Women in Business Q&A: Lisa Haude, Founder, Paradigm Design Group

Paradigm Design Group

As the lead designer and founder of Paradigm Design Group, Lisa Haude is an expert in livable luxury. Lisa has built Paradigm Design Group into a hospitality design powerhouse. With projects ranging from The Roosevelt Waldorf Astoria in New Orleans, to the award winning the Portland Marriott Downtown, to boutique hotels and numerous Hilton Hotels across the United States, Lisa prides herself on her design versatility.

Lisa and her team are known for approaching every endeavor with focused attention to the distinguishing characteristics of the task. Each project highlights the unique attributes of its surroundings, giving Lisa's portfolio a breadth of range few can match.

Lisa's love and enthusiasm for her craft can be seen in every hotel, every detail and most recently in her fabric and other licensed collections.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I grew up in a traditional, middle-class family where my dad worked and my mom stayed home with the five kids. My dad earned his college degree while attending night school during my early elementary years then worked his way up the corporate ladder through hard work and perseverance.

My parents were my very first mentors and the core values they instilled in me are very similar to those I use today. My dad was always working, attending school, or in the early days, working multiple jobs to make a better life for him and his family. Yet, when we needed him, he was there. He showed time and time again how important school was and that earning people's respect by being fair, honest and trustworthy was invaluable. He was well known for his strong but gentle approach. A lot of people looked up to him and still seek him out for advice or guidance.

My mom, on the other hand, taught me how to love unconditionally, to seek the higher ground at all times, to keep humor in my life and to remain organized. How else could someone survive a household with five kids and multiple pets (cat, dogs, birds, fish and oh, don't forget the turtle from the side of the road)!

Their combined mentorship created the fundamental basis of who I am today. Then, as I worked my way through my first design jobs, college and later other design firms before starting my own firm, I continued to learn from each and every situation. I reached out and found mentors along the way and always soaked up as much as I could possibly learn.

Leadership is problem solving, keeping calm in the face of an insurmountable situation, and helping others learn their own valuable lessons. Though success is not necessarily a precursor for leadership, I feel equipped to lead my business based on all of the challenges I have faced and overcome.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Paradigm Design Group?
My first real job started my Junior year in High School. I entered a work/study program at school and worked in a human resources department for a large corporation. I met an amazing woman who I still stay in touch with today and am proud to call her one of my mentors. I learned early on the importance of details, meticulous note-taking and the art of listening - truly listening to the person you are sitting with and understanding what they really want or need. While I really did not want a job in a HR department the rest of my life, I took away these very practical skills that are so very important in what I currently do today.

The following year I was determined to find an interior design firm that my school would accept for the required work/study program and I used the skills I had learned in the program to convince the owner of the firm that she NEEDED to hire me. I could become her personal assistant and I would help her with all of her clients. Luckily, she agreed and I stayed with her until my Junior year in college. Here again I soaked in everything and anything I could about the design industry during those years and was eager to move on to complete the final phases of my college degree.

When I relocated to Waco, TX to complete my design studies at Baylor University, I befriended a local designer and convinced her that she needed a personal assistant as well. I started working a few hours a week with her and continued to strengthen my core design skills (drawings, sketches, selections, working with clients) as I finished up my degree program.

During my Junior year at Baylor, I became exposed to hospitality design and it was love at first sight. I began studying all of the top firms in the industry and tried to learn what really made them tick. How did they start, where did they start, who were the key players? Then I had the idea that I had to meet them or at the very least interview them. An idea was hatched and I convinced our school that we needed to create a student design summit day where these talented owners could come and talk to us at our school. Luckily I was the president of the ASID student chapter that year and I was able to convince our faculty to agree. I was fortunate to meet Deborah Lloyd Forrest during that design summit and she and I quickly hit it off and stayed in touch the balance of my schooling. She offered me a design internship and later my first hospitality design job post graduation.

As the years progressed, I continued to grow and learn in each new position that I held and was thrilled to be doing something that I loved. But, I wanted more. Finally, in August 2001, I had enough courage to start my own business. My husband, who is also my business partner, quit his very successful, high-profile job, so he could help me manage and build our company. We were very excited as I was given an opportunity to work on a large project in the West Coast under my own name and we felt like it would be a great way to launch Paradigm Design Group.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Paradigm Design Group?
The biggest challenge we had occurred on 9/11 - a mere 10 days after my husband quit his job and we were slated to begin our first big project. As we watched the towers fall that day, we sat in shock like the rest of the nation and wondered what we should do. Here we were, both unemployed and any prospects that we had for work had just disappeared.

We didn't give up, but instead developed a plan of attack for marketing and I just kept going. I encountered people that only pretended to be interested, that ignored me, and others that were just flat out rude. Regardless, I continued to plug on and would not take no for an answer. I knew I only needed one big break and I finally found it.

