. I don’t know whether I told you her story or not.
SCARPINO: She’s the person who offered to work for free.
ROWLAND: She’s the president of the firm now. Isn’t that wonderful?
SCARPINO: Yes, it is. That’s a great story. After Mr. Hawkins left and you became the chief executive officer of the firm that became Rowland Design, how did you decide where to specialize?
ROWLAND: We really started specializing in the hospitality field doing a lot of restaurant design and office design almost exclusively. Even, we would say we don’t do residential design. Sometimes you had to do it because your client wanted you to do it, but it wasn’t anything that we solicited. Today, interestingly enough, we have a group of people who do residential design who enjoy it, are very good at it, and who can do it in the manner in which we work which is the same as we work commercially. We get a fee for our design. They buy the furniture on a bidding process. But that’s not the way most residential designers work so it’s a little different.
SCARPINO: So when you do a residential or a commercial design, the client pays your firm for the design?
ROWLAND: Mm hmm.
SCARPINO: And then the work gets subcontracted?
ROWLAND: Yes. The construction work is bid just as it would be in any other situation. The furniture, we get bids from suppliers for the furniture. We don’t want to sell, the only things that we sell are things where maybe it is to the client’s advantage for us to do it and I’ll give you an example. Wallpaper. We would put the specifications for the wallpaper in with the construction documents and when the bids came in and we looked at the price of the wallpaper we went what happened, because we knew how much the wallpaper cost to the first guy. But by the time the sub added on and the sub to the sub added on and the general contractor added on the price was wacko, whereas we could sell that to the client at a markup that was sufficient that it was worth our effort and save them a bundle of money. So that would be an instance where we would give a quotation to the client along with the others so they could decide whether they wanted us to buy it for them or whether they wanted the contractor.
SCARPINO: So the product you sell is the design.
ROWLAND: The product we sell is the design, exactly.
SCARPINO: So once the design goes out to bid, is the firm the general contractor?
SCARPINO: Who makes sure it all happens?
ROWLAND: Well, it depends upon the complexity of the project. If there is a general contractor sometimes the client will even hire their own client representative who does the bidding. Our job is to be sure that the product or the construction, if there’s construction in it, is being done based upon the specifications that they’re getting. What we specified. But either the general contractor or the manufacturers or the client’s representative is in charge normally of who is hired to actually do the physical work. The furniture part of it is very often an entirely different contract. It goes out to Business Furniture Company, to RJE, to Continental. They all bid on the same product so you’re comparing apples to apples. If they want to substitute something we may allow it. We’ll look at it and if we think it’s an acceptable substitute we’ll say okay. But if it isn’t they have to stick with what was specified in the first place, so you’re not comparing apples to oranges. It’s just who’s giving you the best service for the lowest price. And they order the furniture, they receive it, they deliver it, but we give them the diagram that shows exactly where it’s supposed to go because our specifications are very detailed. Each has an item number for every piece of furniture and if it has a different upholstery on it, it’s a different item number, and then the plan shows exactly where it goes so that it’s all detailed that you don’t have to be there all the time.
SCARPINO: Is part of the service you provide to inspect the work and make sure that it indeed meets the specification?
ROWLAND: Exactly, and that’s very important and especially there’ll be things that come up where, especially if it’s a remodeling where they uncover something that nobody expected to be there. So you have to make some changes. You have to make some judgment in the field. You have to change a few things. The client may decide they want to change some things in the middle of the whole process. That can have an effect on the budget and the time and all that sort of thing. But that’s part of what we as a firm take charge of—those change orders and getting them approved and all that sort of thing. And invariably the contractors seem to wait until the last minute to order something that’s rather crucial to the design. It’s usually the wall covering. And then they say we can’t get it in time, and then you want to just shoot them because they could have ordered it three months ago. [laughing]
SCARPINO: So as your firm grew, how did your role change?
ROWLAND: I would say more marketing and being involved in the community and providing the kind of environment here to hope everybody can prosper and grow and do their thing, encouraging them, educating them. I’ve always spent a fair amount of time on continuing education, trying to get people to be good project managers, just a lot of the things that one has to learn in the business. We have a lot of continuing education programs. I encourage them to belong to the professional organizations. I send them on a lot of trips—what I call educational trips—which is just to get exposed to what’s going on in other cities.
So we would send them off to, we try to do it within about a six-hour driving radius. I mean, we couldn’t afford to put them on airplanes and send them places, although we did that a couple of times. For the most part we would send a group of a team at a time of about four or five people. They’d go to Nashville, Tennessee. They’d go to Columbus, Ohio. They did once go to Pittsburgh, which is a little bit of a stretch. To Chicago, to Cleveland, to St. Louis, to all the major metropolitan areas within about a six hour-drive because we had a van. They could all get in the van, and it was about a two, usually a Friday, Saturday, Sunday trip. They had to kind of put some of their own time in it too. And they would organize exactly where they were going to go, what they were going to see, and the intent was to expose them to good design, to observe how things—you’ve got to grow. I mean if you don’t ever see what’s out there how are you going to. . .
SCARPINO: Was that six-hour driving area also pretty much your marketing area?
ROWLAND: I never thought of it that way. I just thought about how far could you drive and not be exhausted.
SCARPINO: [laughing] Makes sense. I can’t make Pittsburgh in six hours.
