Know exactly what it is that you want.
Align yourself with people who have similar desires.
Learn every once of knowledge there is out there about your specialty.
Takes risks by doing, not dreaming.
Make sure you make time for yourself.
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market. I had the pleasure of interviewing Tiauna Jackson.
Tiauna Jackson has built her talent agency, The Jackson Agency, from the ground up in the busiest and most competitive market, Los Angeles. With an office on Avenue of the Stars, Tiauna has catapulted The Jackson Agency a top 50 agency globally. In 2019, Jackson was profiled in the New York Times with highly respected Agents from CAA, ICM, and WME. With a precise client list of writers and actors, The Jackson Agency is a member of networking powerhouse Diverse Representation and has made history as the first Black woman to own a franchised agency with the Writers Guild of America. Committed to diversity, Ms. Jackson looks forward to applying her knowledge and success to bring writers of color to the entertainment industry.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
Iam an Arizona native that grew up obsessed with the entertainment industry. I started writing pilots when I was 15. In college, I connected with a classmate who was a writer and director and we worked together forming our own production company. I had a natural knack for producing and pitching so my classmate who now is my best friend, asked me to be his agent. Over time, I eventually accepted the call to action. I started my own agency in 2014 due to the lack of opportunities not only for myself but for other artists of color I had encountered along the way.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
The most interesting story I can share is rather recent. I had booked a client on a major feature film that was shooting in New Orleans. After we finalized the booking I received an urgent call from the casting director alerting me to a travel issue that my client had. Despite declaring he was available, he disclosed to the travel office that he had certain travel time restrictions. This didn’t work obviously for production, so they alerted me to the issue. I ended up calling the client to find out what the issue was and he told me he had to work his shift the day of travel. I informed him that he told all of us that he was available for all of the dates that production specified and that if he wanted to book the project he needed to clear his conflicts. He told me he cleared his conflicts, I ran that information back to casting, and we moved forward. Or so I thought. Travel then reached out again to coordinate travel and he came back with a travel conflict again, this time it was for the departure. He had requested a flight at a particular time and production could not accommodate that. So he was fired, again. Casting called me again and wanted to know what was up. Not knowing, I had to call him and find out. He then informed me he had a standing court date. Luckily, it was not criminal, it was actually for his citizenship. Again, I told him that production could not accommodate and that he would have to clear that conflict and I would try to get him hired on again. He told me he cleared the conflict. I went back to casting and he was re-hired. Smooth sailing right? Wrong. Casting called yet again. Apparently this time, he told production that he wouldn’t need a departure ticket and that he planned to drive from New Orleans back home the 12+ hours. The problem with that is, production would shoot a normal 12 hour day and he was being paid for travel dates to and from, essentially making him an employee the entire time. So if he got into an accident, production would be liable and obviously they didn’t want that. So he was fired a third and final time.
What I learned is that it is very hard to run a business when you have to rely upon the talents of other people in order to generate revenue. Most importantly, I learned a sense of calm and just letting circumstances outside of my control happen. Letting the cards fall as they will. I didn’t yell at the client, I just counseled him about it and basically let him know this was his life lesson to learn and that opportunities like this will not come again if he continues to play this game. It is very rare to get the opportunity that he got, and it is very rare to get re-hired repeatedly when issues arise. On my end, I did what I could.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What makes my company stand out is my commitment to fighting for opportunities for all of my clients. I’ve personally assessed each one and found their strengths as artists and I’ve decided that although they may be new or unknown, their skill matters and is worth being seen. In this business [entertainment] there are a lot of obstacles when trying to create a career for oneself. I’ve dedicated myself to being one face that goes above and beyond for my clients. For the most part, it is appreciated.
I’ve been very honest with every potential client that I meet. I tell them just how stacked the cards are against them, but that if we work together we can get momentum.
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?
Sadly, I have been unable to find a mentor. Every bit of success I have had has been through the work my clients and I do at the agency.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
I define resilience as taking on the good and the bad and continuing to move forward, even if that means I have to take smaller steps, inch by inch.
I believe that resilient people are highly disciplined. We’ve seen successful people share their habits and they often intersect in the areas of rising no later than 5am, and exercising. I think that these habits create a routine for success, and being fit is vital because as a CEO if my body gives out on me, then my clients don’t eat.
