Jonathan Moody on his "both-feet-in" moment with his architecture firm
Curt Moody, founder and chairman of Moody Nolan, remembers the moment he knew his son, Jonathan, CEO of the architecture firm and CEO of the Year in the small business category, had the smarts to become a business leader. But it wasn’t during his decade-long climb through the company, or while he was working in Los Angeles, or even during his time at an Ivy League school.
Instead, it’s something many don’t know about Jonathan, Curt says.
It was when he watched his son play chess as a child, noticing that he had the ability to think eight or nine moves ahead, and he had an impeccable ability to see the greater picture. And it wasn’t a hobby—Jonathan was ranked and even competed at national tournaments.
“I never played chess,” Curt says, “but I knew one thing that I had been able to do more so than others is to look ahead—not just look at what the day’s decision would do for our firm, but what decisions for today would do for us in the future. That was a trait that I felt our leaders really needed to have. Jonathan had it naturally.”
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But Jonathan wasn’t sure what he wanted to do in the future, and for a while, he felt convinced he didn’t want to take after his father, he says. He describes his interest in architecture at the time as one foot in, one foot out, but his senior year of high school he attended an architecture summer program that made him realize he was meant for the career.
“That was kind of the first both-feet-in moment,” Jonathan says. “Surprisingly, it was not what I thought. And that was a good thing.”
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From there, he not only planned to become an architect, but to be the best. He went to Cornell University, rated routinely by DesignIntelligence as the most admired design and architecture school in the nation, where he earned his bachelor’s in architecture in 2007. He earned his master’s in architecture at UCLA.
For the next few years, he stayed in Los Angeles to work with CannonDesign and met his wife, Montra, the backbone to his success, he says. To Jonathan, the opportunity to work outside of Ohio helped prove he was meant to be at Moody Nolan.
In 2011, Jonathan joined his father’s firm and was named president in 2016. In 2020, he was named CEO. Today the firm, founded in 1982, has over 270 employees and 12 locations. Some notable projects include the Columbus Metropolitan Martin Luther King Branch Library, Texas Southern University student library and learning center, and The Legacy House Project.
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As CEO, Jonathan is already seeing success. He was a finalist for the CEO of the Year award by Columbus CEO in 2020 and in 2021 he received the Young Architects Award from the American Institute of Architects for exceptional leadership. And his not-so-secret way of leading is by continuing to pass on the values Curt built the company on, which is easy, because it’s how he was raised.
One of those values is to continue to be unapologetically dedicated to embracing diversity. Moody Nolan is the largest Black-owned architecture firm in the country, and 38 percent of its staff are people of color. Of the employees, 42 percent are women. The firm has won 45 awards from the National Institution of Minority Architects.
The firm has also won over 51 awards from AIA, and most recently, it was named the 2021 Firm of the Year, the first firm based in Ohio to win, and the most prestigious award by the organization.
Jonathan remembers the day he got that call—it’s his proudest, most defining memory as CEO—perhaps another of those “both feet in” moments that proved to him that while he once wasn’t so sure, he knew he was right where he was meant to be.
“To be able to call my dad to say his efforts were worth it,” he says, “... It was recognition that everything that everybody had been doing for 39 years was worth it.”
And as his father, Jonathan’s success so far is all Curt could ask for.
“My wife and I both,” he says, “... When we see that he’s doing so well, it’s just encouraging that maybe we did something right along the way somewhere.”
CEO, Moody Nolan
Education: Bachelor’s in architecture and minor concentration in Africana studies, Cornell University; master’s in architecture, University of California, Los Angeles
2020 Revenue: $50 million