Spotlight on…Eli Northen

Date: July 22, 2015

Where do you work and what is your role?
I’m a principal with EN Architects. We’re a small, growing design/development studio located in Hampden focused on improving communities though simple, regional design. I founded the practice in 2014 after 9 years of working for various architects, most recently Ayers Saint Gross (a great ELU partner and my gateway into ELU).

What excites you most about United Way and Emerging Leaders United?
The energy and diversity within ELU are its two greatest assets. It’s grown exponentially over the past several years due to the enthusiasm shared by a group of people with a wide range of backgrounds and talents. For me, there’s little more exciting than being surrounded by a diverse group of energetic people with a common goal.

Tell us about your 2-1-1 Maryland United Way Helpline listening session. What kind of impact did it have on you?
This one really hit home. I was paired with a sympathetic operator during the December holiday season, and the overwhelming majority of calls came from parents seeking the bare essentials for their children for the holidays. I thought about my own children, their holiday experience, and how fortunate they are. It made me realize what a large part luck plays in our entrance into the world, and that those of us born into more fortunate circumstances are obligated to level the playing field for the rest.

Who do you look up to who has influenced you to give back to our community?
I admire those who make their career coincide with their personal philanthropic mission. Some are more apparent (say, the wonderful folks at United Way) but what particularly inspires me are those who take conventional professions (healthcare, education, financial services, etc.) and craft their professional work in a way to service those in need. As an architect, I’ve always admired the work of the late Samuel Mockbee with the Rural Studio at Auburn University. He’s a man who said, “Look, I want to design beautiful buildings but I’m going to house my disadvantaged neighbors in the process, and teach other how to do the same.” When career and social passion come together, it’s a beautiful thing. I’m working on it.

What is one book you think everyone should read?
I’ve got two. Daniel Pink’s Drive is a near manual for following your passion and understanding what actually motivates us to work harder (spoiler alert: it’s not money). The other is George Orwell’s 1984. It’s got science fiction, dystopian governments, love, action and was written by one of the foremost masters of the English language. Need anything else?

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I was once told by a mentor, “You can do anything, not everything.” Initially, I found this disheartening but over time I’ve come to view it as a call to action. These words helped to me to prioritize my goals and focus my actions where I’m best suited to make an impact in business and life. Particularly in starting a business, saying no to some things has allowed me to say yes where it counts, and focus on my goals while supporting the missions of others.

What is your guilty pleasure?
I’m an NPR nerd. I’ll take Ira Glass and Robert Siegel over top 40 music any day of the week. If you listen carefully, you can actually hear the sounds of my family’s eyes rolling when I turn on the radio in the car.

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