Interview with Luxury Lifestyle and Wedding Ambassador Renée Strauss - A Great Read for Hoteliers
By Dr. Lily Lin, Author of "Interviewing Successful Hotel Managers"
Renée Strauss is one of the most exceptional individuals I've ever interviewed. Although her formal education was cut short in the eighth grade – like many entrepreneurs she simply does not work well under a restricted learning environment – she has never stopped learning and pushing for self-improvement and self-growth. Her career achievements are absolutely amazing if one considers the obstacles life has presented her. Renée Strauss has a bubbly personality but beneath it all, there lies will power, determination and an abundance of energy and positive spirit that few people could surpass. Her story is nothing short of inspiring and motivating combined with true American pioneering spirit!
Where did you grow up and go to school?
I grew up in Chicago. I came to California as a 16 year-old teenager. I went to a junior college [two-year college] to study foreign languages for a short time. Since I am fluent in Hebrew, I was given the opportunity to teach Hebrew in several different junior and high schools while I was studying in junior college. Other than that, I don't have a formal education. I finished my education in the eighth grade; I don't work well in a restricted environment. But my children have more than made up for it. They've gone on to get their master's and doctor's degrees.
A number of very successful hoteliers I have interviewed have had humble beginnings. Did you struggle during the early period of your career or were you born with a silver spoon in your mouth?
I was born into a family of immigrants from Germany. They were Holocaust Survivors. They really struggled hard to get accepted into the United States. In time, my mother built a very successful kosher catering business in Chicago. My father was a salesman with a charming personality, who traveled in the Midwest in the US and sold men's outerwear.
When I was 11 years old, I worked as a coat check girl at my mother's catering hall during the weekends. Once the guests arrived, they would go in the ballroom and the door was closed. I would peek into the ballroom. I loved those parties and I loved the clothing. It was so glamorous! I loved the weddings most of all. But when I went into the industrial kitchen, I couldn't stand the stainless steel pots and pans, all the shouting and the smell of food.
I arrived in California at 16. My first job was at a bridal shop. That was how I got started.
You are a successful business woman with many professional interests. How did you get into the wedding business — and not just any kind of wedding but luxury weddings with style?
I was a rebellious person. I left home when I was 14. Initially, I worked in restaurants and learned about service. When I was 16, I found a job at a bridal salon in California. I knew at that stage that my calling was to be of service to others and to make people feel welcome. I loved that I could combine service, selling big ticket items and interacting with people all in one. This seemed to come naturally to me.
After a few years of teaching Hebrew, I yearned for more. I decided that I needed to expand my horizons. So, I moved from San Diego, California to Los Angeles, where I met my first husband. He had an opportunity to buy a men's clothing business in downtown Los Angeles. In the early 1980s, through different channels, I met some people in the wholesale clothing business. I got to know the CEOs of designer jeans manufacturers, such as Calvin Klein and Jordache Jeans. Because of my contacts, I was able to purchase our supplies below wholesale prices. In retail business, the real profit is made in the "buy". That is, when you are able to buy at the right price, you are able to make a good profit.
Still, I knew it was not going to be our future. Our store was located in a bad neighborhood and I wanted to move to a much better location and sell big ticket items. Eventually, we found the only bridal shop in Beverly Hills. The owner had been in the same business for 30 years but due to her cancer diagnosis, she wanted to sell her business and live her life somewhere else. It was a very difficult sales negotiation, but in the end, we were able to purchase the business.
The physical structure of the bridal shop was outdated and in shambles. It took a tremendous amount of energy and work for me to turn the business around, so that I could capitalize on the location. After two years of working with my heart and soul, I began to build my business with a premier brand, Renée Strauss, in the West Coast and possibly even in the whole of USA.
What are your passions?
I have never lost my love for education. I have had many mentors and mentees over the years. Some of my mentees have gone on to start and build their own very successful businesses. It has always been a very important part of me.
Over time, I made various upgrades to the salon and attracted Hollywood costume designers, directors and producers as clients seeking wardrobe for TV, motion picture and commercial productions. In addition, I was contracted to serve as an expert consultant in the field of weddings on the sets during production. One of the most well-known films I worked on (including producing all the wedding wardrobe and a cameo appearance) was the Disney film Father of the Bride, starring Steve Martin. I went on and did the same for movies such as My Best Friend's Wedding and Runaway Bride (both starring Julia Roberts).
As the business grew, it required more space. I purchased a building in Beverly Hills closer to the heart of the Golden Triangle and soon after divorced my first husband due to incompatibilities and general differences regarding life philosophies.
As a recognized bridal expert with a well-known brand around the world, I was the "go to" for many families with multiple daughters. In fact, as time went on, I was entrusted with the entire wedding planning and production, as well. One of these wonderful productions took place at The Vatican, in Rome.
Who do you consider yourself foremost and why?
- A business woman - because I always keep in mind the bottom-line and think of ways to create profitable opportunities.
- An entrepreneur – because I seek opportunities but I am not an opportunist.
- An expert in my field – because of my 32 years of experiences.
- An industry leader – because I am not afraid to strike out in new territories.
- A manager – because I am not only able to manage various situations; I am also able to manage a lot of people at the same time. At the height of my business, I managed 65 employees.
