Maira Koutsoudakis is the CEO of the LIFE Group Companies and founder of LIFE Interiors, Architecture and Strategic Design. Within this role, she oversees eight companies and 540 staff spanning four cities.
To date the company has received over 56 international awards for their work in the areas of private island, resort, luxury lodge, boutique hotel, exclusive residential and restaurant projects. The LIFE Grand Group operates seven restaurants and hospitality offerings, three of which are listed in heritage buildings, as part of their custodianship of local architectural heritage. Apart from being an entrepreneur, Koutsoudakis is also a wife and mom of two.
As one of the five judges for the 2018 Veuve Clicquot ELLE Boss Awards, ELLE sat down with her to find out how she does it all.
In an article for NEWS24 in 2014, you mentioned your mum told you to “always rely on yourself”. With this in mind, what advice do you have for new entrepreneurs who are nervous about starting on their own?
As the daughter of a young widow, I was taught to always be prepared and work hard while doing all the necessary research and groundwork. It’s a belief based on confidence and self-belief – which includes trusting your instincts and going with your gut.
What advice would you give young women who would like to pursue a career in interior architecture? Can you recommend an excellent institution to study at?
Marry the technical and the artistic in your studies; Interior Architecture has a lot to do with structure, construction and the built form - it’s about exacting technical skills. You need to have both an aptitude and attitude of excavating what the landscape is and what it can become. Having a vision is imperative.
I studied at the University of Johannesburg for a technical degree whilst studying at the University of South Africa for a more academic degree, majoring in History of Art, Humanities and Classical Culture, which gave me a sense of understanding what is contextually relevant and culturally appropriate. I completed my postgraduate qualification at the Domus Academy in Milan and highly recommend international postgraduate study at an institution such as the RCA in London, or Parsons in New York, or even summer courses in foreign countries.
If you could pinpoint the three core values that a potentially successful entrepreneur should have, what would they be?
- Respect for hardwork – there is no leapfrogging to mastery.
- Tenacity to see you through the ups and downs (because there will be both)
- A brave vision to dream, design, deliver on your ideas.
When you began your career as an entrepreneur several years ago, did you have any plan to say that this is where you would be several years later?
Definitely! I secretly (naively) stated that I wanted to work until I had a private island and I wanted to satisfy all my desires in the fields of design, architecture, retail, food and hospitality. I started with a very wide base of many areas of specialisation and over time I had to let some of them go to focus on fewer. It took longer to come out of the ground because the foundations lie deeper, but I believe that you need to start with a bigger dream because as they say, you should ‘reach for the moon and you might get the stars’.
Can you identify one strategy that a woman should implement during her career that will benefit her in the corporate environment?
Interpret what people want into gold. It’s about empathising and intuiting what a project, client or employer needs. That does not mean be emotional - by all means, one must always retain their professionalism and separate emotion from the entrepreneurial or corporate environment - but, women have a unique gift to understand what people want and that forms part of an iconic female skillset and it’s this particular intuitive understanding that allows women to interpret those needs into generating a satisfying and successful result.