Authority Magazine
Published in

Authority Magazine

Women Of The C-Suite: Cecilia Caparas Apelin of Ciel Creative Space On The Five Things You Need To Succeed As A Senior Executive

Hire people who are aligned with your mission. One thing that I’ve done with my team, is empower them to allow their passions to come through in their work. This is when people perform the best when they feel connected, passionate, and aligned, and this is what gets us through the more difficult parts of the job.

As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite , we had the pleasure of interviewing Caparas Apelin.

Cecilia Caparas Apelin is the founder and CEO of Ciel Creative Space in Berkeley, CA. Cecilia reimagined the way creatives come together by offering a sanctuary filled with custom metal design, calming white walls, hundreds of plants, and breathtaking natural light. As a woman of color with an all female executive team, she brought her vision to life by creating a hub for fashion, art, music, and tech in her inspiring studio space spanning over 40,000 square feet in the heart of the Bay Area.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I grew up in a creative environment. My dad was into fashion, art, music, and so was my mom. Because they had me when they were so young, I felt like I absorbed all of their creativity. It’s always been ingrained in my ethos ever since I was a young kid. My parents hosted many events and parties and I always just thought this was part of everyday life.

An artist at heart, my dad would paint, build furniture, or plant gardens. I love beauty in all things, and especially gravitated towards fashion, art, and music, because of my upbringing. I always knew I wanted to either work in fashion or music. After studying business marketing in college, I started working in advertising in the radio industry which was a perfect culmination of music and business. It was an instant fit. I used to work with the biggest ad agencies, from Hal Riney, to Landor, to W + K. It’s so funny because I was only 22 years old, supporting all of the really big accounts. I got to see firsthand, all of these interactions within a super male dominated space and how they were able to lock deals in. At the end of the day, I realized everybody is just human. I think that the biggest deals were closed when people were the most authentic with themselves, and with the brand they represented. I learned early on the value of human connection and authenticity within business.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

You would think the most interesting story occurred in 2020, considering we were a new business trying to stay afloat during the pandemic. However, the most interesting story actually happened at the very beginning of this journey in 2018. Just as we were finalizing construction and getting the operations team in place, my amazingly talented partner, Alexis Laurent, had a tragic accident while boogie boarding at Stinson Beach. Alexis was leading the design and construction execution, and suddenly got into a life altering accident where he broke his neck and became quadriplegic. So, here’s a guy that was living his best life, who was adventurous and would take on tons of physical activities, especially as an artist, now suddenly unable to do what he was meant to do on this earth. Alexis put all of his soul and being into the design of Ciel, and it became his greatest installation. Leading up to the accident, I witnessed him day in and day out use his hands leaving imprints of his magnificent energy throughout Ciel. He was welding, he was hammering, he was up on fifty-foot ladders scaling the beams and planting our first plants. And suddenly, everything changed overnight. He went from being highly involved with every single detail of the space, to suddenly being unable to step inside.

After the accident, with only one month left to finalize construction, I instantly knew in my gut I had to muster up the strength and the focus to step in for Alexis. I had never led a construction site, let alone ten different teams, not to mention stepping into a new role as CEO. In addition, I was balancing the shock, trauma, and grief of the accident, all while being present for my two young daughters. I found the deepest inner strength, focus and power to have a clear vision to get us to the finish line, and miraculously, had our soft opening as planned. Everybody loved the space. As I gave the tours and spoke to Alexis’ artistry, all I could think about was him fighting for his life in the hospital. That evening, I flew out to Denver where he was and told him, “we did it.” Unable to speak, he mouthed back, “I’m so proud of you.”

And so here we are now.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The funniest story actually involves our very own Director of Communications, Eileen, before she joined our Ciel team. The reason she found out about Ciel was because she needed a studio to rent for a photo shoot for her Women’s Circle. It was a Saturday morning, and I was opening that day. As I walked into our front door, I saw the biggest puddle of water in our main entrance! I noticed it trickling from the top of the stairs onto the new lathe that we had just installed and moving its way into our cafe, where Eileen and her group needed to go through. Merde!