ROWLAND: No, you can’t. That was a stretch, and Toronto was a real stretch.
SCARPINO: Now do you, does the firm market all over the United States now?
ROWLAND: I would say that the market is still pretty much middle America. We’re doing work in all of the surroundings states but also we’re doing some work in—did some work in Los Angeles. We’re doing some work in Texas. We’re doing some work down in the Carolinas. Some of it is our clients take us there. We happen to have clients that have offices in all these different places. So we certainly have no aversion to being national, but in some cases it gets to be difficult to justify, depending upon the kind of project it is, that travel time.
SCARPINO: What do you think, now that the firm has existed for several decades, what do you think distinguishes this firm?
ROWLAND: Quality of work.
SCARPINO: Is that the foundation of the firm’s reputation?
ROWLAND: I think so. Not only quality of the finished product but the quality of getting you there—the process.
SCARPINO: I’m going to move away to a different subject, but is there something that I should have asked you about creating this firm that I just didn’t because I didn’t have the background to do it, particularly that might relate to your role in developing and nurturing and growing the firm?
ROWLAND: Well, I would say at the time that the split-up took place between Bill Hawkins and myself, that that was a very stressful time for me. Number one, he wanted out and we were in a disagreement as to what the value of his part of the company was worth, so that got into some—the lawyers—which is never fun. I had another person on board to whom we had given some stock. I think it was just a share of stock as I recall but we had given it to him because we saw him potentially as a real up-and-comer. The result had been the opposite. Instead of doing more he did less, and he was now demanding more money for his stock. And then I had another person who was a very talented person and who eventually went out on her own and was successful for quite some time in Indianapolis areas, now very successful in Atlanta, who wanted half the firm and didn’t think she had to pay for it, you know. [laughing]
SCARPINO: And all this was happening at the same time.
ROWLAND: All this was happening at the same time. So you kind of, it was a very stressful time where you wondered, you know, can I do this on my own? But as is often the case when one door closes another one opens, and frankly I think that’s when the growth of the company really started because I wanted to do more .and I didn’t have to get anybody’s permission. I just settled with the people that wanted more than I thought they deserved. We got past all that and the woman that thought she wanted half my firm, she just went off on her own and I continued to hire better and better talent and more exciting people and off we went. So it was one of those points in time where you wonder. I can remember dissolving into tears in front of my family and I thought my children must wonder what’s going on.
SCARPINO: But you ultimately persuaded yourself you could do it.
ROWLAND: Yep. Yeah. Best thing that ever happened to me.
SCARPINO: I’m going to ask you a couple of standard leadership questions and then I’m going to talk to you about the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission.
SCARPINO: Do you see a distinction between leadership and management?
ROWLAND: Oh my, yes. Yeah.
SCARPINO: What would that be in your mind?
ROWLAND: Well I think managers are very organized and they’re the project people and they can do a wonderful job of setting a process in place. They may not have the talent to lead you into it or to take you past what they see as the process. You can be both a good leader and a good manager.
SCARPINO: Are you?
ROWLAND: I don’t think I’m bad. [laughing] I think I do pretty well at that. I had the good fortune of having a business background and most people that are in this don’t. They’re all graduates of design schools and they don’t understand that you need to make more money than you spend. That is a tough lesson for them to understand. So I have had the advantage of having a business head, business major and a design minor might be what you would say.
SCARPINO: Can you think of an event or incident that best demonstrates your style of leadership?
ROWLAND: Not off the top of my head. Do I have to?
SCARPINO: No. [laughing] No requirement.
SCARPINO: Okay. I’ll come at this a different way.
ROWLAND: All right.
SCARPINO: Was there an event or a crisis that forged your views of leadership or that impacted your views of leadership?
ROWLAND: Well I think perhaps the one I just described when everybody was after a hunk of me and my partner was abandoning me. I still had some people there that were with me and I had the support that I needed at home. So, that was a crisis point. There have been others along the way when the more talented people in the firm wanted a piece of it and I also recognized at the same time that there could be an advantage there because I wasn’t going to be here forever, and it isn’t particularly easy to sell a design firm. Now there’s Eric. He’s my son. He’s the architect.
SCARPINO: And he actually is the architect that designed this.
ROWLAND: Designed this building.
SCARPINO: Yes. That we’re in.
ROWLAND: Right. And so, that was a point in time where I recognized that if I was going to keep these very, very talented handful of people, I needed to set up an arrangement whereby they could become a part of it and at the same time it gave me an opportunity to make the whole organization better than any one person in it.
SCARPINO: Do you think that that’s a sign of a successful leader in business, is to create something that lives beyond your own working years?
ROWLAND: I think so. I think so, yeah. Yeah, and it’s worth it. I’m delighted. [laughing]
SCARPINO: I’ll just say for the record that you’re laughing and rubbing your hands together.
ROWLAND: Yeah, I’m delighted. Makes me very proud.
SCARPINO: I’m going to set the leadership questions aside for a minute and I want to talk about your involvement with this Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission. Just so I get this in the record, I did a little checking and you attended your first meeting as a new member of the commission in January of 1977.
SCARPINO: March 9, 1978, you are elected secretary of the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission. January 11, 1979, you are elected president and you held that position until the end of December, 1984. So you were with the commission from 1977 through 1984, if I did my research.
