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Karen Duckett, president and CEO of Duckett Design Group, has more than 40 years of architecture and planning experience, holding degrees in architecture, urban planning and law. Leading a team of 14 professionals and support staff, her company is responsible for five million square feet of executed projects with more than $1.8 billion in construction costs. Consequently, the firm’s projects reflect a diversity of commissions, from medical facilities, to office buildings, to courthouses.

Duckett Design Group was the joint venture partner for the Maynard Holbrook Jackson Jr. International Terminal in Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, serving as the deputy project manager during the building of this 1.2 million square foot, $1.1 billion airport project. This project, the largest commission ever for an African-American, female-owned architectural firm, was completed in May.

A believer in giving back, Karen has also served on several community organizations, including 100 Black Women, the Women’s Forum of Georgia and the Women’s Commission for the Department of Corrections.

Madame Noire: Why did you launch Duckett Design Group?

Karen Duckett: The firm was founded on Tax Day 1985. At the time I was doing contract work for several architectural firms and bringing work to them. It was then I realized that they were getting more benefit from my efforts than I was, especially in terms of compensation. On Christmas Day, 1984 my father said, “Karen there are two kinds of prostitution; physical and mental.” I got the message. In February 1985, he passed away and I established the firm to honor him.

MN: Tell us about two key lessons you learned during the first year you were in business? 

KD: Lesson One: You can’t do everything. (You can, but you shouldn’t). Create a list of the tasks that you do and divide them into two categories: what you can do and what others can do. Create the cash flow analysis and manpower required for the work you shouldn’t be doing. Stay with the plan and evaluate it quarterly or every six months.

Lesson Two: You don’t need loans if you bring in the work. Don’t borrow money until you have work in hand. And you probably don’t need to borrow if you have the contracts.

MN: What resources did you use to finance your business?

KD: I had little money and capitalized the firm with $1,000, which was a lot in 1985 while raising three children ages three, six and seven years old. My husband was working for an automobile manufacturer in Atlanta who had cyclical layoffs. So 15 days before officially opening the business I secured a contract and took it to the bank to use as collateral on the rent. I was raised to always have good credit and so that rating served me well in starting the business.

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