Chase your passion and you will make it. Business will be a very important part of your life so do what you like to do and follow your passion. This is the only way you can keep going and wake up every morning happy for what you are going to do.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Virginia Valentini. Virginia is a designer and a dreamer. Italian by birth, architect by training and traveler by vocation, after studying at the Polytechnic of Milan she began to work in the United States. It was there that she and her husband realized two things: no matter how far you wander, your background will always be part of you. And, on the other hand, that sometimes you need a country like the USA to move beyond the usual frameworks and develop a truly original outlook. Fans of 1950s Italian design, the two have different personalities but share the same passion for their work. What distinguishes them is the way they engage with it: one focused on instinct and the other on rationality, one with his head in the clouds and the other with her feet firmly planted on the ground, one who tends to get worked up while the other hardly ever loses her calm. Between one drawing and the next, they discovered that, despite these differences, they manage to agree on everything…everything, that is, except the next movie to watch.
Thank you so much for doing this with us, Virginia! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was working in New York as an interior designer and I was actually happy with that. I enjoyed the city, the people that surrounded me and I loved my job. Then my career as an interior designer brought me to designing specific pieces of furniture for my clients and I started feeling that it was a very interesting path and it was worth it to embrace it in a more structured way. So, together with my husband who was already my partner at the firm, we decided to found LATOxLATO and try to make people see everyday objects in a totally different way. In order to do so, we uprooted our entire life and decided to move back to Italy where we were born and raised. This is because we strongly believed that the only way for us to achieve what we had in mind was to have Italian artisans manufacture our products and be surrounded again by the background that was able to inspire our creativity.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The most interesting thing about my job is actually meeting the artisans that manufacture our pieces. For each kind of material, we spend a lot of time looking for the right person that can mold our ideas. And usually, once we find it, we establish a special relationship with him. We get to share the same passion and we get to know their stories and their background and this makes it unique. And most of the time they join our cause and stake with us, which make them part of our “family”.
In particular, we’ve become close friends with one of the artisans and if we get to his workshop later in the day we always end up sharing a beer while discussing about new projects. We are able to create every piece with an incredible passion due to the relationship we have established.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I have learned that if you live and above all work abroad, when you start you have to think about every single word you say! All the funniest mistakes I’ve made are related to speaking a foreign language. Several years ago, when I was a young interior designer in New York, I was meeting with a supplier in Brooklyn and he wanted to sell a very bad marble slab, saying it was a ‘first choice’ slab coming from Carrara. I wanted to tell him that it looked very bad, so I told him it looked ‘terrific’ because in Italian we say ‘terrificante’ as for horrible. It was funny because for a while we agreed on the situation, before I could realize I was just ‘lost in translation’!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our mission is to make people express feelings though our pieces. Each product has a unique and recognizable identity and of course is meant to embellish its new home. But the most important thing for us is that it brings value to its new owner. The goal is to give the consumer the chance to own a very unique piece that tells a story about him, what he likes and what are his dreams. The best story is when someone tells us that he was able to express himself just by adding an object from our collection to his environment.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Well…as a Company that manufactures design products, I cannot really say we literally help people. What I can say is that we have many new projects in mind and we hope that these new products will help people feeling good in their own homes. Every piece that we design and manufacture has something special and unusual and who owns one knows it and that is the specific reason he choses it. We can say we help people express their personality in a different way.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
The hardest thing to learn for me was that if you want to be a leader you have to risk something. If you want to go beyond your limits, you never have to be afraid of taking a chance. It is not going to be easy because once you achieve your goal you might think: this is it! But my advice is to never stop and seize the opportunities that you find along your path without fear.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
I think that as a woman you should never try to hide your motherly spirit. Sometimes you get the feeling that you need to behave like a man, and that this is the only way a woman can succeed. You have to look strong, firm and never show your feminine side. I think this is not the right way to manage a firm and/or a large team as a woman. You just have to be what you are and if that means being different from a man, it’s okay! I think that sometimes women can achieve a bigger success because of their ability to listen to the team and create a “family” inside a firm.
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?
My career as an entrepreneur wouldn’t have been the same without my husband. We started this adventure together and without his support I wouldn’t have reached my goals. When the co-founders of a Company are a man and a woman it is very easy that one ends up taking over the other, especially in our field where the artisans and workers are mostly men of a certain age and are not used to talk and discuss business with women. I am very grateful because he always gives me the chance to stand out even in the most difficult situations letting everybody understand that we are totally equal.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1.CHASE YOUR PASSION AND YOU WILL MAKE IT.
Business will be a very important part of your life so do what you like to do and follow your passion. This is the only way you can keep going and wake up every morning happy for what you are going to do.
2. ALWAYS AIM HIGH.
Set your goals and never get to think you could have done more.
3. NEVER GIVE UP, EVEN IF THE SITUATION SEEMS IMPOSSIBLE.
When you are in business there will be difficult moments when you keep trying without succeeding. It is going be hard but you should never quit, if you persist you will make it.
4. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH CAPABLE PEOPLE AND, POSSIBLY, PEOPLE MUCH MORE CAPABLE THAN YOU.
Remember there is always something new you could learn.
5. SINCE YOU ARE A WOMAN YOU WILL HAVE TO MAKE AN EVEN BIGGER EFFORT TO SUCCEED.
We live in a male-oriented world so be prepared to fight double if you want to stand-out.
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 would love to inspire a movement that involves all the disciplines that could help going against mass production and exploitation of resources. This movement would need to sink its roots in culture which is the basis of everything: art, design, architecture, music. Not only should each child be guaranteed a proper education, but synergies between the various disciplines should be stimulated, especially between humanistic and artistic studies which are usually taught on two totally different levels. Each child must understand that everything that he reads or sees around is all part of one world that he should learn to respect and improve.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
‘ALWAYS BE OPEN TO MEETING NEW PEOPLE’.
Even if you think the person you have in front has nothing to share with you, you will never know until you actually meet him/her. Sometimes from the most unlikely situations wonderful encounters can arise.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
If she would still be among us, I would love to meet Virginia Wolf. She is a writer I’ve always loved — we also share the same name! I think she has contributed to change the role of women in the world bringing attention to women’s education and women’s economic independence, which can only be guaranteed by giving them free access to the professional world.
Thank you for all of these great insights!