Marina Mrdjen-Petrovic speaks to Ben Corrigan, CEO and founder of Bluehaus Group, about his journey from being an interior designer to establishing a successful firm in Dubai, which celebrates its 15-year anniversary next month.
While there is no one-size-fits-all formula for building a successful interior design business, Ben Corrigan, CEO and founder of Dubai-based firm Bluehaus Group, seems to have it all figured out – how to start it, run it but also how to keep going.
Throughout the boom, the global financial crisis, the post-crisis recovery and the recent oil price slump, Corrigan’s company has grown steadily from three to 60 people, and is celebrating its 15th birthday in April.
“I firmly believe, having recently created our ‘2020 Vision’, many of our founding values and principles still exist from the first year we were established,” Corrigan begins.
Born in Tehran and raised in Singapore, he moved with his parents to England to finish school. While still at Bournemouth University, he established his first business, called Hybrid Concepts, doing a great deal of freelance work to pay his way; mostly in nightclubs, bars and cafés along the south coast. Interestingly, his final major project at university was a nightclub called Soundhaus.
“I was very much influenced by the Bauhaus art movement and school in Germany in the early 1900s, which I studied at university, and this then influenced the naming of Bluehaus Group when I conceived this business,” recalls Corrigan.
After moving to the Middle East in early 1998 to work for the Copenhagen Group, an established architectural and interior design practice, he says he immediately enjoyed the ‘can-do’ culture of Dubai. And in the early 2000s he felt there was an opportunity to establish his own business.
Corrigan breaks down the company’s growth into both positive and, in some cases, challenging milestones.
He specifies: “During the early days of 2003, winning our first blue-chip client, to moving into our third head-office in 2012, to strategically diversifying into new sectors or establishing a new division or capability within the organisation. There have been challenges along the way as well. The global financial crisis was challenging, but when I look back it was the best thing that could have happened to Bluehaus Group, and our industry for that matter. We were forced to make some tough decisions and truly define the business; what we do, who we do it for and how we do it. Rather than down-size, which is what many firms were doing, we invested. I hired an external business coaching team to come in and help us, and that was one of the best decisions I ever made. We still use them to this day.”
Bluehaus Group established an architectural division in 2014 and is currently delivering a number of projects, including residential buildings in Al Barsha, Dubai, a hotel in Dubai and a museum in Jeddah.
“Interior design remains our core business, particularly with our diversification strategy into hospitality, retail, leisure and entertainment,” he adds.
Commenting on the challenges of managing the team, Corrigan considers himself to be “a servant-leader”.