DARE-ing Woman Profile: Emanuela Frattini Magnusson

Design Guru Emanuela Frattini Magnusson

Our first profile is of DARE-ING Design Guru Emanuela Frattini Magnusson, who’s racked up accomplishments in her life as a wife, mother, architect, designer (efmdesign.com) and founder/CEO of her own high-style accessories line, Manu (www.manumanu.com), which designs and produces luxury leather goods in glorious colors and sensuous fabrics, such as pony. 

 As is often the case with many hyper-accomplished women over 40 like Magnusson, she was almost reticent to talk about her many achievements, and finds the term “super-woman”  “nauseating.”  On the DARE spectrum of visionary, intelligent and motivated women over 40, Magnusson – wife, mother, architect, designer, entrepreneur, philanthropist, teacher – is definitely the RULER of her own platform.   DARE-ING Women Over 40 who want to be inspired – rather than intimidated or infuriated – by a true DARE-ING achiever, read on.

#1 – DREAMS & DESIRES  – Over 40

“I had always wanted to be in design.  I was surrounded by it all my life, so it was not just a job to me.  My father was an architect, so I would often go with him to his office, which was filled with boxes of paper, crayons, pencils; to me, all items of play, not work.”   Magnusson went on to study at the Politecnico di Milano, laying the groundwork for the design sensibility that has informed her work since she began her architecture and design career in 1985.  As her career flourished, her DREAMS & DESIRES became more focused on the key financial and strategic drivers of her business, and in 2009, Magnusson earned her MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business.

#2 – DEAL – Over 40

Having been born, raised and educated in Italy, with a strong Italian aesthetic for design, “whether for a spoon or a building,” Magnusson asserts, she then had to DEAL with a somewhat different sensibility in the U.S., where architecture is governed by more regulations, and is a more technical rather than aesthetic endeavor.  As her career flourished, Magnusson has also had to DEAL with the universal dilemma of all accomplished women who have many other roles and responsibilities besides career:  There is the “constant struggle,” she says, “that I could be a better mother, or designer, or whatever the issue is that day.”  In her business DEALS, she also echoes the advice given to many entrepreneurs – whether they are in start-ups or established businesses.  “Choose business partners wisely, it is like a marriage.” 

#3 – DESIGN – Over 40

Obviously one would expect that a designer/artist and businesswoman of the caliber of Magnusson would have a grand DESIGN for her own life, and she does.  She always knew she wanted to work in an artistic and commercial endeavor, and once her children grew older, she realized that enhancing her architecture training with formal and rigorous business education would be even more advantageous.  Magnusson is a passionate proponent of what is known as “DESIGN Thinking” – which refers to a process of investigating problems, whether specific or of indeterminate nature, obtaining necessary information, analyzing the knowledge, and hypothesizing possible solutions.  One of her laments is the business world’s invalidation at times of the so-called “soft” or intuitive side of the brain, whereas DESIGN Thinking relies heavily on empathy for context in problem identification, creativity in generating insights and possible solutions, and then the rational analytical side of the brain to properly assess the solution options.  DESIGN Thinking is absolutely beneficial to any visionary, intelligent and motivated woman over 40, as it exercises both sides of the brain: emotional and intellectual. 

#4 – AIMS – Over 40

Magnusson, as one might imagine, is a strong goal setter.  She is a consummate juggler, high-energy, highly curious and, as such, is always seeking new knowledge, especially when it comes to inspiring designs. 


Magnusson deftly manages her ACCESS & APPROACH strategically, seeking individuals and experts that offer complementary skills to assist her in achieving her Aims.   While at Stern, she sought out professors as well as classmates, sharing in turn her own philosophies, insights, analysis and solution options.

#6 – ACT

Magnussen is a consummate take-action type of leader.  For example, while she recognizes and values market research, especially in designing and specifying for a product, service or audience, she also knows that the old adage of “analysis is paralysis” can take some decision-makers hostage, until the idea is no longer relevant.  Most creative, intuitive people learn early on how to trust their instincts, but MBAs tend to want to over-analyze.  As Magnusson says: “Ignorance is sometimes better than courage.  Of course we must have courage, but at some point, we must ACT.” 

#7 – REASON – Over 40

Magnusson possesses a strong work ethic and feels that architecture and design are “positive professions.”  She is energized “to be making a contribution to beauty in the world” and adds, “This is a mission, a passion, not just a job.”    She prefers to work with people who share her views of sensitivity, empathy, collaboration and respect.  “I don’t understand ‘sharks’ or this obsession for walking over dead bodies” – her reference for individuals who are driven to succeed even at the expense of others.    

#8 – RALLY, REACH & RISE – Over 40

When asked about the colleagues, mentors, clients and customers who women over 40 should seek out to help them RALLY, REACH & RISE, Magnusson has very specific and compelling advice.  “Always identify and seek out the true decision makers, because they are the ones who will assume the risk with you and champion your strategy, insights or innovative ideas that are new to the organization.  If you are not working with the decision maker of an organization, you are the one assuming the most risk for your ideas,” she cautions.

#9 – RANT RAVE – Over 40

Magnusson wants to see a renewed appreciation for the arts to be taught to young children and teenagers, as part of fostering the Design Thinking methodology of innovation and effective idea generation.    As with many creative artists who then pursue more quantitative perspectives, Magnusson finds that an excessive emphasis on quantitative while almost negating the intuitive and qualitative, is the reason why many leaders fail.  “Many managers who are trained in business school to focus solely on the quantitative have difficulty with leading people to work together for a common cause.”  

#10 – EMBRACE – Over 40

Magnusson takes time out for her well-being by turning off work as much as possible when she is away from work, especially on vacations with her family.  She acknowledges that this takes extra organizing and urgency to get it all done, but the serenity to be able to EMBRACE free time away is worth it. “I button up work so I am not not having to constantly log on, check emails and work while I am away.  I love the whole sensory experience – being from Italy, I love the ocean, jasmine, rosemary, everything about the beach and its surroundings.  

#11 – EXHIBIT – Over 40

Magnusson designed her own website, without the use of a PR firm or ad agency.  It is a very beautiful site, very evocative of her style and design sensibilities, very warm and inviting.  She is excellent at branding, without being ostentatious.  She is gorgeous, without being threatening.  Stylish, slim, and really understands the power of her presence, in a good way.  Relative to her literal EXHIBITS, she has built commercial residential and retail projects and has been visiting faculty at Yale and Parsons School of Design.  She has been widely published and has received several industry awards for her designs.    

#12 – EXCHANGE – Over 40

Magnussen’s passion for inculcating a passion for the arts at a very young age is exemplified by the way she EXCHANGES her talents and other resources through a program called Operation Design, which she initiated through a partnership with Maloney & Fox Public Relations and the International Contemporary Furniture Fair.  The organization’s website describes its work as follows:  Operation Design offers students direct interaction with professionals and challenges young people in public schools – from kindergarten through 12th grade – to put their creativity to practical, important and real use.  

Operation Design is the perfect metaphor and fitting descriptor of Magnusson’s entire DARE-ING philosophy, and shining example of her passion for Design Thinking, since it promotes innovative problem solving among young students, so that at some point they can learn to solve business problems that are not intrinsically design oriented, but which employ the qualitative, creative, and intuitive talents that Magnusson has developed, perfected and EXCHANGED her entire career, and throughout her life.