- A trendsetter – because I've never thought of myself as a designer, although people do recognize Renée Strauss as a worldwide brand.
You had a premier luxury bridal salon in Beverly Hills for many years. As an entrepreneur, what was the biggest lesson you learned?
I learned that regardless of how much we plan our future, there are often outside influences that can interrupt what we are trying to achieve. It is important to have a positive attitude and not allow negative circumstances to distract you and knock you off balance. Stay focused. Make no excuses. Do not be fearful.
You are now the new Luxury Lifestyle & Wedding Ambassador for LE Hotels and the LUXE Hotel Group worldwide. What is your primary responsibility in this capacity?
My primary responsibility is to work with the various PR & marketing teams to increase awareness of their banquet facilities and to promote them as luxury wedding destinations.
You have a popular reality TV show, Brides of Beverly Hills, which airs in many countries. How do you feel about being a celebrity yourself?
The TV show has given me a fantastic platform and enables me to cast a wider net as well as interact with both business people and consumers alike. I love it!
You have many celebrity clients. Is there an interesting story you would like to share with us?
I have many wonderful stories about celebrity clients.
I made the wedding gown for the bride of one of the lead singers of the Eagles*, Don Henley. The bride loved her wedding gown so much, that she actually asked us to design variations of her wedding gown for her 12 bridesmaids. It was a really a great experience!
What have been the defining moments in your life so far?
When I realized my first marriage was detrimental to me and the survival of my family and business, I had to make some difficult decisions. One of these was to concentrate on saving the company over parenting for a short period of time. This challenge was compounded by virtue of the fact that I am a woman. It made me stronger and more focused. I became a better businesswoman and a better mother. I am extremely proud of my four adult children.
Another defining moment was marrying our family dentist. He is the love of my life. When he was diagnosed with cancer, I took a 3-month leave of absence from my business to nurse him back to health. This took a toll on my business as it coincided with the 2008 economic downturn. Thankfully, he recovered and shortly thereafter I landed the reality TV show. It was my strength and faith that kept me going and allowed me to realize that the doors opening around me were there for me to walk through.
Who do you admire the most?
I don't necessarily admire individuals as a whole but I admire the perspectives of various individuals. If I had to pick one individual, I would pick the man I am married to now. He has overcome so many obstacles in his life, including the death of his only son and having cancer twice. He has gone through so much and yet, he is such a rock in our family. I admire him more than anyone else.
I admire Elon Musk*. I cannot remark on his personal virtues, but in terms of his accomplishments, I applaud him.
* Elon R. Musk is a South African-born Canadian-American business magnate, inventor and investor. He is currently the CEO & CTO of SpaceX and CEO & Chief Product Architect of Tesla Motors. He was an early investor in SpaceX and PayPal.
In your opinion, what are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
I think one of my greatest strengths is that I am able to have a positive attitude even during difficult times. Another one of my strengths is that I bring this positive energy to others and I make them happy.
My weakness is that I am such a realist that it sort of pulls the plug sometimes.
What motivates you the most? Fame? Wealth? Wisdom?
Fame does not motivate me because I am already well-known internationally. To me, fame is a means to an end rather than the end itself. What motivates me is that there are always ways for improvement, more opportunities to be had, and there are always ways to help and to keep the flame burning. We have a finite time on this planet and we have to live each day the fullest, as a parent, as a business person and as a teacher. I have a mantra, "The best is yet to come", and for me, it really is true!
What is the most challenging issue you are facing now?
I've faced a lot of challenging issues in my life. I think if it's meant to be, it's up to me. I can create an opportunity or I can destroy an opportunity just by my own initiative. If you run into a stumbling block, you can let it stop you or you can overcome it. At the end of the day, it is about maximizing my personal potential and that is the most challenging issue for me.
If you must make a choice, would you do the things right or would you do the right things?
Sometimes people do the right thing for the wrong reason or they do the wrong thing for the right reason. This is such a thought-provoking question. I think often it is driven by circumstances.
I would always try to do the right thing. The beauty of being independent, of being my own boss, is that I can always do the right thing. I would rather do the right thing instead of doing things right. It is the core of who I am.
At work, what puts a smile on your face and what puts a frown on your face?
When people do not try to fulfill their potential, it makes me unhappy and frustrated. I feel bad for them for not being able to see the opportunities they have missed.
When I see camaraderie, people coming together and contributing for the greater good of the whole organization, it makes me very, very happy and proud!
How have you changed in the past five years?
I realized that life is dynamic. I am now at peace with the fact that things are not always easy and often, there are tremendous challenges. I feel it's OK. You can't let difficulties bring you down. You have to find your inner strengths and connect yourself with better people.
Also, I have become better at judging characters.
What advice would you offer to those who are inspired to become a successful entrepreneur?
I would make concerted effort to connect with people who have the undying need to carry the torch to the finish line. There are so many opportunities in life. You have to have clarity of mind about how you want to make a difference and then find the opportunities.
I have many opportunities and projects in the works. Deciding on the priorities and where I want to place my greatest energy is always challenging and exciting! Keynote speaking, creating and traveling to industry events as a public figure in the wedding industry keeps me very busy and my calendar continues to book! The best is yet to come!
Phone: +31 65 79 41 741