Feb. 29, 2024

ExecEd in Focus: Meet Yvonne Choe

From Architect to Partner: an SLDP alum’s leadership journey and insights
Yvonne Choe

In this installment of ExecEd in Focus, we had the pleasure of speaking with Yvonne Choe, a seasoned architect, now Partner, at DIALOG – and an alum of our Strategic Leadership Development Program. Join us in congratulating Yvonne on her recent promotion and spend the next couple of minutes getting to know more about her work, leadership journey and insights into the architecture industry.

1. Congratulations on your recent promotion, Yvonne! Could you share a bit about what you do, and how your role has evolved since stepping into this new leadership position? 

Thank you! Over the past five years, my architectural practice has specialized in science, technology and post-secondary work, focusing on engagement, project management and project execution. As Partner, my role has evolved to encompass a broader lens that includes sector-specific strategy and marketing, mentorship, business development and thought leadership.

2. Reflecting on the Strategic Leadership Development Program, what initially motivated you to join the program?

I was looking for an opportunity to learn more about business and leadership and demonstrate within my organization that I was interested in growth. I considered doing an MBA but wasn’t sure if I was ready for the time and financial commitment. I saw SLDP as an opportunity to learn and grow, provide dividends back to my organization through thought leadership, and have a taste of what an MBA could look like. I came away from one of the sessions with the notion to “get off the dance floor and onto the balcony.” This idea of moving from doing to leading and thinking strategically was a huge takeaway for me and critical to my success as a partner. 

3. How has the program influenced your leadership style and how did the learnings translate to your role as an architect and now as a partner?

I gained confidence in my ability to lead collaboratively due to the interactive course format. Through case studies, discussions and coaching sessions, I learned strategies to better support my team and contribute to strategic conversations within the organization. Exploring emotional intelligence made me a more empathetic leader, while sessions on brand, identity and entrepreneurial thinking laid a foundation to build on as Partner.

4. If you had to use three words to describe your experience with the program, what would they be?

Transformative, Insightful, Empowering.

5. Drawing from your own experience, how can participants make the most of a program like SLDP to advance their career and contribute meaningfully to their organization?

For people hungry to learn and build their business acumen, SLDP is a fantastic resource to gain confidence, develop an understanding of business, leadership and strategy, and leverage these within your organization. The Action Learning Project component of the program is an opportunity to explore and solve a problem, directly contributing to your organization’s success and growth while opening doors to conversations with leadership and potential new collaborations.

6. Shifting gears to your architectural work, are there any trends that you find interesting?

Adaptive reuse in Canada has been emerging as a trend, especially office to residential conversion in Calgary. I see the value in maintaining these buildings from a sustainability perspective as well as the advantages of bringing people to the downtown core. I’m interested to see how these buildings will perform over time and how the needs of the occupants will be met. 

7. Architecture often involves balancing creativity with practicality. But if you could design any kind of building without any constraints, what would be your dream project?

Personally, a sustainably designed cabin in the woods; professionally, a state-of-the-art research facility that fosters breakthrough discoveries, interdisciplinary collaboration, and addresses critical global challenges, pushing the boundaries of scientific exploration and innovation. 

8. What is your favorite part of your job?

It is the creative process – where talented and passionate individuals collaborate to share ideas, tackle challenges, and develop innovative, beautiful and sustainable buildings. This collaborative effort not only enhances the well-being of end users but also contributes to the improvement of our communities. 

9. Do you have any book recommendations for our readers? 

After completing SLDP, I read Becoming a Changemaker by Alex Budak.  It complements the message delivered through the program and offers further guidance on taking action and making a real impact within an organization. More recently, I read Managing the Professional Service Firm by David Maister, with insights into the successful operation of professional service firms, including within architecture. His breakdown reinforced my understanding of firm dynamics and provided practical guidance for my own practice at DIALOG.

10. How do you stay updated on industry trends and what do you foresee as a challenge or opportunity in your field in the coming years?

At DIALOG, internal collaboration and research enhance our collective knowledge. Staying updated on trends by touring precedent projects, conducting research and attending conferences, is crucial. One key challenge would be to address climate change through reduction of embodied carbon and energy consumption. On the other hand, an exciting opportunity lies in leveraging artificial intelligence for the design process. Through machine learning and the development of algorithms, AI will enhance accuracy, streamline workflows and expand creative possibilities.

11. What’s next for you? Do you have any new projects on the horizon?

Continuing growth and development of DIALOG’s science, technology and post-secondary communities of practice. I have two exciting projects under construction – a lab building in Toronto and a new lab and classroom building for the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Calgary, both scheduled to be completed in 2025. Outside of project work, I'm honored to be speaking alongside Stacy Christensen, U of C Architect, at the Society for College and University Planning conference this spring. Our presentation will focus on how connecting history of place fosters opportunities, success, health and well-being for each student.

About Yvonne

Yvonne Choe is a registered architect with a passion for systems thinking and a relentless curiosity that drives her creative process.  With over two decades of experience, Yvonne has navigated various sectors, bringing a versatile and adaptable approach to each project.  She currently leads DIALOG’s national Science and Technology community of practice, building a team of people committed to shaping environments that support exploration, innovation and learning.

Step behind the scenes with ExecEd in Focus, a new series where Haskayne Executive Education will spotlight the alumni, faculty and partners who are the driving force behind the success of their programs. Dive into the stories that underscore the impact of their programs on learners and the individuals who play a pivotal role in delivering these transformative learning experiences.