“Stay true to your vision.” With Tyler Gallagher & Tina Nicole

Stay true to your vision. Control your outlook and look at obstacles as opportunities for growth. You don’t get burned out if setbacks are considered a challenge to your way of doing things and making things better. I always believe that if something doesn’t go my way, it’s because something better will. As part of […]

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Stay true to your vision. Control your outlook and look at obstacles as opportunities for growth. You don’t get burned out if setbacks are considered a challenge to your way of doing things and making things better. I always believe that if something doesn’t go my way, it’s because something better will.

As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tina Nicole.

Tina Nicole is an award-winning LA furniture designer, creative entrepreneur, and author. Tina achieved international acclaim with her groundbreaking designs for her company, Nathan Anthony Furniture. Her new art book and memoir, “DREAM DESIGN DISRUPT,” inspires readers to forge the life of their dreams. Learn more at

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Pregnant with my second child and a newly minted California Bar license, I had just been offered a career at the Federal District Court of Southern California in the prosecution department. In that same month that I received my job offer, I lost the pregnancy at 21 weeks. It was a devastating loss and one that left me temporarily disabled, having been on bed rest for several weeks. My husband was running a mattress and furniture manufacturing business in Los Angeles. This was in the early 2000s when Chinese mattress imports had taken their toll on U.S. mattress manufacturing and market share. He decided to pursue furniture markets instead. He asked me to come on board and choose some fabrics for his furniture line for a trade show. I did just that, and the trade show was a great success. The rest is history.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

Oh, where do I begin? In the beginning it was tough. In the furniture manufacturing business, you get an order for furniture, but you don’t get paid until you produce it. Production can take up to four weeks. That time frame is really a strain on financial resources — paying rent, utilities, payroll, and materials. Plus, we didn’t qualify for discounts with suppliers because we were so new, and we were still small. We had no credit to prove we could pay for materials, so we had to pay up front. I could go on and on…

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

The feeling of joy when a customer purchases something you designed!

So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Things are going very well. It’s when you face challenges and obstacles that push your creativity and problem-solving skills to the next level that you really find solutions that are uniquely your own. That’s when you stand out; that’s when you thrive.

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 used to pay for a blade-sharpening service for a saw we used in our wood shop. The invoices were small: $15 here, $20 there. Eventually, I stopped using the service, and started buying new blades instead of sharpening old ones. Then, every so often, I’d get bills for this service again. They were sending me phony bills and I just kept paying them and paying them.

People will send you invoices for services or products you never ordered. Pay attention to every invoice, especially if they are auto-pay.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

“Baby got back” or “Dangerous curves ahead” — these are just some of the phrases customers have used to describe our designs. The designs are unique, expressive of our own vision, unique to us.

A designer saw a social media post of our ELAN sectional. This design features a pattern of nine polygons across the back of the sectional and is finished off with a metal base. The designer’s post said, “Nathan Anthony breaks a fundamental design school rule which is: Never do a floor plan in which you enter a room with the sofa facing away from you” — rule broken! This is because the stunning design element is on the back side of the sofa. This is what we are known for.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Stay true to your vision. Control your outlook and look at obstacles as opportunities for growth. You don’t get burned out if setbacks are considered a challenge to your way of doing things and making things better. I always believe that if something doesn’t go my way, it’s because something better will.

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?

There are many people who have helped me along this path. But the person for whom I am most thankful is my husband and business partner, Khai Mai.

My husband knew when I lost my second pregnancy that I was struck down emotionally, physically, and spiritually. He knew I loved textiles, fashion, and working with my hands. He knew those skills would translate well in the furniture industry. When he asked me to help him pick out a few fabrics for a trade show he was doing, it changed my life. I realize looking back that the work I do every day in our furniture factory in Los Angeles draws on all my education and training: merchandise marketing and entrepreneurship degree, English degree, and law degree.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

It is good to help others in need. Our company has donated mattresses and furniture to homeless families just getting back on their feet through a program called Family Promise.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Thoroughly check inside the packages: We ordered 100 10” metal legs from a supplier that took four weeks to arrive. When we opened the boxes, there were 100 metal legs, but they were all 9,” not 10.” This one-inch deviation in manufacturing is like a foot. So, inspect all the packages and boxes thoroughly.
  2. Question everything you sign: My staff present purchase orders for me to sign all day long. It’s easy to trust the document was written correctly and just sign. However, one time, my assistant inadvertently added a zero to a quantity field. We ended up receiving 100 yards of Belgian linen instead of 10 yards. This was a costly mistake and one that could have been avoided if I’d just questioned it.
  3. Subordinates are watching you and taking cues: Your team watches how you lead and learns how you work, what you’re willing to overlook and what you’re not.
  4. Find three people to help you get there: Sometimes you have so much on your to-do list it’s overwhelming. We wanted to make our factory lean. In order to do that, we assigned three people on our team to find answers and solutions to implement the leaning process. This way, you have diverse ideas brought to the table and you have more information presented so you can make informed decisions.
  5. Express your vision clearly and with repetition: Customers are the most important part of our business. We put up signs around the office that say “The Customers are everything; without them, we have nothing.” It can be just one sentence so that employees can memorize it and remember it.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂

Pay it forward; do something thoughtful for a stranger everyday anonymously. Whether it’s dropping a quarter in a stranger’s expired parking meter or letting someone take a parking space (in Los Angeles or New York, this is a priceless gift!). This feeling is infectious and builds the human spirit both for the recipient and the giver. If everyone did something kind for someone else, there would be more good-will in the world and it would be palpable.

You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram: @Tinanicoledesign, @nathananthony_official

Twitter: @tinanicoleca @nathananthony

Linked In: Tina Nicole

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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