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Founder & CEO, Ali Budd Interiors

Ali Budd BA' 04
Founder & CEO, Ali Budd Interiors
I think that when you work extremely hard for something - I've started to learn this over the last few years, really - the sky is the limit

“I think that when you work extremely hard for something – I’ve started to learn this over the last few years, really – the sky is the limit. There aren’t any limitations on what it is that you can achieve or what you can do. The same way I said if you had told 14-year-old me that 17-year-old me would have university options; if you had told 28-year-old me that 35-year-old me would be sitting here and humbly saying that I am very proud of what I’d been able to achieve, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. And I feel like I’m just getting started; there is so much more. It really is extraordinarily rewarding to work hard at something and see what can come of it.”

 

So says Ali Budd. Ali, founder, owner, President and Principal Designer of Ali Budd Interiors, is one of Toronto’s most in-demand interior designers. Her boutique firm focusses on high-end luxury residential buildings. Known for its timeless yet edgy designs, bespoke furniture and white-glove service, Ali Budd Interiors – and Ali’s designs – have been featured in countless publications including House and Home, Style at Home, and Martha Stewart Living. Her firm’s designs have also graced television screens on HGTV and Global News. The 2018 winner of the Interior Designer of the Year award from The Notable Awards, Ali takes nothing for granted and knows she’s worked hard, learned well, and given herself the proper foundation for success. Confidence, too, also helps.

“I’m a very intelligent business woman. I have a good head on my shoulders. I’m proud of what I’ve built; I’ve worked my ass off to do it.”

 

Working her ass off is nothing new for Ali. She says she always knew she wanted to build her own brand and be her own boss and so set about learning from the ground up how to do that. Her penchant for creativity was something instilled by her parents as they would allow her to move the furniture around in their home and experiment with new styles while also fostering a love of art by taking her to visit museums. They also gave her the gift of education. Describing herself as a “naughty” high school student, Ali says her parents moved her to a private school where she flourished and after years of diligent study, was awarded a scholarship to Huron. “I’m proud to say I did have options when I was applying to university, which if you had told 14-year-old me that, I probably wouldn’t have believed you, but 17-year-old me did have options.”

 

It was Huron, she says, that helped her become the businessperson she is today. One that’s not afraid to take risks, stretch herself creatively, and express herself. One that sets her own rules, knows her value and fundamentally, how to express all of the above with potential clients. Huron, she says, taught her everything and no one will ever tell her an undergraduate degree in the liberal arts – Ali majored in English – is useless. “Now, I’m obviously an interior designer running a firm in Toronto. Is that directly correlated to what I did at Huron? Of course not, but it is part of my success as a human and as an educated person; I don’t think I actually could have done this in the way I have done it, without having that as a foundation to work off of,” she says. “How about the fact that I know how to write?”, she rhetorically questions the naysayers of an undergrad degree. “It sounds ridiculous, but I know how to communicate. I can sit with CEOs and professional people from all walks of life and have intelligent conversations where I feel confident and I can speak eloquently and I can communicate what it is I’m trying to say. I understand how to write e-mails. I understand general history of certain things and I think just diversifying your mind from any business you go into, it gives you an incredible foundation to pursue whatever your dreams are.”

 

Those dreams have taken Ali to the pinnacle in her career. She’s now in the enviable position of hand-picking clients. “I’m at the point now,” she says bluntly, “where I won’t work for an asshole.” Ali’s success has enabled her to have clear-cut rules: she doesn’t meet with clients on weekends; she doesn’t meet with clients in the evenings; and she doesn’t answer e-mails during those times, either. These are the maxims she also enforces for her employees. A work/life separation is a must for the single mother of two young children. “I’m not quite sure where it became that you literally have to be present 24-hours-a-day. It’s not okay. And my staff, too; part of the culture is that I don’t want them to feel like that, either.”

