Jonathan French of Woods Bagot wins Principal of the Year
Dubai-based architect Jonathan French of Woods Bagot was voted Principal of the Year at the 2018 MEA Awards, after competing against seven powerful candidates from the region, including Hani Fallaha of Loci, Joe Tabet of JT+Partners, Hamid Kerayechian of VX Studio, Emad Jaber of La Casa, Phillip Jones of B+T Architects and AGi’s Nasser Abulhasan and Joaquin Perez-Goicoechea.
Championing a sustainable ethos French’s mission is to create a sustainable practice in the Middle East — a business that is financially resilient, focused on the highest quality design, provides dynamic careers for its people in a fun and equitable environment and develops the next generation of leaders to curate the practice for the long term.
Since 2013, under French's chairmanship, Woods Bagot’s Gulf business’s revenues and profits have continued to grow year-on-year as has the strength of its leadership and the quality of the talent within the practice. Honest and personable and with his quick wit, French is a UK registered architect and member of the RIBA and the Royal Society of Arts. He has a distinguished international career in senior leadership roles, with a solid background working for some of the most significant practices.
French joined Woods Bagot in 2013, at a time when the legacy of the global financial crisis continued to have a detrimental impact on its Middle East business. French has restructured the leadership team, instilling new values across the business while focusing the team’s talent on the highest quality and environmentally appropriate design. Presently, the Gulf practice comprises 20 different nationalities of which 17 percent speak Arabic. This leads to a rich and respectful studio culture: one that French is particularly proud to be part of.
Judges commended French’s focus on mentoring “the next generation of leaders for the practice, both locally and globally,” and recognised his immense positive impact on the business of Woods Bagot’s Gulf office, noting his creation of five new shareholders across the global practice over the past three years and the elevation of three others in the Middle East.
Upon receiving the award, French said, “The competition was extraordinarily high. I didn’t think we would necessarily win. There was some great talent on the list from powerful companies. I certainly didn’t think it was going to be me, but it’s a real privilege.
“It’s not just an award for me; I’ve the privilege of working with an extraordinary team. We’ve curated an executive team over the last five years, who are inspiring to be around. We’ve done some interesting projects at a challenging time. We deal with challenges together as a group.
“We act and collaborate as one. I’m just the person who sets the tone in the studio. It’s a real honour to be leading a talented team.”
Highly commended went to Hani Fallaha of Loci, who the judges called “an excellent leader who has led his firm from strength to strength, working on projects that promote the company ethos and turning out high-quality designs that make a meaningful impact on the local urban fabric.”
The award was presented by Mallikarjuna Rao, group director at Alubond.