In 1983, black women were not necessarily a driving force in business development. Although many of them were entering the workforce full time, the thought of a woman owning a company that dealt directly with construction trades was almost unrealistic. But Carol Lilly has proved that theory to be wrong. As owner of Lil Associates II, Ms. Lilly has worked with large construction firms such as Edifice, Turner, and Rogers Builders. She has created a formidable track record in the Queen City and its surrounding areas.
SM: Tell us a little about yourself and your company? What is your specialty, and how long have you been in business?
CL: Lil Associates is a Diversity Consulting firm that has successfully developed and implemented diversity related initiatives on commercial construction projects in order to increase the opportunity for inclusion of Minority, Women, and Small Business Enterprises.
SM: What was your motivation for starting your own business?
CL: I wanted to provide opportunities for minority businesses in construction, and I wanted to know why we couldn’t find minority contractors that had substantial growth in the community. I started researching minority contractors and found that they had some deficiencies. I saw that they were not getting opportunities because they didn’t have the right information to know how to bid, where to find opportunities, and how to build their business.
They also weren’t able to have substantial growth because they were doing all the work themselves. They were doing their own Marketing, estimating, and performing the actual jobs. So we created a way to provide a service for them to assist them in finding out where the opportunities were.
SM: Did you find it hard as an MWBE to break into the industry/market?
CL: “Two contractors told me that I would not succeed in business because no one would want to work with me and no one would accept me as a Black woman in business”. As I pushed on, I wasn’t immediately accepted by men in general, and the only woman I knew was a white woman architect. At the time, women were not even included in the MWBE designation. But I learned how to work with both the minority and majority companies, and be knowledgeable about the needs on both sides. I initially became a consultant for the larger companies, and was able to connect them with minority contractors.
SM: What’s one thing that sets your company apart from others in your industry?
CL: When we take on a project, we do what we say we’re going to do. That is what brings added value to what we do. I work with both the minority contractors, and the majority contractors, so I have to be knowledgeable about their needs at all times and through all phases of the project.
And you have to love what you do in order to make a difference. If you are not passionate about what you do, then you need to be in another line of work.
SM: What are you most proud of as it relates to being an MWBE business owner and operator?
CL: I’m proud of the fact that we’ve sustained this business over time. We’ve been in business since 1983 and have been fortunate enough to be able to employ other people, as well as still manage to be philanthropic in the community.
We’ve established relationships and worked on some really great projects – we’ve worked on the Panthers’ Stadium, Johnson & Wales, Nascar, CPCC, the Coliseum, the Ballantyne Resort, and so many others that have created great opportunities for some of the area contractors.
SM: How can people get in contact with you?