1. Encourage creativity. It’s important to create a work environment that fosters creativity and encourages employees to share their ideas. Each individual offers unique strengths that can not only improve the culture of the company, but create the best possible results.
2. Embrace emotion. As a majority, women-run organization we believe it’s essential to be open with our emotions.
3. Create a family. Building a strong team is one of the most important things you can do for your business. Team bonding is crucial, not only for a company’s morale but for the success and productivity of its employees.
4. Inspire growth. Growth from within is one of our core values. We strongly believe in each of our employees’ success and have worked hard to build a culture that advocates for this. Creating an environment that promotes individual growth is the key to reaching your team’s full potential.
5. Celebrate each other. In a work environment, it’s important to not only support and empower each other, but to celebrate each other’s successes.
As a part of my series about about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cheryl Eisen, Founder & President of Interior Market Group.
Cheryl Eisen is a celebrity interior designer, luxury home stager and founder of Interior Marketing Group, Inc. Known as “the reigning prop princess of New York’s luxury real estate,” Eisen is regularly featured in publications including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Good Housekeeping Magazine, Vogue and in real estate design shows on networks including NBC, CBS and Bravo. With over a decade of industry experience, Interior Marketing Group has become the largest real estate design and marketing firm in New York City serving the most exclusive real estate in the world.
Thank you for joining us Cheryl! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My career began when I launched my first company, an executive search firm called “FindNetwork” at age 24. However, the dotcom bubble burst forced me to rebuild my career from scratch. I began working as a real estate agent, which was an incredibly competitive industry in New York City. To combat the competitive market, I created my own unique selling proposition by staging my own listings. As a demand grew for my services, I soon realized I had discovered a crucial niche in an underserved market and decided to launch my own luxury staging and interior design company. Interior Marketing Group was founded in 2007 and now, just over a decade later, IMG is the leading luxury design and real estate marketing firm on the East Coast at nearly 100 employees strong. Proudly 90% women-run, our talented team reinvents luxury properties to help them sell faster and at higher prices.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Early on in my career, I developed a relationship with one of NYC’s top brokers, Fredrik Eklund and convinced him to let me stage a penthouse he was listing at the time. After seeing the layout of the apartment I told Eklund it reminded me of an apartment James Bond would live in and that I was going to design it with that in mind. We created an upscale, “bachelor-pad,” and once the staging was complete, the Tribeca duplex -that had been languishing on the market for a year prior to our design- was in the midst of a bidding war. The victor emerged as no less than 007 himself — actor Daniel Craig, with an all-cash $1.9 million offer. The experience was not only a great story, it was an opportunity that really allowed me to prove my value proposition early on in the competitive luxury real estate industry.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We recently developed a new “IMG Internship Program,” which launched in during Spring of 2019. The training program offers students, recent graduates, and amateur designers, the opportunity to receive hands-on experience in all areas of our multi-faceted company through a rotational training system. The goal of the four-month program is to immerse interested individuals in the company’s various departments, instead of limiting them to one position. The program offers one-on-one mentorship experience and guidance, to help participating trainees gain an understanding of both IMG and their own strengths and interests, and ultimately further their career. I believe the program is unique to many internships because it is open to individual customization, allowing participants to find their own niche in the company’s various departments by learning from our experienced and talented team in all areas, from design and fabrication to sales and marketing. It offers trainees insight into the creative industry and help individuals navigate the inner workings of a successful business and simultaneously discover their own passion.
Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
I think there are many possible reasons why this number is so high, but the majority of them all lead back to the growing trend toward the type of restrictive, overly formal work culture that have plagued many US companies. There is a certain stigma around showing emotion in the workplace, which may largely be a contributing factor to this statistic. There is a belief that employees need to conceal their feelings and emotions while at work- something that I find to be both unrealistic and problematic. In place of dealing with their emotions, employees are urged to hide them which may ultimately lead to deeper unhappiness by inhibiting problem resolution and creating larger problems down the road. Employees should feel supported in their work environment, and emotions should be dealt with outright instead of being buried or dismissed.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
An unhappy workforce impacts all areas of company from productivity and profitability, to employee well-being. Negativity breeds negativity. An unhappy team member can be toxic to a company creating a snowball effect that spreads bad morale. Employee retention rate also has a large effect on productivity because hiring the right employee can be both time consuming and expensive. Employees are essentially an investment of the company’s finances and knowledge; these things should be spent wisely.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
1. Encourage creativity. It’s important to create a work environment that fosters creativity and encourages employees to share their ideas. Each individual offers unique strengths that can not only improve the culture of the company, but create the best possible results. For example at IMG, hierarchy does not matter when it comes to ideas. From interns to VPs, all are encouraged to contribute at strategy roundtables and design brainstorms.
