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Women of the C-Suite: “Surround yourself with supportive peers in your field and NETWORK!”, With Jennifer Weisberg

Surround yourself with supportive peers in your field and NETWORK! I would not have a client to my name if it were not for my perpetual networking. I am a member of many networking groups and some of my greatest referrals have come from professionals in completely different industries with whom I have consciously built and maintained relationships with.

As a part of our series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Weisberg of JLW Interiors, LLC. Jennifer Weisberg, the firm’s principal designer, earned her B.F.A . in Interior Design from the Illinois Institute of Art — Chicago. Since then, she has worked for numerous firms in Chicago and New York. Jennifer prides herself on her sense of ethics and her commitment to building lasting client relationships. The firm aspires to create timeless, sophisticated spaces that mesh traditional elements with a more modern edge; and to ensure that each client’s individual needs are met throughout the collaborative design process.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I have always been attracted to beautiful things and have loved creating and styling anything at home. I believe my mom still has a voicemail from when I was a little girl where I described a toy that I wanted as “asparagus green”. I also used to browse Sotheby’s for fun as a teenager looking at multi-million dollar homes around the world…early clues that I was going to be an interior designer!

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

A mill worker built a very high-end, custom HVAC cover for a client. However he did not measure the freight elevator before fabricating it and one of the pieces was too large to fit in the elevator. The mill worker and building super attempted to hoist it up 18 floors over the outside balcony using improper equipment. This was not successful. Fortunately the enormous piece did not break and they ended up carrying it up 18 flights of stairs to get it into the unit. Never a dull moment!

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?

I was having an antique task chair reupholstered for my office and was debating between two fabrics from the same vendor. I requested two quotes. Once I decided on the fabric, I placed the order with my vendor; however I did not create a purchase order with the fabric information as I usually do for clients since this was just for my office. The fabric was delivered to my upholstery workroom and upon completion, it arrived at my office upholstered in the wrong fabric! I accidentally ordered the fabric I had decided against. This taught me not only to always send purchase orders but to double and triple check them. Thank goodness this happened on my furniture as opposed to an actual client’s project!

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of CEO or executive that most attracted you to it?

The creative freedom as well as the ability to run an ethical business. I pride myself on my sense of integrity and wanted to create a company where I could be uninhibited in my art; and create an environment where clients feel protected and taken care of rather than taken advantage of.

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?

You have to wear many hats. You are involved in and responsible for every aspect of your business. There are many incredibly talented interior designers who are not as successful as they could be, merely because schools that center on the arts have not taught them certain skills; such as business acumen or the ability to bring in clients. We can’t all be competent at everything. If you struggle with purchasing or management, hire the best bookkeeper you can to counteract your weakness. But know that you will still have to be very involved in that process as it’s YOUR company.

What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?

At the risk of sounding pretentious, I get to create a form of living art. Every piece of furniture, art, and object has meaning. And helping a family select and assemble these things together to create a home where memories are made is the main reason I love what I do.

What are the downsides of being an executive?

All the weight of a project falls on you and you alone. If I make a mistake (which is very easy to do in such a detail-oriented profession), I am responsible for conceivably millions of dollars in custom furniture.

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

Many think that because I am the CEO of my own firm, I have more free time. In fact, the opposite is true. I work longer and harder than I ever have before. But it’s so rewarding when you have the luxury to build your own empire!

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

Being treated as less than an equal professional. Unfortunately I have experienced this many times and do my utmost to set tactful yet clear boundaries on how I am valued as an authority in my field.

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

Prior to working in the industry, I thought I would get to design and select fabrics all day. In reality, I would say at least 70% of my job is project management: working with contractors, architects, and vendors, client purchasing, coordinating deliveries, etc. This job involves a lot of stress and tedious tasks.

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?

I think that you need drive, strength, and passion to be an executive. And most importantly, you need a sense of humor! Passion for design is what drives me. But if I were not able to laugh at myself and at unfortunate situations, I would never make it through the day!

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

Surround yourself with supportive peers in your field and NETWORK! I would not have a client to my name if it were not for my perpetual networking. I am a member of many networking groups and some of my greatest referrals have come from professionals in completely different industries with whom I have consciously built and maintained relationships with.

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?

My parents. They instilled so much self-confidence in me growing up and I always felt celebrated and encouraged by them (even, and especially, through my moments of greatest adversity). I would not be the successful business owner that I am today without their support.

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

As an interior designer, I have experienced firsthand how women in creative industries often mistreat other women. I would like to play a part in changing this standard. Since starting my own design firm, I have chosen to dedicate my time to empowering and supporting other women entrepreneurs. I am a proud member of The Female Founder Collective and always do my utmost to encourage mutually supportive relationships between strong women in every industry!

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

1. It’s ok to say no and set boundaries for yourself. This is still a work in progress. When I overextend myself, all of my projects suffer because I can’t give each of them the attention they deserve.

2. Know when to ask for help. As I am a very independent Aquarius, sometimes I think I can do everything for myself. In reality, it takes teamwork to grow a business.

3. You will not sleep. Self-explanatory.

4. Know how to sell yourself and your product. You have to make people aware of the assets you possess that make you the right choice for them.

5. Learn as much as possible about the products you are sourcing. For instance, I learned to make hand block printed textiles when I was in India earlier this year. This is a kind of fabric that I sell to clients often; but working on this craft myself enabled me to better explain to clients what the process entails, and how much the extensive labor contributes to the beauty and cost.

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.

In the future, I would love to start a non-profit that helps young girls with self-esteem.

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

I have two! “Success is a collection of well curated failures”. But the failures are what teach us how to succeed.

Which I think leads into my second favorite quote by dancer Martha Graham: “ It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No Artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than others.”

As an interior designer, I am never completely satisfied with my work. There is always something I think I could have done better or differently.

When does the “artist’’ decide when the work is complete or perfect?

Never. This is what moves me to keep creating.

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

Gloria Steinem, Martha Stewart, and Barbra Streisand. All incredibly smart, talented business owners and champions of women!

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



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