Jeff Leatham is an artist, entrepreneur and celebrity florist, best known for his work as the artistic director of the Four Seasons Hotel George V in Paris and the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. Leatham has a growing brand and staff, with offices in Paris and Los Angeles. His award-winning floral installations, often compared to contemporary art, have landed him prestigious collaborations with luxury brands all over the world, such as Alexander McQueen, Balenciaga, Swarovski Crystal, Givenchy, Burberry, Tiffany & Co, Samsung and many more.
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He’s also managed to become a go-to resource for celebrity clientele like Tina Turner, Oprah Winfrey, Madonna, Celine Dion and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He starred in his own TLC docu-series, Flowers Uncut, and has appeared on Oprah Winfrey, Martha Stewart and Queen Latifah shows. He has designed two books, collector vases, a makeup collection, home decor items, fine fragrances and even the Rolls Royce Phantom for the Four Seasons George V, in collaboration with Hermes.
I was excited to talk with Leatham about mastering creativity in business, making amazing detailed ideas become a reality, landing celebrity clientele and much more. Here are my top eight lessons for entrepreneurs that consider themselves true artists, from my conversation with him.
Look for the common thread in your career.
Many designers, creators, writers and the like have trouble focusing in on one career path. Leatham never thought he’d be a florist, but instead followed his passion for design and creativity. Even at 19, he saw the art in managing a Gap store.
“Even if people think it’s kind of strange, there’s a certain art to that. Opening the store, the organization … knowing how to put the same colored socks with the same color T-shirt.”
Leatham moved on from the Gap to other jobs, but continued to find the artistic angle to whatever he was doing. He recalled that he grew up loving art, loving to draw and even to redecorate his bedroom.
Think back through what you’ve loved doing, even as a child, and in all your positions throughout your career, and find a common theme that you can pursue. Leatham’s was design, and he says the key to finding work you love is to have an open mind and see where your passion and creativity will take you.
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Be willing to work.
Are you willing to put in the work to keep your dream alive? I was impressed when Leatham said, “Even today, if this doesn’t work out (which I think it’s going to, this whole flower thing) then I would have no problems working for The Gap or Starbucks again.” He explained that his wholesome upbringing in Utah instilled traditional work values and the importance of keeping busy.
Keep busy, he does. Now he splits his time between Paris and Los Angeles, managing not only both hotel floral shops but his own clientele of brides, awards shows, celebrity parties, etc. “Basically, the only time I get to relax is when I’m on an airplane,” he said.
An incredible work ethic — not just to work smart but to also work hard and to the love work itself — is a common trait among the multimillionaire innovators, entrepreneurs and celebrities I interview on The Pursuit.
Always keep learning.
Another common piece of advice from my guests: a love for learning, whether through reading, studying the marketplace or staying current in one’s craft. Leatham says he learns a little something every day.
“I’m still learning from my employees. They’re great designers. Sometimes they’ll teach me something with a technique with a flower that they’ve learned before,” he shared. “Just because you’re the boss doesn’t mean you’re the boss of everything …. I’m still learning business-wise how to run by business. My amazing assistant, Emily, teaches me things every day that make me a better money manager, or a better boss, or managing people in general. So, I look at life as like a big experience, and not every day’s amazing. But, most every day, you’re proud of yourself.”
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Create your big break.
When Leatham heard about the open position at the Four Seasons in Paris, he applied, but was turned down because he was an American. However, he heard that some of the executives from Paris were planning a visit to the Los Angeles hotel. He saw that as his moment, and made sure that they would be wowed.
“They walked in and saw the flowers in person, and they said, ‘Can you be in Paris in two weeks?'” he recalled. “You have those moments in life that … can change your whole life, and that’s what happened to me.”
Find ways to create your own opportunities when you see an opening, and don’t take no for an answer. “I really wanted the job, and so I sent several emails. Anyone out there [reading this] — be persistent and never give up,” Leatham said.
Be generous with influencers.
Leatham was great at “influencer marketing” before it was a trend.
“I know this sounds strange, but keeping an open mind, in the beginning, maybe [also an open] pocketbook, because sometimes you have to give away some free things to get that to happen,” he said. “You want to send some things to them, kind of as a note just to get their attention. As time goes on, maybe a little reminder. And then, usually they’ll start to call you and use you. So … the best way to look at it is as more of a business expense. How many people have called me and said, Oh my gosh. You’ve done the Clintons’ wedding, or Sofia Vergara, or Eva Longoria, or the Kardashians, or this or that, and I’ve gotten business from that.”
Resist the urge to be stingy — you want to not just send free product, but send free product that will wow them. Also, note that Leatham said sometimes he did this more than once. Stay connected, follow up and eventually you’ll see the return on the investment in that relationship.
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Don’t overthink creative work.
Leatham’s work has changed the entire floral industry. How does he continue to innovate, especially when he’s doing his installations not just for art’s sake but to fit the vision of a bride or an event planner? Creative work takes breathing room, Leatham explained, so set the expectation with your client up front, ensuring the work doesn’t get over-managed.
“I think, for me, it’s really not thinking about it too much …. If I have a job in October, then I’ll start to think about it first part of September. Clearly, the planning process is there and we get the whole design idea, but I think when you plan too far ahead, then you kind of lose yourself in it. I know for me, for example, my best ideas come very last minute. I usually tell clients, if you have a big project, a wedding, or an awards show or something in your home, contact me probably six months before, just so we can start the process.”
Be willing to let go of control.
Obviously it takes a team to pull off Leatham’s impressive, sometimes giant, installations. His advice for giving your creative work over to others? Make sure you completely trust everyone on your team.
“Surround yourself with people with no ego. You, yourself, can’t have an ego,” he explained. “And it’s just about keeping proper communication, sending photographs, making sure that I do have an open mind to their design and know that they have your back with design and with your business. When I really decided to myself that I don’t have to do everything myself. I can be the face of my brand, the name of my brand, but I don’t always have to be there 100 percent of the time. That’s when my business actually started to grow.”
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But, remember you are your brand.
Still, it’s your name on the door. How did he build such a glowing reputation in two competitive cities? How can you do the same?
“Be yourself. You can take ideas from other people, but have your own style. Have your own personality. Have your own way of doing business … then people will always remember you. If you’re mimicking something else, then you’re just one of the other pack members.”
As your personal brand grows, your team grows and your reach grows. Now, Leatham can think way beyond himself when it comes to his next creation or idea. “It’s not about me, me, me, anymore. It’s about: Who can I work with so that we can create bigger and better things together?”
Today, of course, building a personal brand that attracts clients means you need to be active on your personal social media accounts. Time consuming, yes, as Leatham admits to sometimes spending hours on curating his Instagram account, currently with over 600,000 followers. But, Leatham keeps a positive perspective on it. “I think that’s the most important thing with Instagram and Facebook and Snapchat, is not looking at it as a burden, more as a way that you’re inspiring people. They maybe have a hundred-dollar budget, but you’re able to inspire them to want to achieve more and to do better and to be a better person, or to be a kinder person, or to be a better designer.”
Watch in-depth interviews with celebrity entrepreneurs on The Pursuit with Kelsey Humphreys
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