I had the pleasure of interviewing Edward Perotti. In his 28-year career, Edward has managed thousands of events around the world, totaling over $150 million. No matter how intimate or grand the occasion, Edward imbues each event with a signature vibrant spirit to foster engaging moments in an inviting atmosphere. Through his incorporation of philanthropic opportunities and the latest green initiatives into every production, Edward is spearheading change in the event industry. Edward has created electrifying events with Ariana Grande, Nick Jonas, and around the world including at the Louvre and Palace of Versailles in France, the Basilica Cistern in Istanbu, and the Great Wall of China. Throughout his 3 decades of event production, Edward’s central ethos has always been to create an immersive experience. His lifelong love of theater, history, travel, and exploring other cultures inform his event planning process of conducting extensive prior research as he weaves these elements together. Edward lives in San Francisco with his husband of 15 years and has two sons.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
To start at the beginning, I was born at St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital in San Francisco. I’m kidding…I don’t think you want that far back…
Many years ago, I was working for an online publishing company, when online was in the early stages. They had purchased the competition in Cleveland and removed the San Francisco based team, so my job was eliminated. I had no idea what to do with two small children and tons of stress. Just to vent, I called a friend who was a catering director at a local hotel. She told me that her manager had just given notice, and we should talk.
My reply was, “what do I know about food, other than eating?” I met with her and she told me that she could teach me food, but I already had what no one could teach. I know how to handle people (because of my years of theater), I am very creative, I’m not shy, and I’m a big pain in the ass when it comes to details (which I’m sure she meant that in the most loving of ways).
I took the job, fell in love with the work — a love for work I had never known — and discovered that there was an entire industry built around events and event design.
I began to research, made of list of all the different aspects of events from catering to social to tradeshows to corporate events and more. And then I spent years learning all I could to expand my knowledge and provide a foundation that would set me apart.
From there it was just a matter of time, time to focus on my development and make a project plan for my career.
The hardest part was to keep focused on forward career momentum and future steps while executing the now — a balance that has helped me succeed.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?
I would not call this a mistake, however, looking back on it, I’m sure I looked like a bumbling fool. My first large event 28 years ago was a 50th wedding anniversary. Everything was going well, the room looked lovely, the guests were on the terrace enjoying champagne, and then I received a tap on my shoulder. It was one of the guests. She looked scared and pale. She grabbed my hand, said she could not find her husband, and her water just broke. I looked down and (not having a professional filter as of yet) let out a loud, and might I add not so professional “damn.” I led her towards the hotel front lobby when she doubled over and screamed. We found out later that her placenta had torn. There was blood everywhere. Not knowing what to do, I swept her up, flung open the ballroom doors, laid her on the floor, pulled the beautiful linen off one of the tables (with plates, glasses and flowers flying everywhere), and covered her up. (In my head, this was done in a few, ballet-like moves, but I’m sure it wasn’t as graceful as I’d like to remember.) I called 911 and sent a waiter to look for her husband, all while she was panicked and screaming. I still chuckle at the words that came out of my mouth, “I don’t know you, you don’t know me, but I think your pantyhose need to come off.” She looked at me and said, “you’re funny, those are the same words that got me into this mess.” Both laughing, we eased each other’s stress — and the waiter found her husband, the paramedics arrived, and she gave birth to a healthy baby boy in the parking lot of the hotel. The carpet was cleaned, the table was reset, and we opened the doors just 45 minutes late — and no one knew what happened. It was the ultimate ‘baptism by fire’ into the events world, a more stressful one than anyone could have imagined.
Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take always’ you learned from that?
What I learned rather quickly (that no one thinks to teach you) is that you need to be ready for ANYTHING. You need to know how to remain calm in a crisis and remember that you are in a career that is all about people, emotions and memories.
Most importantly for me, I learned that finding the humor in a stressful situation allowed me to spiral up and take care of things in a positive manner vs. spiraling down and making the situation worse.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
When I started, there were not a lot of books that would have helped me — and podcasts, well let’s just say that they did not exist at that time (and yes, I just showed my age).
I learned quickly that I am in the world of people and bringing people together, so the best possible way to learn is from my peers. I have developed the most amazing network of individuals that are all rock stars in their chosen fields. I learn daily from what they are doing and will always support networking within your industry.
