On September 25 at the Pyle Center on the UW-Madison Campus, the UW-Madison Real Estate Club and the Graaskamp Center presented Michael Toolis, Chairman & CEO of VOA Associates, Inc., with the Innovator Award. VOA Associates, Inc. is a Chicago-based global architecture design firm known for innovation and humanistic approach to great design. The firm is also very passionate about sustainable design and its positive impact on the community. The Innovator Award is given to individuals who embody the spirit of the Wisconsin real estate tradition in innovation. After hearing Mr. Toolis’s acceptance speech, I got a good sense of who he is as man and an understanding of why he is an innovator.
Mr. Toolis began his talk with an insight into his childhood. Growing up in a working class family on the South Side of Chicago, he learned the value of hard work. From helping his father with yard work as a toddler to newspaper routes in his teens and driving city buses in his early twenties, he has worked every day of his life. He possesses an old fashioned, blue collar work ethic. I am convinced that his work ethic, passion for architecture, and his ability to be a forward thinker is the reason why he has achieved such impressive professional success.
While listening to Mr. Toolis speak it became apparent that he is an innovator, and it was not only his accomplishments that lead me to believe this. It was also the excitement in his voice when spoke about the future of the real estate industry. For example, he told the audience about the 3D glasses that he is using in his firm, which allow his architects to virtually tour a building before it is built, and he was incredibly enthusiastic while discussing this new equipment. He went on talk about how bike lanes should not just run alongside buildings but be a part of the building’s infrastructure. Hearing Mr. Toolis share these innovative ideas got me and others in the audience excited as well.
It is obvious why Michael Toolis was selected to receive the Innovator Award. Not only does he have a passion for being forward thinking, he also has the ability to inspire others to be forward thinkers as well.