Think about the worst possible outcome and how you would handle it. For years I would think about getting re-diagnosed. I would anticipate my response and my willingness to fight. This made the days during the second and third rounds of cancer easier to manage.
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 Neillie Butler, the founder and Executive Planner of Mariée Ami, a premier full-service wedding planning and design studio in Birmingham, Alabama. The team specializes in distinctive weddings throughout the Southeast and worldwide. Mariée Ami has been recognized as one of the nation’s premiere event planning and design firms by notable media including BRIDES Magazine and Southern Weddings Magazine.
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’?
I’m Neillie Butler, the founder and Executive Planner of Mariée Ami. My first event was a sweet sixteen party for a family friend’s daughter. My husband — an accomplished lawyer — acted as my assistant that night because I needed someone to serve the food. Now, a decade later, our firm has been recognized as a top wedding planning firm in the nation, our staff has grown to eight, and that little girl who celebrated her sweet sixteen is now one of my bridal clients.
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?
I started Mariée Ami in the height of the economic crisis in 2009, with just a few dollars to my name that I used to purchase a computer from Sam’s Club. The subsequent years were spent growing the business with a scrappy and resourceful mindset; hiring smart women who shared my philosophy on client service still contributes to a large part of our success as a company. Today, Mariée Ami has blossomed into a multi-million dollar business with seven creative full-time employees. Given my unique journey into entrepreneurship, my personal mission is to always lead with a heart-centric approach.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Meaning “a bride’s friend” in French, Mariée Ami works to build foundations with our clients that will create not only a beautiful wedding, but a friendship that will last long after that day. Building that kind of relationship with our clients and community is a reflection of what true hospitality means to us. We prioritize the human connection that can sometimes be lost in the modern age of digitized, fast and impersonal decision making. We’ve flown across the country just to have lunch with our clients and help them through the planning process. We’ve even held up a deck at a wedding so that no part of the celebration was interrupted!
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?
My husband, Tom Butler is the person I am most thankful for. He believed in me enough to let me quit my job to chase a dream, despite finances being tight. When I didn’t have a single party to plan, I started a blog. Being a terrible writer myself, I would dictate the content and he would write it. Tom talked shop at every meal, discussing things such as colors, potential clients and pricing. He worked as my assistant the first few years of the business serving food, setting up, managing vendors, and loading up the car at the end of the night. People would ask if it was our family business. He has been the sounding board on every decision relating to Mariee Ami. Now that the company has grown, he is our “counsel” for all legal and financial decisions. He provides me with full time help at home so that I don’t feel pulled too thin balancing motherhood and work. Whatever I need, he makes it happen. He is my biggest supporter!
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?
The word resilience is at my core — it’s truly the foundation for my professional success and personal journey. I’d define the word resilience as the capacity to recover quickly from times of challenge. A resilient person is someone who is known for how he or she handles adversity, despite all odds. Resilient people are driven and determined to succeed no matter the circumstances presented before them. They solve problems and persevere with grace.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Katherine Wolf- Author is Hope Heals and Suffer Strong. After having a stroke which left her wheelchair bound, she chose to overcome and turn her life into an inspiration to others.
Martha Stewart — After serving her sentence she humbly had to get up, brush herself off and keep moving on as a public figure who continued to inspire her community.
Tiger Woods- When the rest of the word though he was finished after a public fall from grace, he chose to get the help he needed and come back winning the Masters in 2019.
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?
When I was a child, I was diagnosed with a severe learning disability that made school very difficult. I remember hearing my fifth grade teacher tell my mother that college would be a waste of time for someone like me. I worked my way through school, determined to succeed, knowing that I would have to study longer and work harder than my peers.
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?
During my college years, I battled 3 rounds of Desmoid Sarcoma, a rare soft tissue cancer. I was faced with endless dead-ends, but have come to find that every set-back should be dealt with a unique mixture of creativity, empathy and good old fashioned kindness. In the years after college, I went into long-term remission and handled events for a number of large companies before finally starting Mariée Ami. It’s a strange thing to say, but fighting cancer — even when my body was so weak — made me feel strong and powerful. It’s given me determination and perspective. That mindset has informed the way I build, nurture and grow Mariée Ami.
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.
1-Being resilient is a choice. When battling cancer I found that not everyone viewed the glass half full. A positive outlook and grounded attitude was such a huge part of my recovery.
2-Think about the worst possible outcome and how you would handle it. For years I would think about getting re-diagnosed. I would anticipate my response and my willingness to fight. This made the days during the second and third rounds of cancer easier to manage.
3-Believe in the saying “This too shall pass.” It allows you not to focus too long on the present. Everything is temporary. When a negative experience is taking too much room in your consciousness, I remind myself that it will soon be over, and that restores my faith in the future.
4- Identify the things you can control and the things you can not. Only focus on the things you can fix or have influence over. Agonizing over each diagnosis and remission protocol would have only resulted in further exhaustion and an ineffective use of my time and brain power. Instead, I focused on the way I was treating my body during those times, prioritizing my health through food, exercise and mindfulness.
5-Knowing and believing hard work pays off. When you have nothing but yourself, realize you can accomplish so much with your own source of power. I built Mariée Ami with very little cushion — financial or otherwise — and used that foundation to fuel our growth with a scrappy, savvy mindset and a strong worth ethic.
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. 🙂
Given my unique journey into entrepreneurship, I’ve come to realize my ambition to spread empowerment and kindness. I’ve instilled those virtues in my team and into our work as much as possible. The way we treat our clients, partners and community members is a direct reflection of that goal to serve meaningfully and with intention. I’m incredibly passionate about promoting health and well being in the creative industry, seeing first hand how easy it is to neglect one’s health, particularly in an industry where burnout is so prevalent. Using my personal health journey inspires so much of my leadership approach as well as our impact in the larger community.
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 🙂
There are so many powerful women I admire. If I had to pick one, it would be Oprah. Coming from nothing, her story of success is incredible. I love how her life experiences have given her empathy towards all types of people. The way she empowers and enlightens those around her is inspiring. I want to love the way she loves and tell stories the way she tells stories!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!