 

Ali Budd Interiors specializes in providing its clients with an exemplary experience. All their needs are not only met, but exceeded. Whether it’s redesigning one room or doing a complete remodel of a home, Ali Budd Interiors delivers inspired spaces on time and on budget and caters to their clients’ every desire while maintaining the rules Ali has set in place. The office culture is one of mutual admiration for all and she purposefully tossed out the window the traditional idea of what business is supposed to look like. “I literally tell my staff I love them. Is it appropriate? Probably not, but I do. I wanted to create an environment that’s fun to be in and where there’s love and passion and everyone still wants to be here,” she says. “I am so proud of my team all the time and they’re proud of me. My Dad would always tell me, you talk to everyone the same. So whether you’re talking to someone cleaning garbage off the street or you’re talking to a CEO of a bank, it doesn’t matter. Everyone is always the same and I think that’s what a true Leader with Heart practices and does.”

 

Ali says there’s no secret formula for her success other than hard work and guts. Never giving in to fear, having an entrepreneurial spirit and believing in your talent is also essential. “The risk always outweighs the rewards, whenever you’re entering into anything. It’s scary. It’s terrifying. You just have to close your eyes and leap and believe in what you’re doing. You literally tell yourself, ‘I am the best at this. I can do this better than anyone else’ and you literally keep telling yourself that.”

 

Being a business woman is also exhilarating. Ali says she sees ceilings being broken and new opportunities presenting themselves constantly. She also shares she was “floored” when she recently read an article that stated only 3% to 5% of female-run businesses get to $1 million in sales. Huron’s Silcox Memorial Library, coincidentally enough, was seminal in helping Ali learn how to be in the moment and reach her goals. “When I close my eyes and I think of my favourite space at Huron, I think of the library,” she says wistfully. “This is a great tool that Huron taught me and it’s something that I carried with me. I did not study in my room at Huron. I don’t think I ever opened a textbook in my room. I would go to the library and I would use that. It was this phenomenal way of separating your private space where you could just chill and relax, with somewhere you had to focus. And it’s something I’ve tried to do in my life since then.”

 

This separation technique helps, she says. When she’s home with her children, she’s home with her children and focussed on them. She does dinner, gives baths, cuddles, reads bedtime stories and listens to their days. They get tucked in and go to sleep, and once again she’s back working, researching, and designing beautiful spaces. Just because she’s not answering e-mails or taking meetings doesn’t mean she’s not working. Her determined will to succeed is one of the things she hopes her children will look up to her for. “I’m proud of the fact that my kids are going to watch me as they grow up trying to succeed and be successful and working for what I want and the fact that I’m doing it on my own with them. I’m proud that they’re going to see that,” she says. “Of course, I think you feel guilty all the time as a working mother. You’re either not at work, and you’re guilty about that, or you’re not with your children, and you’re guilty about that. You have to find a peace within yourself of how to navigate those feelings but ultimately, I love what I do and they see that and I really love them and I try to find a balance between those two feelings.”

 

Loving what you do is essential, says Ali. For example, obtaining an English degree. “There were no big great plans of what I was supposed to do with that. I just thought, ‘why don’t I follow something I actually love doing?’ and the guidance team at Huron really encouraged me to do it and that’s how I chose my major. I was really as simple as that,” she remembers. English bought her into contact with her favourite Huron professor, Dr. Neil Brooks through his American literature class. “He was so warm and so friendly. And it sounds incredibly cheesy but he was so inspiring. The way he was talking about what we were reading and what the course was going to look like and what we were going to be doing. I remember feeling that I had made the right choice.”

 

For his part, Dr. Brooks says he’s flattered with the praise but that all the success Ali is achieving is down solely to her initiative and drive. “Ali is the perfect illustration of how passionate commitment leads to success and satisfaction regardless of where that passion is directed,” he says. “Our English graduates have found success in an incredibly wide range of endeavours. Engaging with literature helps all our students to better tell their own stories and better empathize with and influence the stories of others.”

 

Ali reiterates that the Huron experience is unmatched. “I can’t imagine someone would end up there and think they’d made a mistake,” she says. She encourages students to experience everything while at Huron and to realize they are receiving one of the top-notch educations in the country, even if they’re not sure what it is they wish to do with the rest of their lives. “I don’t think when you start university you need to know what you want to do. I think for a lot of people that’s going to be ever changing, and it should be. You should have different goals and want to pursue different dreams and follow your passion but regardless of what you do, you need some sort of foundation to do it.” And a Huron education? “It’s an incredible foundation.”