An Exceptional Pair
- What do you know about you?
- What do you know about them?
- What do they know about you?
These are the three questions that Nancy Egan has been asking clients for more than 30 years. She believes that “The world is made of magic, and we are all to some degree magicians.” She is a magician who helps people identify and articulate their values and aspirations, to embrace and strengthen their cultures, to name and own their territory.
Nancy focuses on meaning — not just semantics, but the power of what we say and how we say it. On the other hand, I seek patterns — syntactic structures1 — of organizations and behavior, actions and reactions, possibility and strategy. I help people create frameworks for sustainable and successful evolution and growth.
Nancy is one of the most fluent communicators I have ever encountered. Although she makes it look effortless, it’s because she not only has the skill and intellect, but because she has done the work. She literally practices what she preaches.
On the other hand, I was trained to teach, and like many Boomers, I’m an explainer — often in great detail. Thankfully, Nancy is a ruthless editor, too.
Connecting the Dots
But how did we come together, and how did our partnership evolve over the 30+ years that we have been working together?
As with so many relationships, we were introduced. 50 years ago, Weld Coxe literally wrote the book on marketing for A/E firms. He also mentored an amazing number of bright, young people who were learning how to market, and he loved connecting them.
I met Weld when I was a very young Business Manager in a small-but-growing architectural firm in San Francisco. We had been hit hard by the 1974 recession, and we were digging ourselves out, trying to figure out how we could get more work. Weld became our guru, and my mentor.
Fast forward to 1982. I had become a partner, and we had grown from 15 to 85 people. I wasn’t sure what was next, but I knew that I needed to find a new trajectory for myself. I resigned from the partnership, giving myself 90 days to figure out what I wanted to do. Weld offered me a consulting position in The Coxe Group, working from my home base in San Francisco, and after a trip to Philadelphia and a weekend on Block Island with Weld and his wife Mary, I said yes.
It was a new experience — the original #wfm without any electronics — I had a phone, an answering machine, pens, and lots of paper.
On one of my trips to Philadelphia, Weld told me that I should meet Nancy Egan, the Director of Marketing with Interspace. Needless to say, I did, and we had a great time. Nancy and I stayed in touch, catching up with each other occasionally. During this period, I shifted from consulting to recruiting, building my own business and winning work.
Weld always said, if you can bring in work, you don’t need to work for anyone else. In 1987, I left The Coxe Group with Weld’s blessing and two clients that were beginning their own new trajectories. Luckily, I had a direct connection to Nancy, too. She was an active member of SMPS, and one day, she told me that she had organized a panel discussion with Paul Nakazawa as a speaker. I had recruited Paul to be Managing Principal of Moshe Safdie’s firm, and he had become my client. I began to see the possibility of the three of us doing something together, someday.
Despite a recession that began in 1992, 1993 turned out to be a very propitious year. By now, we had Apple computers, a contact database, and email (thanks to @aol). I had been working with a large A/E firm based in Miami, and one day, the partners called and asked me to help them with strategic planning. I said that I’d love to do it, but I needed some help. I called Nancy and Paul, and they both said yes. A couple of weeks later, we flew to Miami for a 2-day strategic retreat that went quite well. At the end, the CFO asked us how long we had been working together. I looked at my watch and said, “48 hours.”
It was an inflection point. Nancy and Paul were both making significant changes in their careers, leaving their current employers to hang out their own shingles. Although each of us had a separate practice, we agreed to look for opportunities to continue working together.
Write, Teach, and Testify
Nancy has always emphasized the importance of storytelling, and of finding the best venues to do it. She had been writing and speaking for years, and I had been speaking and teaching. Paul had accepted a teaching position with the Harvard GSD, and in 1995, we began teaching in the ExecEd program — The Talent-Driven Firm: Building a Competitive Advantage. Nancy found opportunities for us to write, beginning with a series of articles in Contract magazine and extending beyond.2
Even though we lived in three different cities, we were able to get together regularly, and as we worked together, we discovered new things about ourselves, sharing our own values and aspirations, and learning to be partners, as well as friends.
By 2004, Paul was engaged in independent advisory work, which gave Nancy and me an opportunity to create a new consulting framework. We continued to work with our own clients, but there were often opportunities to work together, and to write as well.
With the advent of social media, we jumped on the bandwagon. I took to Twitter like a duck to water, and as a result, SMPS asked me to develop their first program on social media strategy. The following year, Nancy and I developed a 2-day program on social media strategy for Harvard GSD ExecEd. By 2011, I had joined Nancy as a Contributing Editor for Marketer, the Journal of the Society for Marketing Professional Services, and we began to write a series of articles focused on strategy for that growing audience. In addition, we were both asked to present at KA Connect, the annual event produced by Christopher Parsons, the founder of Knowledge Architecture.
Journey to Tomorrow
We’ll leave the next ten years for another story. Our lives changed. Nancy remarried, moving from NYC to Los Angeles and then Santa Fe NM. I moved from Oakland to Sonoma CA. Through everything, we have continued to be friends and partners, sharing tears of sorrow and joy, and cherishing the gift of friendship and partnership that we have created with each other. We have continued to write and teach, and we have taken testimony to a new level.
Over the last year, Nancy has been transitioning away from consulting. She says, “I am increasingly focused on telling stories.” And they are wonderful stories, told through words and images. She has always had the most amazing eye, and she has been able to hone her craft, taking advantage of time during the pandemic to take courses in photography and creative writing. Where once she was excellent, now she is truly brilliant.
The Story of Tip + Tux
And now, the lagniappe – the unexpected gift — the story behind Nancy’s charming photograph. For years, she has been collecting delightful Mexican carved creatures, but in the past year, she has been creating tableaux in which they can find their own voices. Here’s the story, from this exceptional pair.
“It was sooo boring just sitting on the bookshelf, that late one afternoon, I spotted the checker board and invited Tux to play. I know he’s a cat, but he’s pretty smart. He’s even beaten me in a few games.”
“Tip is right about the boredom, not that I mind just being admired for my looks. And he’s not bad for a dog. I even let him win a few games, so he doesn’t get discouraged and quit playing.”
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Thank you so much for listening. I look forward to your stories, too.
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1 Syntactic Structures is an influential work in linguistics by American linguist Noam Chomsky, focused on transformational generative grammar. It brought linguistics and computer science closer together, a crucial development in the theory of formal languages within computer science.
2 To download our published articles, visit the Anthology section of this website.
Kudos to Nancy Egan aka @NewVoodou and her exceptional partners, Tip+Tux.
© 2021 – Nancy Egan | New Voodou, Santa Fe NM