When Carol Little founded Corporate Design Group Inc. 30 years ago, the business world was very different. There was no email. Cell phones were just starting to hit the market. And computer technology was still in its infancy.
âAll of our plans were handwritten,â said Little, CEO of Corporate Design Group. “There was no AutoCAD.”
Everything has changed since then for the Roseville company. Little now works with different manufacturers and uses different job models. She led her business through the Great Recession, the Covid-19 pandemic, and encountered many other challenges and opportunities over the years.
âEvery day is a new adventure,â said Little, who leads a team of creative design professionals, reviews project deliverables and oversees all finance and HR functions. “Every day is unique, which is why I love building a career in this industry.”
Corporate Design Group is an interior design company that manages projects from start to finish, including furniture, artwork, plants and accessories. The company focuses on senior housing and healthcare, typically working with businesses and building owners or property managers, said Christine Horton, director and design director of the Corporate Design Group.
The company is also the zone supplier for Lasertech floor plans. The purchase of exclusive licensing rights from Lasertech for the Sacramento area in 2000 was a major change for the company, Little said. The Philadelphia-based company offers technology to create CAD drawings and accurately measure the space used by a tenant in a multi-tenant building. These calculations must be precise because tenants generally pay rent according to the space used, as well as a share by proportion of the common spaces.
Lasertech also opened up new business opportunities for the Little company, turning architects into clients. She considers this to be one of the major achievements of her business.
âIt was a big change,â Little said. âIt really set us apart from other companies. “
There is no doubt about Little’s biggest challenge since the inception of the company: the Great Recession.
“It happened very quickly,” she said. âPretty much a landslide overnight.
Three clients went bankrupt because of the money from the Corporate Design Group. Two of its employees have left, one of them has completely left the industry.
Little said she plans to see two of her employees leave a low point in her career.
Three years later, the company was still emerging from the crisis. Little called it a âcore success seriesâ that helped lift Corporate Design Group out of the economic crisis.
âYou don’t give up,â Little said. âYou show up and find out every day. “
When Covid-19 hit, Little had the experiences of the Great Recession to draw on. His business needed to react quickly to an unfamiliar situation.
âFrom day one we put a plan in place,â she said.
With the initial shutdown, some employees switched to remote work, while others were put on short-term leave. Little said she spent a lot of time in the past year focusing on implementing Covid-19 policies, browsing Paycheck Protection Program loan applications, contacting a lawyer for HR compliance for employee leave due to school closures and working to find the right solution for each individual worker.
During this difficult time, there was a silver lining, Little said. When work slowed down, the company pivoted to update its processes, including rolling out 3D online property tours as an add-on service with Lasertech.
âWe have pivoted to meet the challenges of our clients in property management,â she said. “There hasn’t been any quiet time during this time. We’re stronger for that at this point.”
Little has seen the pandemic change his industry. Before the pandemic, space per employee was shrinking. Now it’s getting bigger.
She has also seen a shift in most employees using closed offices to more open spaces, as well as requests for more desks. The existing cabins have higher dividers.
âEach client’s approach has been different,â said Little. “It’s not a one size fits all.”
With the worst of the pandemic seemingly over, Little said she was focusing more on finalizing a business continuity plan and forming the right team to support this transition over time. She wants to preserve the workplace she created for three decades.
Horton found Corporate Design Group at the university while looking for an internship.
âI started doing an internship here and never left,â she said. âCarol strives to make sure we all have the power to be ourselves. She always encourages us to progress and be a better version. It is quite attractive.
Horton weathered the Great Recession alongside Little, saying the CEO was striving to make the business essential again. Once that challenge was overcome, tackling a pandemic didn’t seem as demanding.
âWe figured out how to do it,â said Horton. “We have come together, we see it as a challenge to be resolved and we are overcoming it.”
Little has traits that make her a leader, Horton said. She is always working to improve herself. She took leadership courses. She played in an LPGA Amateur Golf Association event – which Little called a hit just to participate.
âCarol inspires people,â said Horton. “In the end, that makes her a great leader.”
Corporate Design Group Inc.
Education: AA, interior design, Bauder College
Career: Founder and CEO, Corporate Design Group Inc., 1991-present; interior designer, Design Directions, 1986-1991; commercial interior designer, WCF, 1981-1986