It has not been an easy climb since 2001. With each new step you take, you discover new hurdles that need to be dealt with. Hiring employees, dealing with issues - client or employee related, finding additional workspace, then juggling family life and parenthood as that was suddenly part of the plan, and the list goes on and on.

However, no matter how bad a day may have been, I am thankful for each and every challenge along the way. It has made me a stronger person, a better designer and owner and most of all it has given me the opportunity to meet amazing people.

I take each day as an opportunity to learn something new. I think with this type of role, you have to be able to adapt and be open to new things and ideas. But you also have to know that you have to trust your instincts too. On September 13, 2001, I knew in my gut that I could do this and would be successful at it. Today, I still know that I can, but I am not alone. Instead a team of very talented and passionate designers and architects as well as great clients surrounds me. It is a privilege to work with them each day.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
I recommend that you have perseverance, stamina and a "never give up" attitude. If you choose to start your own firm, there are so many hurdles and obstacles along the way that you must figure out how to overcome. However, by following this mantra, you will succeed. You also have to be willing to learn from your mistakes and reach out to others when you need advice.

Not everyone can fill this type of role - just like not everyone can be a manager. You have to learn how to work with various types of people and situations and adapt accordingly, mentor younger team members and provide open communication among all parties.

Finally, you should always be honest, fair, trustworthy and respectful to all parties. No matter how angry you may be at a person or a situation, always lead with grace and give others respect. The golden rule is really the best rule.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
I have learned to listen to my heart. No matter what challenge sits in front of me, I know that if I sit down, reflect and truly listen, I will figure out the best path to take and make the right decision.
This has been proven to me over and over again since the firm was founded in 2001.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
As the President of the company, this one is hard to maintain at times. However, I work at it each day. Often my day starts quite early as I try to fit it all in, but I work at adjusting my schedule so that I can attend the important events in my young daughter's life (this includes homework, classroom visits, sporting events, play dates, etc.), but also make time for family vacations, spending time reconnecting with my husband, hanging out with friends and most importantly attending church and ensuring that we work as a family giving back to our community. By keeping these elements centered in my life, I find myself able to better focus at being a good manager, leader and designer.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I think this varies for each person and what part of the journey they may be in. Women who have careers and families may struggle with constantly finding that balance between the two while others may be fighting the corporate ladder and the "old boys club" mentality.

For me, I find that my biggest issue is reminding myself that I cannot do it all alone, nor should I. I hope that if anything, I have learned that it takes a village to raise a family, to grow or sustain a successful business and that you have to learn from your mistakes- good and bad. Perhaps we women, since we are always trying to prove that we can do it all really need to stop trying to do just that. Just because we are a female does not mean that we need to be perfect at everything - nobody certainly expects that from our male counterpart. Instead, perhaps we need to learn that it's ok to not be perfect and to reach for that help when we need it - no matter what it might be.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I was fortunate that my husband started the firm with me and he brought his business brain to the mix while I brought the artistic side. So in many ways he was one of my first mentors early on. He really taught me how to become a better leader and a manager and was a big influence and help to me. Today he still acts as our CFO, but is not as involved in the day to day since he is now more focused on other business directions. However, he is always right there to bounce ideas and suggestions off of and is my biggest cheerleader, besides my daughter, providing encouragement, especially when I need it most.

I also became very involved within my industry and networked at industry events, reached out and asked advice of others who were wiser and certainly there longer than I had been. It was so great to be able to sit down with very successful men and women over the years and just pick their brains as I tried to fully understand the best way to hire your team, price your projects and be the most effective at it. I also read a lot of management and leadership books.

My parents too have been excellent mentors to me over the years. They have taught me so many basic principals that are important in everyday life and how you carry yourself, with grace, with understanding and with compassion.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Wow, that's a tricky question to answer. There are so many great female leaders that I admire its hard to pinpoint them all.

My grandmothers are probably at the top of the list. They were both widowed at a very young age and still had children to raise after their husbands died. My mom was only 10 years old and my maternal grandmother had to find a job and raise her young daughter plus three more and maintain a household by herself in an era when that was unheard of. She lived a very full and happy life well into her 90's and never complained about the fate that was handed to her.
My paternal grandmother was a bit older and her two children at home were closer to adulthood when my grandfather died, but she too had to show incredible strength to carry on, sell their family farm and basically start her life over.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis for her style, elegance, poise and grace. Eleanor Roosevelt for her ability to be outspoken yet diplomatic. Diana, Princess of Wales for her endless energy and devotion towards charity and humanitarian work. Tory Burch for her ongoing foundation and support of women entrepreneurs.

What do you want Paradigm Design Group to accomplish in the next year?
I envision a year of growth. I see Paradigm Design Group venturing into unchartered territories as we expand into more product development and licensing opportunities (under our PDG branded name) and continue to develop meaningful relationships with new and existing clients. I have an awesome team that I have the privilege to work with and they inspire me to do more. I hope that Paradigm Design Group just continues to grow stronger each year and hopefully we can inspire and mentor others along the way too.