I quickly traced the river of water spewing from our upstairs Atelier, coming from one of the toilets from the women’s restroom that apparently had overflowed the night before. With only 30 minutes before Eileen and her group arrived, I had to mop it up all by myself…in my dress and Prada heels!

One of my operations managers eventually arrived, thank goodness, and helped get the rest of the space set up while I scurried to find a plumber who came as quickly as he could, as the water would not let up! The stairs, the art, the downstairs walls were all drenched, and all I could do was keep mopping it up, and pray to the photoshoot angels that

Eileen didn’t walk in on this mess!

By the time Eileen arrived, we had her go through another entrance and had her team set up. They had no idea what had happened, and that on the other side of their meditation, it was a complete shit show, no pun intended.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Alexis made my vision come alive. Back in 2016, I was on set in Santa Cruz with one of my favorite photographers.

She asked me what the next step was for my creative agency in my career with Indigo Sky. I quickly responded with one of my biggest dreams that I’ve had for quite some time. I always wanted to have a space because I always saw a huge opportunity in the market for our industry to have a home. The Bay area is ripe with talented creatives and I wanted to highlight that through all the work and projects that I had. We needed a safe space without any egos or filters. My friend absolutely loved this idea and suggested that I look for an investor. Initially, I felt completely hesitant.

My grandma had always told me never to depend on anyone, especially for money, so the idea of having to rely on an investor was hard for me to wrap my head around. After some convincing, my friend, set up a meeting to chat with someone that she felt was a good fit. His name is Alexis Laurent.

The first time I met Alexis was at his art studio. I had a completely different vision of what an investor was suppose to be and he broke all of those stereotypes in my head. I was thinking of someone very professional, someone a little intimidating, who would be swarming with questions around finance and understanding my business case. However, I got the complete opposite. We ended up having the deepest, heartfelt conversation about life. We instantly connected on so many levels with our views, values, creative energy, business assertions, and how we wanted to make an impact in the world. It felt completely aligned. It felt natural. At the end of the conversation, he was completely in for the mission and we instantly started on this journey called Ciel.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

I like to ground the energy, whether it’s by myself, in the space where we’re going to have the meeting, or a quick meditation of setting intentions before the conversation happens. I make sure to take a moment to do all of that, regardless of how busy it is. I also think it’s important to extend these self-care practices to the teams that I am leading. When I was a producer and director for Gap Inc, I would circle up my entire crew for a moment of meditation and intention setting before we went on set. With my team at Ciel, I was able to bring my management team to Joshua Tree for a retreat this past October. We aligned our missions for the businesses by getting away, and enhanced our experiences with sound baths, connecting to nature, and energy work. And then personally, lots of baths, lots of wine, and lots of hikes.

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

Executives are the decision makers, the gatekeepers, the ones driving the messaging, especially when working in marketing and media. We are in control of what story is being told, and who is being represented. It starts with us, as space holders. Because of this, it is vital that a business’ executive team is representative of the people it may serve, so that voices are being heard and represented. For example, when I was an Art Director and Producer for Gap Inc, I made decisions to diversify our models with LGBTQIA couples and People of Color. And later, that was the whole reason I started Ciel Creative Space — to be inclusive, to create a team that I felt was needed given the imbalance of power within the corporate world, within the tech world, within the creative industry. There is an imbalance of energies, and it was always my goal to be the decision maker as a woman of color executive, and to have a female-led team. That is not to say we don’t hire men, we do, but I do think it’s important to choose from a very diverse pool. That’s part of the reason our team is so amazing. Each person is incredibly unique but very well apt to do what they need to do, and everybody is their own boss. One of the things I always felt we needed as part of our culture is to be authentic and to be true to yourself, true to your values, true to your expectations of what you want in this career, and really just having a clear focus of yourself so that you can perform at a higher level of productivity when you step into a very diverse team. Not one person is alike which adds to the culture of this team. We all learn from each other.

As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.