ROWLAND: Something like that, yeah. I think I was president for five years.
SCARPINO: Now you had already had some involvement in historic preservation.
ROWLAND: Not a whole lot.
SCARPINO: You did the building in Lockerbie.
ROWLAND: Not yet.
SCARPINO: Not yet, okay. That came later, all right.
ROWLAND: When does it say I went on the commission?
SCARPINO: 1977, and you were off in ’84.
ROWLAND: So see I must have gotten that building about ’78, ’79, something like that, must have been about it. Yes, I have a family that’s interested in history, always have been. My mother was a genealogist. So we were always digging up the family history and she was, as a matter of fact, the person who was influential in Fort Wayne, in convincing Bob Reynolds, who was the head librarian of the Fort Wayne Allen County library, that he should build the genealogical department. He thought, really Cleo? And she convinced him that he should and of course it is now second to. . .
SCARPINO: . . .Salt Lake City. . .
ROWLAND: . . .Salt Lake City, that’s right. So I had the nature.
SCARPINO: How did an interest in history translate into an interest in. . .
ROWLAND: . . .preservation. ..
SCARPINO: . . .preservation of buildings? Particularly in downtown Indianapolis in the late 1970s which had really awful names like Naptown and stuff.
ROWLAND: Oh, it was terrible. It was just awful.
SCARPINO: What did you see that other people didn’t see at that point?
ROWLAND: I’d always been interested in historic buildings. There’s no question but I just always was. We always lived in old houses it seemed to me and so it was a natural interest. How it got there I don’t know, but I have to assume it’s my family on vacations and trips and everything, we were always looking at historic buildings.
SCARPINO: So Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission is a part of the. . .
ROWLAND: . . .Department of Metropolitan Planning.
SCARPINO: So this is a mayoral appointment.
ROWLAND: It is, and I was appointed to that. A neighbor of mine in Brendonwood, Scotty Bennett, was on the mayor’s staff. Hudnut, this is Hudnut.
SCARPINO: Right. Mayor Hudnut.
ROWLAND: And she thought, because of my interest, that I would be a good person to be on there, so she asked me whether I’d be interested so I said well, sure. So that’s how I got on the Preservation Commission to begin with, was a recommendation by a friend who was on Hudnut’s staff that thought I would be good.
SCARPINO: Now, in 1977, the Historic Preservation Commission had not been around all that long.
ROWLAND: No. It hadn’t even been activated. It was one of those sleepers. When they did Unigov, that preservation commission existed but it wasn’t functioning. It wasn’t doing anything so they sort of ignored it. So lo and behold it turns out that there it is and it’s kind of a unique group because we say that it’s part of the Department of Metropolitan Development and that’s only because that’s where they were getting some funding. But it has its own separate commission that operated separately. So it was this group that sort of started to surface all of a sudden, that they’d all forgotten about it.
SCARPINO: So who were the other commissioners?
ROWLAND: Jim Rogers was the president of the commission when I went on there. Edna Woodard who is still very active in preservation was on there. Mack, an architect, was on there. I can’t remember his first name right now. Oh, gosh. I’m embarrassed that I’ve forgotten the names but there were only about six of us I think.
SCARPINO: So, here’s this sleeper commission.
ROWLAND: Sleeper commission.
SCARPINO: Using your words, that quickly begins to assert some leadership.
ROWLAND: Asserts some leadership, exactly.
SCARPINO: So what was your role in that?
ROWLAND: Well, first of all, the opportunities that the Preservation Commission had was to designate historic districts and the only one that had been designated was Lockerbie. That was the only one. Of course the advantage of that designation was that it gave a kind of protective umbrella to that district which said that if you buy in this area or you live in this area you have to have a certificate of appropriateness to do most anything to your house. You can’t tear it down without permission. You can’t change the color of it without permission. You can’t do anything of significance without getting a certificate of appropriateness which is approved by the staff, the paid staff. Not of the. . .
SCARPINO: Was David Baker the head of the Commission when you were in there?
ROWLAND: Not then. Not then. David Baker’s been in that position for a long time but, actually I think, and Jim Glass used to be in that division. Vicki. . .
SCARPINO: He was your historian.
ROWLAND: He was our historian, that’s right. I can’t remember Vicki’s last name.
ROWLAND: Sandstead, thank you, who was on there for a long time. But there was somebody else that was on there before Vicki came along because I think we got Vicki while I was one there. And the other thing that was kind of nice about it was it also had protection over the zoning. So if you bought there you didn’t have to worry about somebody putting a hooray house next door to you or something of that sort. And the banks were a little bit more interested in making loans in those historic areas because they knew that there was this protection and it wasn’t going to go south. If anything, it was going to go north.
SCARPINO: So as a member of the commission as opposed to a person on the staff, what did you do to develop historic preservation in Indianapolis? What role did the commission assume?
ROWLAND: The commission, I would say it was kind of a partnership in a sense. In some cases the commission said to the staff, we think you ought to look at this area. Another thing would be they would say to the staff, we think that this should make a historic district and want to pursue it. But one of the things that we, that I remember specifically that I asked them that they did was it seemed like every time I turned around somebody wanted to tear down a building and it was historically significant. And so here we came raising this matter. I mean if we didn’t maybe even have the authority to stop them because it was a designated district, but we’d say raise the flag.
