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DESIGNING A COMEBACK

In May 2008, Lauren Rottet bought back the architecture and design business she founded in 1990. She and her partner had sold the company to a larger engineering and construction firm in 1994 and continued working there. At the time, she believed it was a good strategic move. But years later, Rottet wanted more autonomy and bought the business back.

Her timing wasn't great. The slump in the construction market was under way. A month after the deal to buy back Rottet Studio closed, the firm's biggest client put all its projects on hold. Then the financial crisis hit.

Clients who were still seeking her services scaled back. Instead of winning big, lucrative projects like redesigning a law firm's new office, she would get less expensive projects like renovations of a company's reception area.

"Instead of managing eight big (projects), you were managing 25 little ones," she says. "A small project can be as much work as a big one."

Rottet, who had offices in Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, had to think differently about how she ran her business. Instead of having a team work on a project, one staffer would handle it. "We quickly started to cross-training to make people more adept at doing more things," Rottet says. So an employee whose specialty was interior design learned how to do architectural drawing. Architects learned about selecting furniture and fabrics.

Rottet also took on new types of clients. Before the pullback in the construction business, 90 percent of the firm's work consisted of projects like corporate offices. Rottet's new clients included hotels and homeowners.

That meant convincing new clients she could adapt to their needs. But she was able to make the transition â¿¿ she's even signed deals to design rooms for cruise lines. The result: Business has more than doubled since 2010, the worst year for the company's revenue.

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