I started an agency in Los Angeles with no contacts or help, trust funds or huge investors, and I’ve built it from the ground up. That’s resiliency. All of the odds were stacked against me and I’ve still been able to build a legacy.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
The person who motivates me is Gabrielle Union. Her story of sexual assault, to racial bias, to business mogul is the personification of resilience to me. She’s actually been a major catalyst for me ending up where I saw myself careerwise. I met her in my early 20’s. She gifted me some signed DVD’s and thanked me for creating her fan club. At the time, I had just graduated from college and I was working at a movie theater earning minimum wage. I was actually embarrassed of where I worked because I knew I wanted better for myself. I later quit that job and jumped $30,000 in salary in a year. I was motivated to find jobs that paid me what I was worth.
Now, I share the same experiences with issues of harassment in unfair practices while working in entertainment. I too was fired over my hair.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
My career consisted of being an accountant for various privately-owned companies. I’d meet these potential bosses and each one would be impressed with my skillset and my presentation and then tell me that I shouldn’t be working for them that I should be in a Corporate boardroom somewhere doing presentations. As much as I would have loved that, those companies weren’t interviewing me. So I just kept forging ahead and later becoming the head of accounting for a company that was going public. What’s been interesting about my previous career was that people always wanted to tell me what I should be doing rather than looking at what I was actually being paid to do.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
My greatest setback in life was being injured while in the military. I suffered a concussion and it affected my most precious asset, my brain. To-date I still have post-concussive syndrome and experience debilitating headaches, memory loss, and degenerative issues. I’d like to say I’m stronger than ever, but what I actually had to do was find a different way to do the things I used to be able to do. I’m just not a spring chicken anymore.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
Growing up I was raised by my single father, so unlike other kids I went to school with I didn’t have a lot of things done for me so that I could focus solely on my studies. In my household, I did a lot of chores, played sports year-round, was in the band and choir, and had to catch city busses to school the next town over. In the afternoon, I would fall asleep in math class because I was just exhausted and low on energy. My father is a Vietnam era veteran, so I was in a tough-love household. It created who I am today.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
Resilience definitely can be strengthened as well as created.
- Know exactly what it is that you want.
- Align yourself with people who have similar desires.
- Learn every once of knowledge there is out there about your specialty.
- Takes risks by doing, not dreaming.
- Make sure you make time for yourself.
When it comes to knowing exactly what you want, I had to figure that out. I couldn’t just be a talent agent I had to figure out in which areas I wanted to represent people for. The industry is actually very large and you can represent producers all the way down to animals.
When it came to alignment, I was vocal about what my goals and intentions were with my clients so that we could see if we would be right for each other. You can’t obtain your goals if you don’t have the right people in your corner.
I am a firm believer that you cannot be a professional in an area you have never worked in or experienced. So I took acting classes, I went to producer’s school, screenwriting school, set lighting and camera school. I know how to edit. I know how to record sound. I can breakdown a script and schedule and budget. I had found all of these tools that I have to be extremely helpful when counseling my clients.
I took direct risks by starting my agency with no help or backing. I have yet to meet another agent who has done what I have done. They all worked for another agency or in other areas of entertainment before becoming an agent. I created my agency with zero contacts, which is an insane thing to do.
I should probably practice #5 more. I’ve been so wrapped up in the things that need to be done that I haven’t always been listening to my body.
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 actually have a non-profit that is dedicated to preserving the legacy of the Buffalo Soldiers, the American military’s most decorated unit. I’ve been apart of tributes for Medal of Honor recipients that was from Arizona and my goal is to raise funds for permanent memorials in the state of Arizona for our heroes. I’d love it if the movement focused on paying tribute to our greatest heroes and heroines whether it be via murals or statues. Our youth really have no idea just how resilient Blacks who served are. They served post-slavery and during segregation valiantly and have yet to be recognized properly. If my 501c3 had the capital, I could spearhead this mission.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders 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, especially if we tag them 🙂
The Black Godfather himself. Mr. Clarence Avant. There is a documentary out about all he did to bridge the gap in Hollywood and I would love to meet him and hear more stories.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!