Many designers have careers in other industries first; few are as accomplished as Timothy Corrigan’s. Before launching his own firm in Los Angeles in the late 1990s, Corrigan ran advertising giant Saatchi & Saatchi’s international division, overseeing more than 6,000 employees. But as his job became more managerial and less creative, he had a pivotal change of heart.
“[My bosses] thought this was a midlife crisis—who leaves the top job in a big company? But I knew I wanted to do something different,” Corrigan tells host Dennis Scully on the latest episode of The Business of Home Podcast. “Life is short. You better be loving what you do every single day. I strongly recommend to people that if design is something they want to do, they should do it. No matter what field you come from, you’re going to bring skills that are so valuable as a designer. … right now [in my firm] we’ve got a former talent agent, an investment banker, a Broadway dancer. I love hiring people with different backgrounds.”
The skills Corrigan brought to design from a high-profile advertising career clearly worked. Over the past two decades, he’s been a fixture on the international design scene, earning a spot on shelter magazine honor rolls, winning several awards and becoming the only American honored by the French Heritage Society for his work. Alongside his Madison Ave bona fides, Corrigan brought high-profile connections that helped him kick-start a design career: Early clients included Madonna and David Schwimmer. Now, he regularly travels the world to attend to a global clientele that includes members of the Qatari royal family.
Though Corrigan’s design career is big, he keeps his own firm deliberately small, only around a dozen employees. That’s largely because he—even now—insists on seeing every trim before it goes to the client. Interestingly, even though Corrigan is regularly working with billionaires, his firm operates on principles that have little to do with scale, and everything to do with trust and diligence.
“We all love to feel like we’re getting good value for our money. The richest people in the world still want to feel you’re looking out for them,” he says. “We triple-bid absolutely everything. If we’re doing a job in New York, we’ll get quotes to have a sofa made in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles—we’ll factor in the shipping costs. … we’ll show [the client] all the bids. That makes them feel that you are really looking out for them.
“What’s best for the client is what’s best for you,” adds Corrigan, who swears by a simple mantra: Repeat clients are even more valuable than many designers think. “You might be able to make a little more money on this job or that job, but if you’re always looking at what’s best for the client, in the long run, you will be more profitable.”
Running a business on straightforward values, however, doesn’t mean that designers should undersell themselves, he says. Indeed, an appreciation for marketing and branding is one of the takeaways learned from the advertising industry. “Designers are brands,” says Corrigan. “You have to figure out what you want to stand for. What do you want to be known for as a designer? You cannot be all things to all people.”
Homepage image: Timothy Corrigan | Courtesy of Nate Kirkman