© Nathan Mandell
Profile: Carmin '05 and Winston Awadzi '02
couple launches custom home company
Awadzi '05, president and founder of Wheaton, Ill.-based Magnolia
Custom Homes, takes home design seriously. On a recent afternoon,
she dropped everything to field a call from a client wracked
by indecision. At issue were the particulars of two kitchen
windows in the client's new home. The call lasted 90 minutes.
Awadzi, whose real-estate business was featured in 2007 on
HGTV's "Dream House," the call was a routine diversion. "If
you want to call me at 11 o'clock, 12 o'clock, if you want
to talk about cabinets — I'm there," she says. Awadzi
knows too well how a bit of molding or a light fixture can
send people into a panic. A few years before she became a
successful real-estate entrepreneur and a minor TV star, she
was a first-time homebuilder with no one to call for cabinet
all started when Awadzi's family, including husband Winston
— a 2002 Kellogg grad — and four children, moved
back to Chicagoland after pursuing post-Kellogg opportunities
in Kansas. They wanted to "plant roots" in the area, said
Winston, but none of the homes they toured seemed right for
them. He suggested that Carmin take a year off to build a
new home for the family. Carmin, who had run her own software-development
business before earning her MBA, wasn't convinced. "Are you
nuts?" she asked Winston.
An engineer by training,
Winston says he first looked into business education in the
mid-1990s. With the Internet just beginning to catch on and
his engineering skills in high demand, Winston considered
starting his own business. "I started to learn how much of
an engineer I was and how much of a business person I was
not," he says. He was at a professional crossroads: Should
he join a large firm to gain business experience or return
to school for an MBA?
management at Lucent asked Winston to join the company in
1999, he says he initially balked at the offer. But then the
company flashed its trump card: "They said, 'Well, what if
we pay for your Kellogg education?' And I said, 'Now you've
got my attention.'"
the director of consumer sales at Sprint, Winston manages
a team of several hundred people. "I have continued to build
upon my Kellogg education," he says. "That's at the core."
says the value of an MBA in real estate is "immense," adding,
"Without my Kellogg training, I certainly wouldn't have been
able to start this business and have it be successful so quickly."
A woman in a male-dominated industry, Carmin initially had
to work around contractors skeptical that a woman with no
previous building experience could possibly know the first
thing about constructing homes, so she had to do a lot of
independent, guerilla-style field research without the industry's
blessing. Fortunately, obtaining blueprints for existing homes
from city records, estimating the costs of materials and calculating
the profit margins all felt like second nature after Kellogg.
"I knew I had to stay four steps ahead of these guys," she
Carmin says being a woman did give her credibility with an
important segment of her customer base. "I knew that I would
have a distinct advantage, because who makes the primary decisions
about home purchase? It's the wife," she says, and the wife
doesn't mind when another woman calls her up after dinner
and invites her out to look at a few more houses right
now. "I'm selling lifestyle, she adds. "I'm not just selling
a house. And I don't think a lot of these guys get that."
says her business has brought her closer to her community:
"Building homes is building community. It's so personal to
people. To be able to build a home and to make a living doing
something that touches people so intimately is amazing."