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Thursday, 3 June 2010

Making your creative business fly (part 2)

This is the second part of the Do What You Love interview with Kathy Heslop (see here for part 1).  Kathy is an incredible woman who has lived many lives already, as professional musician, nautical globetrotter and serial entrepreneur who has seen multi-million dollar success for her creative businesses. We share a love of good wine, good food and good chat. She also happens to be one of the funniest women I know.

What spontaneous thing have you done that seemed random at the time but made sense later, or was instrumental in putting you on the path you are on today?

Moving to New York. The opportunity came about suddenly at what was actually a blissfully happy time in my life and made no personal sense whatsoever. Only three months earlier we had bought our first apartment and I was enjoying creating my brand new home. But off we went to set up the US office of our UK business, ultimately to live in one room above that first office for over two years! People tell us we were brave. I say more naive and gung ho. We knew no one out there. That we survived and went on to create a successful business is testament to the tremendous capacity New Yorkers have for welcoming and encouraging young entrepreneurs. It lead to eight incredible years of living in Manhattan and a raft of amazing experiences; building the business, working with some truly wonderful people, meeting others, travelling, learning new skills. We acquired an archive of global business experience from investment raising, to recruiting, running an interactive production team, negotiating licensing deals, dealing with approvals processes, organising manufacturing in different continents, dealing with shipping logistics and running three offices worldwide, all of which has lead us to the point we are at now - operating our little boutique management consultancy and helping clients who are trying to achieve results in similar disciplines. We also learned how to really order coffee. “I’ll take a skinny, wet, single shot, soya, decaff latte to go, with extra foam on the top. And make that extra hot please.”

What is the most insightful or inspiring thing anyone has ever said to you, and who said it?
There have been several…
• I was once described as “talented but needs taming” by a contemporary British composer who shall remain unnamed. This comment was fed back to me by one of his highly amused fellow panellists after they had been judging my final recital towards my degree. I had performed the dazzling E major Bach violin Partita (fun), the ethereal Debussy violin sonata (gorgeous) and the maddeningly fiendish Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, (do not try this at home!) all dressed in, well let’s just say my own inimitable (flea market) student style and for my piece de résistance had I transcribed a beautiful Pat Metheny composition to play with a Jazz pianist. Evidently my technicolour musical ‘cabaret’ was perceived as the Classical equivalent of having red wine with chicken! Nonetheless his comment provided great amusement and I have to confess it only fuelled my creative spirit more. I was flattered. Follow the herd? I think not.

• Always make time for silly,” Humphrey Lyttleton. (Humph was another of life’s polymaths – Jazz trumpeter, cartoonist, BBC broadcaster, calligrapher... and utterly hilarious guy).

• A business owner once told me “your troubles start once you have staff.” I couldn’t relate at the time, but for some reason it struck a chord and I never forgot it. Nowadays I know that with strategic hiring and a good company ethos, your workplace should be a happy and rewarding place for staff to be. However in spite of a kind and nurturing culture at her company, she had some incredible horror stories. So don’t be naive in business and especially now. We are living in exceptional ‘get rich quick’ times, (fuelled by the economic downturn and especially endorsed by the popular media). There are people in business who will try to fast track their careers via unethical methods, rather than cultivate a path and enjoy the process of gaining valuable business acumen and skills along the way, people who think kindness is a weakness in business and presume that you’ve had it easy. They don’t see or comprehend the hard work and sacrifice that has lead a business up to the point of actually being able to create their employment. So warning! If you do recruit, mine for diamonds.

• “You won’t recognise your business in 12 months time” – my husband. The message being - be open to change. Revenue can come from sectors that you don’t always anticipate. You will be amazed how you can unveil hidden profits in previously untapped markets. (He is one of those entrepreneurs who has the phenomenal ability to zoom out and take a 35,000ft view of a business).

How do you keep believing in yourself when things go wrong, or don't turn out how you wanted them to?
I’ve always been self employed, so I’m used to having to ‘eat what I kill’ and therefore have no other point of reference. But I’ve also had to learn to toughen up along the way too. In my experience, when the chips are down there’s always a solution, you just have to get into a good head space, ideally surround yourself with positive, smart people and then get problem solving! Employing other people is also massively motivating - if you’ve got to make pay roll, you have no choice but to crack on! (We had a million dollars of overheads a month before we even switched a light bulb on in New York...)

I do have a personal point of reference though that gives me a sobering context when things have gone wrong. And that is 9/11. I was in Manhattan that day and those horrific events have gone on to amplify just how lucky I am and they can always be used to trivialise any kind of work headaches. Nothing can ever compare. And after the shocking attacks, no waaay were we going to abandon New York or fail! I’m proud that we dug in and went on to raise over $60M in investment and create jobs during our time there. So my advice would be to find some similar point of reference that is close to your heart and that works as a motivating reality check whenever you need a jumpstart. Or feel free to borrow mine.

When you believe in what you do, real failure isn’t an option. Instead position yourself to succeed, persist and to quote Winston Churchill; “never never quit.” Maybe this concept was indoctrinated in me as a by-product of a rather intense musical training from a young age, because actually you never ever stop learning a instrument, even when you get to a professional level. So keep sharpening that pencil. Create change. Never stagnate. Be resilient. Reinvent. And embrace the process, “the journey is the reward...” (Tao saying).