So one of the things that I did ask the staff to do and which they did, was I wanted them to take inventory of the entire mile square, which is what we call this interior area, of every building that had potential significance of being on the national register because of its architectural significance or its historic significance so we had a list that we could put out there, and say okay you developers you need to know before you start deciding you want to tear these things down that you may run into some friction. Now you have to also understand that hand in glove with the emergence of this group was Historic Landmarks Foundation.
SCARPINO: Our statewide non-for-profit.
ROWLAND: That’s right, and Reed Williamson.
SCARPINO: Right. And you were on their board, which I was going to ask you about later on.
ROWLAND: I was on their board. That’s right, I was on their board. Because that was kind of a double clout thing where you weren’t just hearing it from one group but you heard from another. So the really significant things that we did in that period was to name a number of other neighborhood designated historic districts. The Old Northside, probably the biggest one. Chatham-Arch. Fletcher, down to the south, which was probably the slowest to come around to take advantage of it.
SCARPINO: Now those were designated, as I recall, when you were president of the commission.
ROWLAND: They were, yes.
SCARPINO: Was that your idea?
ROWLAND: I can’t say it was my personal idea, no, but certainly was endorsed by me and by the whole commission. And one of the toughest ones was that Old Northside—oh.
SCARPINO: What made it tough?
ROWLAND: Well, it’s this gentrification thing that came up and there were houses in that Old Northside that you’d know that were just being torn down right and left there. One of the unfortunate things about Indianapolis is that it’s made of, those old houses are made of sticks rather than stone and brick, and so they cost a fortune to maintain them and that’s why they all deteriorated a lot in the first place was you just couldn’t afford to keep the darn things up. So these people would scream yeah, well, you’re tearing—well, the object or the opposite of not maintaining them and finding another use for them or find somebody that felt passionate enough about it to take care of them was that they were being torn down so you were getting one empty lot after another. I can remember having the meeting about that at the church that is in the Old Northside. I think it’s Methodist Church that’s—I don’t know what they use it for now. I know Landmarks is interested in it. But it had a big sanctuary where we had this meeting, and it was just loaded. . .
SCARPINO: Central Avenue Methodist is where you had it. . .
ROWLAND: . . .I think that’s what it was, and just loaded with all these people who were just all having a fit and about all this stuff and I finally, I said okay, I want everybody that’s in this audience that actually lives in this neighborhood to stand up. It was hardly any of them. They were all brought in from someplace else just to raise heck.
SCARPINO: And this was through the Citizens Neighborhood Coalition? Maybe Dorothy Bruce and Hazel Stewart were. . .
ROWLAND: . . .I don’t know. . .
SCARPINO: . . .movers and shakers behind that?
ROWLAND: It might have been. I don’t remember names but I just was dumbfounded that all these people were there raising this fuss and they didn’t even live in the neighborhood.
SCARPINO: And the fuss was based on gentrification?
ROWLAND: Gentrification, yeah, and it just made no sense at all. I mean the deterioration in the neighborhood without that designation was just obvious. So that was the end of it. We passed it.
SCARPINO: So as President of the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission, how would you describe your role as a leader in the movement to get the Old Northside designated?
ROWLAND: I think I was fair. I think, again, I gave everybody their chance to say their bit and then when it became obvious how the people that really lived there felt about it, the decision was obvious. And that was probably the biggest controversy we had. Chatham-Arch, I don’t remember was, in most of these instances we have not made them a designated area where the majority of the neighbors didn’t want it to happen. They have to want it to happen too.
SCARPINO: I read that one of the things you did in relationship to the Old Northside was to dramatize the opportunities there by instigating the placement of a great big sign that could be seen from Interstate 65 that said, “This house of hopeless cause? Not so!”
ROWLAND: I don’t remember that.
SCARPINO: It was placed in a vacant lot at 1202 Central Avenue and it had a phone number on it. You were not behind that?
ROWLAND: No, I was not behind that.
SCARPINO: Okay. How do you feel when you drive through the north side now?
ROWLAND: Oh, really, I think it’s wonderful, yeah. It’s really, you know, a lot of these things if you see—it makes you feel like you did something that really resulted in—I think the whole historic preservation movement was the nucleus for the downtown residential development and Chatham-Arch just turned over, boom! Of course it’s a smaller area, but it was amazing how fast that was bottled up.
SCARPINO: In terms of new property owners’ restoration?
ROWLAND: Exactly. Yes. And of course we saved the Circle Theatre and the Union Station, and I think while I was still on there we started the wholesale district research for that area down there but I think that was designated maybe after I was on there. Irvington is now a huge, huge historic district that they’ve undertaken. That’s just amazing.
SCARPINO: Now, while the period you were on the commission from approximately 1977 through 1984, who would you consider to be the leaders of historic preservation in the city?
ROWLAND: Well, Reed Williamson.
SCARPINO: And for the record, he was the president of Historic Landmarks Foundation.
ROWLAND: That’s right.
SCARPINO: What made him stand out as a leader? What were his qualities?
ROWLAND: I would say gentle persuasion. He was kind of a—physically he was a pretty impressive person.
SCARPINO: Big, tall man. I knew Reed.