2. Embrace emotion. As a majority, women-run organization we believe it’s essential to be open with our emotions. At IMG, we have worked tirelessly to create an environment in which employees feel comfortable to be themselves and feel supported by one another. Emotion is a natural human response that allows for open communication and sparks a personal passion for our work.
3. Create a family. Building a strong team is one of the most important things you can do for your business. Team bonding is crucial, not only for a company’s morale but for the success and productivity of its employees. At IMG, we believe that it’s essential to find time to share experiences and events beyond the day to day office activities. An example of an IMG team bonding experience, is our annual participation in the charitable outreach event called Cycle for Survival: a spinning event benefiting rare cancer research.
4. Inspire growth. Growth from within is one of our core values. The majority of IMG’s department heads began as interns and have risen through the ranks. We strongly believe in each of our employees’ success and have worked hard to build a culture that advocates for this. Creating an environment that promotes individual growth is the key to reaching your team’s full potential. We have also begun developing a new internship program that will give amateur designers and professionals the opportunity to move throughout the company, working in various departments to learn the business from multiple angles.
5. Celebrate each other. In a work environment, it’s important to not only support and empower each other, but to celebrate each other’s successes. IMG developed an annual event featuring what we call the “IMGies,” a series of awards that recognize employee achievements and growth. We also believe it’s important to acknowledge personal milestones and celebrate these, from baby showers to birthdays.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
The first step to making a change is developing potential solutions that are both realistic and attainable. There is such a formal approach to “workplace culture” these days and I think people are forgetting that your work environment is just another part of your day-to-day life. It’s reality: we’re all human, we have imperfections and that is something we should embrace. Instead of following age-old formal rules and guidelines, companies should focus embracing the specific problems with in their workplace and build from there.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
As President and CEO of a company that has grown from a small start-up to where we are today, I believe we are still similar to the management style and culture of a start-up in many ways. There is less formality in the leadership structure; executives, like myself, strive to be approachable and available. On any given day you might find me in my office meeting with one of our team members — I have an open door policy and encourage our employees to stop in if they have a question, concern or even just want to chat or share an idea. I think this style of leadership has been really beneficial to our company culture because there is not such a strict hierarchy. At IMG, upper level managers are mentors and even friends with team members, which makes them more approachable than those of many other companies I’ve witnessed.
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?
I am really grateful for my dad and the advice he has given me that has guided me throughout my career and helped shape me into the business leader that I am today. One pivotal moment that has always stuck with me is a day back when I was growing up when I was very upset and hysterical and I remember my dad looking at me and saying ‘don’t play the victim.’ Although it may seem trivial, or even harsh, it was an important lesson and is something that was very powerful to me at the time. It taught me that your future is in your own hands and you can’t blame others or external factors for your mistakes or missteps. It helped me to recognize that importance of being self-aware and learning how to accept my faults, along with my strengths, and grow into the highly-motivated individual that I am today.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Interior Marketing Group is my passion and I’ve worked tirelessly to grow the company to what is today. Our structure and culture differs from many companies, and that is something I am proud of. IMG is one of the few women-dominant, multi-million dollar businesses; a primarily women-run and operated business, we have fondly come to be called “the Fempire.” The success and growth of my company is something I attribute to the creative and empowering culture we have built and our diverse team of hard-working and passionate individuals. I hope that IMG serves an example and success story for other companies or aspiring female entrepreneurs. I hope that it will inspire even just one other individual to create an environment for their employees like we have so they too can pay it forward.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Don’t Be Afraid to Fail”
This quote has been so instrumental in my life and career. Had I not failed twice before the founding IMG, I wouldn’t have ultimately found a business plan that was strong and sustainable. The important part of failing is making sure to learn from mistakes and to never be afraid to try again.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I hope to inspire other female-run businesses to breakaway from the mold and shatter the stigma around ‘how a company should be run.’ In a world of majority male-dominated businesses, I believe we should celebrate and empower strong women and encourage them to create a business by their own standards not society’s.