This profile was originally published in the American Society for Landscape Architects’ (ASLA) Leadership Link Newsletter.
Om Khurjekar, PLA, ASLA – Leadership Profile
Q1 Who/what inspired you to become a leader in ASLA?
In 2002, my good friends Vernon Hustead, ASLA and Brian Reetz, ASLA, who served as President and President-Elect of the MDASLA chapter at that time, invited me to an event. I had just graduated from graduate school and was still getting my feet wet in the profession and in America. Their enthusiasm and dedication to the profession was impressive and sparked a thought. Before I know, they had tricked me into serving on the board. At my first CPC meeting in 2009 as President-Elect, I had the pleasure of personally connecting with a few national leaders, who had been serving the profession for many years and many levels and were actively helping in promoting our work.
Q2 How do you encourage other ASLA members to lead?
To me ASLA is where I made my best friends. I make it a point to share this story with all the new enthusiastic people I meet. It is important for young potential members and future leaders to know that this is an organization that is welcoming to new leaders, provides great opportunities to serve the profession at various levels, capacities and make an impact. Everyone is welcome and every contribution count. If I meet someone who seems to have a spark, I try to connect them to current board members or other leaders so they can think about opportunities to contribute. As a leader, I feel it is my responsibility to identify enthusiastic professionals who can become future leaders.
Q3 Who has influenced your leadership style and approach?
My style and leadership are a result of multiple influences. My grandfather, a very prominent Lawyer back home in Pune, India, was my first mentor. I grew up with watching him helping people get justice not just through his practice, but also outside the office. His approach was very jovial yet very direct and to the point. He also made it a point to teach new people and served as a mentor for many. In ASLA, the influences have been many. ASLA Presidents Gary Scott, FASLA, Susan Hatchell, FASLA, Tom Tavella, FASLA, Mark Focht, FASLA, Shawn T. Kelly, FASLA, Gregory Miller, FASLA and a few other leaders; Keith Wilson, ASLA, Ellen Stewart, Marq Truscott, FASLA, Pam Linn, FASLA, were some early and recent inspirations. A good leader is one who has a vision and allows others to excel, lets them do what they do best and most importantly makes it a point to recognize their efforts. A totally open-minded approach!
Q4 How has ASLA has helped develop your leadership skills and career?
I was a shy individual, especially when I came to the United States. I did not know a lot of people and the new environment had an impact of my confidence level. Serving on the MDASLA board since 2002 allowed me to observe a lot of good leaders and how they work. Being President of the Chapter and then the Chair of Chapter Presidents Council provided me with a great opportunity to regain my confidence to talk to people, be in front of larger groups and help organize and facilitate discussions. The open forum allowed me to freely express my thoughts. I believe these are very powerful tools that ASLA provides and essential to become successful leaders and professionals who can make an impact. These have also helped me in my everyday work and my contribution and success in my career.