ROWLAND: Big, tall man, that’s right. He had some clout behind him. He had some money. Always helps to have money. And so he could do things, and a lot of the things that Landmarks was able to do were showing very evidence of the significance of preserving these things. He was—that whole preservation movement statewide was becoming very active and also we were into the time now when some of the government tax incentive things were passing that made it feasible to restore things that maybe hadn’t been before. So on the federal level there was a movement afoot as well, and so those things combined all begin to make some sense. It’s true that Hudnut [laughing] used to pretend like he didn’t know who I was when he’d see me. I remember once though, in one of these battle things, and I think it’s still when we were working on the Old Northside, a couple of those guys came to those meetings toting guns. Reed saw them. He was sitting in the back row and this guy leaned forward and he had a gun tucked into his—well that’s scary, because they were so emotional about this stuff.
SCARPINO: These were people who were opposed to designation?
ROWLAND: They might have been in favor of it.
SCARPINO: Oh, but they were still packing guns.
ROWLAND: They were still packing guns just in case the guy that was opposed was there or something. Because I remember [laughing] I contacted Hudnut and I said there wasn’t anything in this job description about dodging bullets and I’m scared. So he then had plainclothes policemen come to a number of those meetings for a while until that subsided. But that’s how emotional it was at the time.
SCARPINO: And the issue that made it emotional was gentrification.
SCARPINO: Which just for the benefit of anybody who is listening to this later is that people who can afford it buy up properties and fix them up and then the people who live there can’t afford to live there anymore.
ROWLAND: Well, that’s the long range theory at any rate. In some cases that turns out to be the case. In some cases it doesn’t.
SCARPINO: Do you think that in the Indianapolis historic preservation districts that that has turned out to be the case?
ROWLAND: In some cases it has, and in some cases it hasn’t, yeah.
SCARPINO: What would you classify as the major accomplishments of your tenure on the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission?
ROWLAND: Well, I think I’ve probably named them. The designation of those historic districts. I think the Circle Theatre probably is a really big one because they really wanted—they came wanting permission to tear that down. And I’ll tell you who came to the rescue too, was Zane Todd of IPL. They were the next-door neighbor.
SCARPINO: Indianapolis Power and Light.
ROWLAND: Indianapolis Power and Light Company. Zane, when we refused to let them tear it down, Zane contacted me and it was at the time when the tax incentives were making a little sense too, and he came to talk to me about what the possibilities might be and I think he saw that as a civic opportunity for IPL to do something for the community. Of course it was a building right next to them and I’m sure they didn’t want a derelict thing hanging out over there either. But I have to hand it to Zane, that he’s the one that rallied the money.
SCARPINO: To fix up. . .
ROWLAND: . . .to fix that up. . .
SCARPINO: . . .what is now the Hilbert Circle Theatre.
SCARPINO: What do you think when you walk in there now?
ROWLAND: Well, you’re just so proud, you know. It really is just—because I can remember when they said it’s time to tear, I said well our commission has to go over there and see what kind of a mess this place is in, and so I remember walking through the place, and there was a movie on at the time. It was a movie theater and they were hanging bodies in a cooler. I can remember this movie was just, but when you looked around everything was painted gray, but it was still there.
SCARPINO: So the historic fabric was still intact.
ROWLAND: The historic fabric is still here. Yeah, you got to hang onto this. This is not in bad shape from the standpoint of, well there were a lot of things that had to be done to it, but the historic significance of it was there. And then there was another big concern because we had to take the widened stage, and there was a big debate about removing that because the symphony orchestra couldn’t fit on there.
SCARPINO: You mentioned Union Station.
ROWLAND: Union Station.
SCARPINO: Was the Union Station a project that went forward while you were on the commission?
ROWLAND: Yep. Saved the Union Station.
SCARPINO: What would you assess as the significance of that project?
ROWLAND: Well, that Head House, as it is called, of the Union Station is just gorgeous.
SCARPINO: It is, isn’t it? It’s lovely.
ROWLAND: It is. It is. And of course it was sitting down there empty and it was in bad shape, but I think you just don’t think you let things like that be torn down. You wait and see if there isn’t a use for it. Now Bob Borns came along and converted the Union Station and even all of those, the tracks and all the rest of that got converted into his baby which didn’t succeed the way he wanted it to, but which still is a useful part of our community. The Head House is a conference center. It isn’t all the little restaurants that it once was, but it still is a conference center that’s used pretty regularly. A lot of the other part has been added to the hotel and then of course there are offices in it. So it’s useful. Otherwise it was gone.
SCARPINO: Why do you think it was important for it not to be gone?
ROWLAND: It’s such a significant part of the history of this city. If you look at—Indianapolis isn’t that old. If you start looking at, there are some things that have been torn down here that never should have been torn down. I remember Tom Huston once saying, if we keep tearing all this stuff down they’re going to think this city was founded in 1997 or something. Or 1977 I think he said.
SCARPINO: And Tom Huston was a lawyer in town, right?
ROWLAND: Yes, and very much a historic preservationist.
SCARPINO: Activist or?
SCARPINO: Was a founder of Historic Indianapolis, I think?
ROWLAND: I think that’s right. Uh huh.
SCARPINO: What role do you think historic preservation has played in the, what clearly has been a revitalization of the downtown in the last 25 or 30 years?
