I use both sides of my brain in my work, and that’s unusual for creative people. Creative people usually ignore the business part of the brain, and that’s why many creative people aren’t great at business management. I’ve been lucky, in that I’m surrounded by successful business people. My parents owned a furniture business, so I learned a lot growing up around that, but I was also taught by some of my best clients. In fact, all of my design clients are high-net -worth individuals and entrepreneurs. I was always curious about how my clients became successful, and in the early days of my design business, I wasn’t shy about asking those clients about how to run a business, and what inspired them.
I remember a specific client of mine who sat me down one day and brought attention to the way I bill. He even explained how to price my services. I was really young at the time (I’ve been in business for about 34 years, so it was probably in my fifth year in design) and he showed me how I could standardize my fee structure and streamline my product costing. He said point blank that I’d have to start valuing my business and my time, and reminded me who my clients were. He said, ‘if you want to be really valued, you can’t be shy about valuing yourself.”
Clients also guided me when I opened my product business, GlucksteinHome. One quite successful client guided me on private equity. He talked about financing the business by myself and resisting the urge to go outside for capital. As a result of that — and great financial advice and management — I proudly own 100% of that business. As my client pointed out, ‘You have enough revenue coming in between all your businesses to finance and grow your business yourself.’
I’ve spoken to students and other young designers along the way. Besides studying design (which many young people don’t seem to think they have to do), I encourage them to work for the best people, so that they can learn the business. So many people want to open their own business, and so many of them want to do it right away, but you need to learn on the job about construction, design, sourcing. Early on, you don’t know how to run a business, although you think you do.
One of the most important things I’ve learned from my clients, aside from business, is to give back. My clients are some of the most philanthropic people in the country. The amount of money that my clients give to charities is extraordinary. I see first-hand that it gives you a balance in life, and I think it’s important for everybody to really make a contribution, no matter where you are in life. I’m on the board of the Children’s Aid Foundation and the work we do there is so important to me. We support children in care — either the foster care system, group homes, homeless youth in the child welfare system. Because of my clients, philanthropy is a growing part of my life.
In the end, although people may disagree, running the business is as important as the creative side. You can’t be creative if your business collapses. I’ve been very lucky to have clients that have taken the time to mentor me and teach me how to build an effective business.
AS TOLD TO