If you had no fear, and if money was no object, what would you do?
I play the piano and if I had no fear I would be *brazen* enough to ask Diana Krall to teach me and if money was no object, I’d be *rich* enough to pay for the lessons! With financial freedom I would also love to have a gîte in southern France and divide my time between it and London. I speak decent French, but it would be great to get so fluent that I can actually dream in it! Then plenty more of the nice stuff: cooking and feasting with friends, travel, going out and about in London, reading, surfing (web), Yoga, silver smithing, (my latest challenge!) I love stimulation. People who sit back and miss out on their lives baffle me. Oh and I’d love to work part time, and be able to have a dog, but currently there isn't a self sufficent breed that can cook, clean and walk itself.

Where is your favourite place in London for sitting and dreaming about stuff?
I have a few…
• My roof garden. Specifically at night with candles, a glass of wine and Tony Bennett’s album, (one of the ones with the incredible Bill Evans accompanying) drifting on the night time air. If you get chance to see him perform live just do it, it’s an incredible honour. I have never known a performer radiate such tremendous warmth and sincerity, (as well as world class musicianship) from the stage. Tony has a really neat foundation too that works to transform the lives of young people through arts education. He’s truly one of life’s wonderfuls on so many levels, including being an exquisite painter as well! Also check out his gorgeous album: Playin' with My Friends: Bennett Sings the Blues and I defy you not to be impressed when you learn who the other worldly voice belongs to on track four. Whilst we’re on it, here’s another breathtakingly album whose delicacy just knocks me out and I would like to also evangelise about: Sandrine Piau - Debussy Mélodies
in the roof garden

• Tom Toms cafe my friendly local which makes THE best coffee outside of Milan. It has a rustic communal table where neighbours can sit around helping themselves from a gargantuan bowl full of enormous pillowy croissants, dogs at their feet. The cafe also hosts book club meets and dinner party nights, when locals pile over and one of them plays chef in the kitchen. The owner Tom (go figure), is another of life’s wonderfuls. (Wonderfuls: {noun} - people who make the world a sweeter place to be. Just for the hell of it).

• The rose bushed and lanterned churchyard of the Actor’s church in Covent Garden, with its fabulous park benches and deliciously worded tributes to long-gone luvvies. A beautiful space for relaxing and people watching. It’s just a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of the crowds and the street performers in the Apple Market, but you’d never know it.

• Any of the Royal Parks. A staggering 25% of London is made up of parks, (the city’s lungs). And they are all beautiful. Green outdoor space is so important to me. When we were in New York, we rescued the neglected backyard at our first office, decked it, put a lovely water feature in and planted it. It became a little garden oasis in the hub of noisy, concrete Manhattan, a place where our staff could lunch and we held some magical candlelit parties too. I think we were also the only office in Manhattan to have eccentric ‘English country garden’ floral hanging baskets dangling outside our front door!

Spitalfields Market- colourful, creative, vibrant and Dickensian. You can just sense the history here, (it’s also in the heart of Jack the Ripper territory) and it’s a fabulous seed bed for exciting, young, design talent and fun community activities. There are a few neat restaurants and bars there too.

l’m evidently rather loud and proud of my soulful city, with its many diverse neighbourhoods, their bewitching nooks and crannies, and its eclectic arts scene. London is such an exciting, creative melting pot to live in!
Thank you Beth for this opportunity to meet your ever-expanding tribe of wonderfuls. I hope I’ve helped a little. Good luck everyone.

Check out Kathy's companies: Knowledge MGI and VE Interactive 

Be inspired by more Do What You Love interviews here


  1. Hey Beth, i got your lovely giveaway in the post this week. THANK YOU so much. :-) And for sharing this interview series so many amazing women you know. I especially love this quote above “talented but needs taming” made me chuckle. Have a great weekend xx

  2. Thank you so much for this interview. I love the "wonderfuls" definition - it's making me feel very thankful for all the "wonderfuls" in my own life! x

  3. Oh my goodness. This interview series is fantastic! Thank you, thank you, thank you...

  4. thank you so much for sharing this interview with us....such great insight and inspiration!!

    i am flying with you and wanted to pop in and say "hi"!!

    i love all the great questions you asked of Kathy....really good stuff!!

    happy Sunday!!


  5. Dearest Beth, this is so inpirational! I really adore your "Do What You Love" column so far! Thanks so much for sharing all these wonderful interview with us! Have a lovely merry happy day and love to you!

  6. so incredible to hear others' stories as i start my own creative biz journey. just remarkable to read part 2 of kathy's story. thank you so much for sharing and being so incredibly inspiring!

    xo, juliette

  7. I saw your name and blog on Kelly Rae's flying lessons, I love your blog, great interview too. I haven't told any friends or family I'm blogging yet!!! It's all new to me and they scare me!
    Your blog is very inspirational.... Thanks .. Collette

  8. I accidentally stumbled across this article, and I absolutely loved it! I could not stop reading it. I read it twice so that I would not miss a single word. Kathy Heslop has lived such an exciting and colorful life and I also long to live such a life. This article has really inspired me to push forward towards a life filled with total enchantment and wonderment.


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