ROWLAND: Well, to me it saved the identity of the city from the standpoint of its historic I can think a number of things that historic preservation has done. As I said before, I think it’s provided the nucleus for downtown residential development. Lockerbie is a residential district primarily. So are all of these primarily downtown residential districts and without the saving of those and the restoration of those I don’t know where you’d have any downtown. It’s because of that that new construction has started to take place, where it’s become a viable, interesting place to live. You know the downtown, if you don’t live in it, it’s just not all that viable. So I really credit the historic districts with being the nucleus for the downtown residential development.
SCARPINO: And you think that downtown residential development was—played a key role in the revitalization of the entire downtown?
SCARPINO: That people actually live there?
ROWLAND: Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s become a very exciting place to live. It really has.
SCARPINO: It’s quite a contrast between downtown Indianapolis and say, Detroit or Houston.
ROWLAND: That’s right. And it really is and of course it isn’t just that but the city fathers have been wise in what they’ve done in addition to that. I mean they, the Circle Theatre which keeps the symphony down here. IRT is down here.
SCARPINO: Indianapolis Repertory Theatre.
ROWLAND: Reparatory Theatre.
SCARPINO: Which is an historic building.
ROWLAND: Is a historic building which was way ahead of the Circle Theatre in being restored. As a matter of fact Charles Whistler had a lot to do with saving the IRT Theatre.
ROWLAND: Uh huh.
SCARPINO: Okay. Did the Circle Centre Mall become an issue while you were on the commission?
ROWLAND: That’s interesting. Yes. We started planning with Simon as to what we could do with a mall downtown for a long time before it ever happened. Ayres was still viable. Blocks was still there. And we were all getting antsy about needing to get this downtown going to save those two companies. And so we had discussions with Simon about what buildings we historians felt were sacred that had to stay and which ones we might bend on because their concept was that the mall would go from the circle, there would be a big wide bridge that would go across Washington Street to where Ayres was and then—so there was a lot of discussion back then as to which buildings the preservationists were going to kick up a fuss about so that that would help with the planning of that. Well then of course it didn’t happen and it didn’t happen and it didn’t happen and by the time it got around to happening Ayres was gone and so was Blocks and all the rest of it which is kind of sad, but there was a lot of conversation about that early on. We wanted to be cooperative. We didn’t want to be in the way of progress, yet we thought it made sense to get that discussion out early. Another building that’s. . .
SCARPINO: What do you think you tried to accomplish with those discussions as a preservationist?
ROWLAND: We wanted to identify the buildings that we, that the developer needed to know were significant to the city’s history and to the identity of the city, so that they wouldn’t just arbitrarily decide to knock everything down, which is, you know, if they wanted to, that’s what they’d do. Get the bulldozer out and let them all go. The Wilking Building which was being torn down when American Fletcher, McKinney wanted to build his new Bank One Tower.
SCARPINO: This is the Wilking Building.
ROWLAND: The Wilking Building. It was on Pennsylvania Street and it was one of the last of the cast iron facades and Dave Frick helped us convince Mr. McKinney that he should let us take down that façade, which Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana paid to do. They paid to have that façade dismantled. It was stored in some lot someplace, I don’t know, for decades and finally reused when they did the mall. So those are the kind of neat things that. . .
SCARPINO: So do you think the fact that that mall incorporates historic buildings, or in a couple of cases historic facades, has anything to do with its success?
ROWLAND: I think so. It’s hard to say that that’s it but it certainly makes it look more like it belongs where it sits as opposed to some spaceship that landed there. [laughter]
SCARPINO: Did you expect the downtown mall to be successful?
ROWLAND: Yes. Uh huh.
SCARPINO: Stay in competition with Castleton…?
ROWLAND: I suppose timing has a lot to do with it. Again, you have to have people living down here and you have to have that convention business, visitors here to make that successful for them and I suppose that’s a lot of why it happened when it happened. It was always disappointing that it did not connect to the Union Station. And I don’t know, because I was a little bit out of the loop at that point in time, but it’s my understanding that the preservationists were the ones that wouldn’t let that happen, and I think that is too bad. There should have been a way.
SCARPINO: Do you think that’s one of the reasons that ultimately Union Station didn’t succeed as a festival marketplace?
SCARPINO: You were invited to serve on the board of directors of Historic Landmarks Foundation.
ROWLAND: That’s true.
SCARPINO: And did that overlap your tenure on the Historic Preservation Commission?
ROWLAND: I think it did a little.
SCARPINO: What do you consider to be significant in terms of preservation in the city while you were on Landmarks’ board?
ROWLAND: Of course that’s a whole statewide thing as opposed to just the city. But certainly the ongoing effort of Historic Landmarks to help to identify and give notoriety to those buildings of significance which our IHPC was trying to save as well was very helpful. One of the things [laughing] while I was on that board was that Landmarks decided to save the building that was going to be torn down to make way for what I think is now Girls, Inc. building. It’s on the other side of the canal on Michigan.
SCARPINO: You’re talking about the Kuhn House.
ROWLAND: Kuhn House.
SCARPINO: K u h n, I think.
ROWLAND: Jack that thing up, you know, and they’re going to roll it, and so Landmarks had their land over here. This was before the canal was all up and running. And it went on for the longest time because, first of all, we jacked the house up and we had to move it off of wherever it was, and then the bridge across that canal wasn’t strong enough to hold it as I recall. They had to fill in the canal. I mean it was cha-ching, cha-ching. [laughing] They had to fill in the canal.