I opened Ciel to create a positive impact on society. This work is deeply important to me, so much so that I created an entire Community department as a part of Ciel’s business model. To create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society, it is vital to center voices of those that historically aren’t heard. It is up to us, as business leaders, to lead the way and be a model of what inclusivity looks like in our industry. In addition to the makeup of our team, we’ve done this through various projects at Ciel, including partnering with various nonprofit organizations focusing on art for youth of color, centering BIPOC artists through various inhouse productions, and selecting art of our installations from people of color. During the 2020 BLM protests, we lead the Bay Area production industry in a Call to Action, raising money for three local organizations working to uplift the Black Community from the ground up. Our current project is creating a BIPOC crew list of photographers, gaffers, and production assistants to help diversify the production industry as it is currently incredibly homogeneous. As a business leader, I carry a responsibility to ensure we are uplifting and creating safety for all those that walk into our doors, virtually and physically. It starts with the intention to make sure the space is inclusive, representative, and equitable. This work is continuous. We are constantly evolving, learning, and revisiting our own IDEA policies here at Ciel. It is a lifelong, ongoing process, and one we are proud to be leading the way within the production and event industry.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

A CEO leads with a clear vision for the business, and thought leadership for the industry, and social impact and responsibility for the community. And that’s the trifecta that I think makes up a really good CEO.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

I’m not a bitch. I’m just a hustler. Also, CEOs are humans too. I am the biggest dork and that comes across in my everyday interactions at Ciel.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

There is a huge disparity between perception and reality when it comes to communication between men and women. One example of a challenge our female team faced was virtualizing our space during the pandemic. We seized the opportunity to make massive upgrades since we anticipated the need for more virtual and live streaming productions.

We partnered with various experts in the field to help make this happen, all of whom were men. Instantly we noticed their tone, demeanor, and word choice changed, as they instantly downplayed and oversimplified the way they explained things to us, assuming we wouldn’t understand. There was a lot of ego in the air as the work was being executed. We made suggestions based on our knowledge of the building and business, however our voices weren’t heard. So, in the end, we had to take over the project, because it wasn’t executed in the way our clients needed it to be. This experience was one of many and reminded us that sexism still exists in the professional arena. We are constantly fighting to be taken seriously.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

I thought I would be sipping some champagne on a beach in Bali right now. I’ve literally had to pour my blood, sweat, and tears day in and down since we opened and I am working 10–16 hours each day. I think the biggest misconception is that CEOs or bosses just have their teams do everything while they play golf or shop but it’s so not true.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?

An executive is a leader in all situations. One has to be flexible, strong willed, and must have to have a clear vision even during times of uncertainty. Executives need to lead with intention, and must be authentic to who they are, because one will get hit with so many challenges. In the end, it’s about how you react to those challenges, and show up for yourself and the company.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

Hire people who are aligned with your mission. One thing that I’ve done with my team, is empower them to allow their passions to come through in their work. This is when people perform the best when they feel connected, passionate, and aligned, and this is what gets us through the more difficult parts of the job.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

That’s my entire mission, making space to be human. The reason I started this company was so that I could make a positive change in the world, and I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think it was possible. As humans, creation is our birthright. However, when you create things that come from within, you’re susceptible to being vulnerable and exposing your inner truth, and that can be scary. But this is vital to the human experience, because it is how we heal and grow. So, if I can offer a creative sanctuary for people to do this work, I believe I am making the world a better place.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. I would say, get ready for crazy because every day is different.

2. It is a startup culture so you have to be willing to do the biggest and smallest tasks every day, and there can’t be any ego associated with it.

3. You have to be ready for flexibility.

4. You are you and no one can ever change that. Your truth is unwavering and that is where you draw your confidence from because your truth is yours and now one else’s. If you’re able to accept that, you can easily do anything.

5. It really comes down to truth, love, passion, and happiness.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

To live in their truth.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“The days are long but the years are short.”

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

Michelle Obama. She wears so many hats with so much grace, and I find her energy and leadership so grounding and effective.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this!

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

827 Followers

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.