SCARPINO: Really expensive.
ROWLAND: Really expensive, [laughing] and then the guy wanted his jacks back because the house had been sitting there so long, so we had to pay extra for—and then we got it to finally where it was going to go and then there was quite some conversation as to what we were going to do with it. I think the Jaycees were going to use it as a headquarters or something and I think because they couldn’t find another use for it we decided to make it the headquarters.
SCARPINO: Well they were in the waiting station up at Crown Hill, but as a design person, what do you think of the new headquarters building where Historic Landmarks combines the Kuhn House with new construction?
ROWLAND: With new construction? Well I think it’s pretty successful. I don’t know that I’m in a position to make any comment about the architectural significance of it, but it’s worked well for them. I think the location is nifty, and up on that canal is really a nice, special place to be. As you know we just had an awful close call with that fire, and they just moved back in.
SCARPINO: Were you involved at all either through your service on Landmarks board or Historic Preservation Commission with the revitalization of the canal?
ROWLAND: No. No, I was not, and I just think that the canal is wonderful. That’s just terrific.
SCARPINO: It is a unique feature.
ROWLAND: Yes, it is. It’s very, well when you’re in this town you’ve got to create these kinds of things. We don’t have oceans and mountains and stuff like that.
SCARPINO: So the Historic Preservation Commission didn’t have to approve design guidelines or anything like that for the canal?
ROWLAND: Huh uh.
SCARPINO: I’m going to ask you a couple more of our standard leadership questions and then I’ll wrap it up so that we’re done in the two hours.
SCARPINO: Do you think that leaders are born or made?
SCARPINO: Would you say that would be the case with your own development as a leader?
ROWLAND: I don’t know that I ever set out to be a leader.
SCARPINO: I’ll ask it a different way. At one point did you realize that you had become a leader? That people were looking to you?
ROWLAND: I’m still amazed. [laughing] But I think that when I was invited to be on a number of these corporate boards and I think, frankly, that the role that I played in the leadership of the Historic—of the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission were paramount in maybe evolving as a leader. Especially perhaps of women in this community and the opportunity to play a role that many had not had before, and I honestly think that I was not invited to be on these boards of directors because I was a good interior designer. I think I was invited to be on them because perhaps as the role that I had played in IHPC where I think that I dealt with things fairly and did show leadership and showed compassion and I don’t think anybody could say I pull any deals because I didn’t. And so I think that the opportunities that I was given beyond that in recognition of that role, of the recognition maybe of the kind of person I was, and that—that was quite a plateau for me.
SCARPINO: So you think that service on the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission really. . .
ROWLAND: . . .it opened up. . .
SCARPINO: . . .opened doors for you. . .
ROWLAND: . . .opened a lot of doors. I think so. Because there were—just through those years there were an awful lot of combative things that took place. There were an awful lot of people screaming and hollering at me. And I think I played it fair and straight and I think that’s what you’re supposed to do as a leader.
SCARPINO: Were you ever involved with the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee?
ROWLAND: No. I wasn’t, and I just received this Whistler Award which was totally unexpected.
SCARPINO: Just received like in?
ROWLAND: Last week. [laughter]
SCARPINO: OK. All right.
ROWLAND: John Neighbours and I were selected to receive the Charles Whistler award which, from the mayor and GIPC which is quite an honor and I was just dumbfounded.
SCARPINO: And GIPC is what?
ROWLAND: That’s the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee.
SCARPINO: Okay, I’m getting it in the record here for the benefit of the people who listen to the recording. So, and that award is really based in a significant part on leadership isn’t it?
ROWLAND: It is, and in the comments that kind of the two key points that they made in that, one had to do with my role in Historic Preservation. It had to do with my role more recently in developing, helping to develop, urban design guidelines for downtown Indianapolis. And then also I was influential in establishing the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, which is the—goes by the CICP. It is the organization that replaced the Corporate Community Council and it’s the economic development organization for central Indiana. So those were. . .
SCARPINO: You were one of the founders?
ROWLAND: I was one of the founders.
SCARPINO: And approximately when did you found that?
ROWLAND: It’s fairly recent, so it’s been, maybe it’s about six years old—six or seven years old.
SCARPINO: And when you were involved with the design guidelines for downtown Indianapolis, you did that on behalf of the city.
ROWLAND: Yes. Now that’s something that Reed Williamson started, and then he retired and left town.
ROWLAND: And he was trying to get some guidelines established for the downtown community so that developers would be more cognizant of what they should be doing in relation to adjacent buildings, in relation to scale, proportion, to landscaping, to pedestrian traffic, all that sort of thing. It’s a hard thing to do, and he had a group started and then he left town. [laughing] And Vop Osili and I were asked to co-chair in his place.
SCARPINO: and it’s Vop.
ROWLAND: V o p.
SCARPINO: Okay. Osili. We can look it up. I just want to be sure I pronounce it right.
ROWLAND: Yeah, O s—he’s an architect. And the object was to gather together, now the people involved in it were Historic Landmarks, Ball State University College of Architecture and Planning, and the Metropolitan Downtown Planning Commission. It was an outgrowth for the regional center plan, which had said we need urban design guidelines but it had not been done. It’s a hard, to tell you the truth it took us probably three or four years to finally get the thing done, maybe three.
SCARPINO: Are you satisfied with what you produced?
ROWLAND: Yes. I can’t believe we did it. It’s—how you even get that into some sort of written form that anybody can make any sense out of is miraculous. And of course it had to incorporate anybody and everybody that would be concerned about this, which meant architects, every one of which had a different opinion, developers, contractors, artists, you know, the whole—and we had that whole gamut of people that participated in charrettes. When you look at the area we’re talking about even urban design guidelines that would make sense one place do not make sense another place. Entirely different landscapes. But we got it done, and it’s passed the City-County Council and it’s done. The outcome of it, again, it was a case of trying to get people who thought all kinds of things should happen to kind of cut back a little and these that thought nothing should happen to come this way a bit, and I think we succeeded. Basically now there is a—you can’t just go tear anything down without a hearing or a review process. So it helped with the demolition problem. It allows for more public hearings on projects that are significant to the downtown city. There was no public hearing ever on the library. It just all happened. The library board did all that and nobody knew what was going on.
SCARPINO: School 5.
ROWLAND: School 5?
SCARPINO: Do you remember that?
SCARPINO: There was no hearing on that either. Did that have any influence on, that was when the school on the approximate site of the new state museum was torn down instead of preserved.
ROWLAND: That’s right. There’s a little bit of it inside there. And that, you can thank Reed Williamson for hanging on to that, what’s in there. That was—that’s the other problem. The state doesn’t have to abide by any of the guidelines.
SCARPINO: State government?
SCARPINO: Now your title was co-chair.
ROWLAND: Uh huh.
SCARPINO: And what was the official name of the design guideline?
ROWLAND: Let’s see. We were called the Urban Design Oversight Committee.
SCARPINO: And that was part of the basis for your receipt of the Whistler Award.
ROWLAND: They mentioned it and that certainly would be an example of the public/private thing that we talk about.
SCARPINO: Do you consider yourself a leader in historic preservation?
ROWLAND: I don’t think I’m doing enough right now. As a matter of fact, I need to go meet with Marsh Davis and see what role I can get more involved in.
SCARPINO: The new head of Historic Landmarks Foundation.
SCARPINO: Yeah, he took Reed’s place. I’m just, for the record here.
ROWLAND: That’s right, yeah.
SCARPINO: Do you think that design plays a role in the success of a downtown?
ROWLAND: Oh, yeah.
SCARPINO: What do you think that role is?
ROWLAND: Well, who wants to go live in an ugly place? I mean, you can argue about beauty is in the eye of the beholder and somebody likes one building and they don’t like another and I have to admit that I look at that Massachusetts Avenue thing, it looks like the carousel yacht’s just landed on top of the flat iron building and go what, what, what were they thinking? [laughing] I don’t know how that happened. I’ll have to find out how that happened. But at any rate, I do think that green space, the parks and trees and beautiful buildings and even interesting buildings, maybe sometimes even ugly buildings are interesting. And they make up the character of the city, and because we are where we are, we maybe have had to create more of that sort of thing than if you were sitting on the Ohio River, or you had the mountains behind you, or other physical attributes. We don’t even have many hills. Get out northeast and there’s some, but I think what they’ve done with the canal is just terrific. I think the whole planning which started with Hudnut and Lugar and the rest of them to make downtown an interesting and viable place is just wonderful and the real effort to keep that going. I think it is now showing that people want to move down here, they want to live down here. You see a lot of these buildings that are being converted into penthouses and the Conrad.
SCARPINO: Do you think historic preservation has played a role in character, defining downtown.
ROWLAND: Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely.
SCARPINO: I’m going to ask you one more question, because we’ve been talking for a little over two hours and I promised to be done in two hours.
SCARPINO: The final question is, is there anything that I should have asked you that I just didn’t have the insight to bring to the table?
ROWLAND: [laughing] Well, I don’t know whether in the first time that we talked I talked about this or not, but I’m a blessed person. I had a stable family. I had parents who saw to it that I got a good education and I had a mother who said do whatever you want to do. And then I had a family—my husband, who was supportive out of a period in our generation where that was unusual, and who was always very proud and frankly, our roles even changed, where he had—he sort of became Mr. Mom, and a willingness to do that. I have two sons that are just great. One’s an architect and one’s a doctor and they were healthy. You know, a lot of people don’t have the kind of luck in that direction. If I had had more children, I don’t think I could have done what I’ve done. I made a conscious effort to have two children and not more. They both married smart women. I mean, I’m a blessed person, and I had help along the way in bringing them up, stability, and I think without that you can’t do some of these other things. In addition to that, these partners that I’ve talked about—Bob Frisk, Cynthia, Ron Strantz, Sarah.
SCARPINO: Cynthia’s last name is?
ROWLAND: von Forester.
SCARPINO: And Sarah’s last name is?
ROWLAND: They can run the place. I don’t need to be here all the time watching over it. So when you have all of that, then that gives you the freedom to take advantages of the opportunities that were presented.
SCARPINO: Well, on behalf of myself and the Tobias Center for Leadership Excellence, while the recorder is still on I’ll thank you very much for the time that you’ve given us.
ROWLAND: Well, I’m honored you’re interested. [laughing]
SCARPINO: Oh, I am. Thank you so much.