Now that there are podcasts out in the world, I find I am drawn to the more inspirational ones like Lewis Howes.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
The main purpose has always been creativity. Once I discovered what I could bring to the table, and how unique it was to my industry, I wanted to push that. Pushing it not only in myself and my team, but in my clients. Teaching them about their own creativity and how we can bring almost anything to life.
That has now evolved to a level of mindfulness that intertwines social awareness and giving back to the global communities where we hold events. With both goals, we can change the mindset and culture of individuals and companies.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
For my entire career, I have strived to maintain a solid business reputation of:
Authenticity — I will always be myself and I will not change. When a client chooses to work with me, they want me — and not some character that I portray to grab attention.
Integrity — There are many ways to make money in this industry, and I am a firm believer that we are allowed to make a profit. However, being honest and transparent is key to maintaining client relationships and fostering long-term vendor relationships.
Creativity — I will never settle for the expected. An individual client’s event is one of many for me, but perhaps the only one for them. I give my clients an experience that encompasses all the uniqueness and freshness they deserve.
As markets rise and fall, I remain constant because of these.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Covid and the ‘shelter in place’ order has not affected the family dynamics in a big way, since we have had an 8-month runway leading up to this. I suffered a stroke a year ago in May that paralyzed me and affected my motor and cognitive skills. Then I received a cancer diagnosis that led to throat surgery in Dec. Now fully recovered and exceeding all the doctors predictions on recovery time (I had events to design and run, after all), I adapted quickly to remote work, virtual communication and still getting the work done.
My husband is a personal wardrobe stylist and has had to fully pivot and teach his clients how to work together virtually. For him, since he has a few clients around the world (Switzerland, Turkey), it was a matter of creating the same process, but bigger.
Don’t get me wrong — our entire household works in industries where we are front and center with people and the pandemic has had a significant impact on how we work. But what has been successful for us is the ability to not flounder, and to maintain the role of ‘expert’ that gives our clients the comfort and confidence they need.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
My biggest work-related challenge is calming the client’s emotions. What I mean is that I am spending a great deal of time talking to them about holding an event and how we can do it so everyone feels safe, as well as conversely having conversations with those that don’t think they should care about safety. It has been a little bit of a rollercoaster.
I am addressing it by hitting the topic head on. Covid has given the event industry a gift. The gift of time — time to reimagine how we bring people together. We’ve been gathering the same way that our grandparents did (we just add more fluff), and maybe it’s time to change.
Today and forward, clients and guests want the events and interactions to meet their needs and wants of socialization, and Covid has given us the time to be creative and play with the methods and concepts.
I go into every meeting with an idea and a plan. Once again, they are hiring me not just for flawless execution and engaging decor, but more importantly, to lead.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
The biggest advice I am giving to all family is do your homework — to research to find the facts. Don’t listen to one voice in all this. Search for answers on many fronts, find the commonalities and make an informed, non-emotional (which I understand is difficult) move.
In the end, the right answer to addressing any anxiety is personal, and all we can do is be present and listen. We can guide when needed, but ultimately we just need to be present for them.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
I am anticipating a few opportunities, one being that people in general will need to get back together, reconnect with peers, the community, family, etc.
- How we design menus will be more individualized vs the days of the big buffets.
- Smaller, more intimate seating arrangements will require more equipment rentals and décor.
- Virtual components won’t go away. I, for one, plan to have it as an option going forward, so that any guest who (for whatever reason) has to decline can still be a part of the event. Inclusivity will be key.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
I am extremely hopeful that this will be the start of the world coming together (I emphasize ‘start’). What Covid has taught us is that our world is much smaller than we have been acting like and regardless of map lines, we are all interconnected on the planet.
I am also hopeful that we have learned to go backwards a little bit in time and regain what has been lost regarding caring for our neighbor and community.
I stress that I am hopeful, but realistic. Nothing is overnight, but I know my house will not operate the same as it has — so maybe that’s a start.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post- Covid Economy?
My plan is to go out louder and stronger than ever. My industry has taken a huge blow — friends have lost businesses, jobs have been impacted, etc. So much of our global economy is built on tourism and events, so I intend to educate peers, clients, etc on what we can to get back on track.
I am not the kind of person who will sit down and feel sorry, nor do I work with anyone like that. My grandfather used to say, “tighten your belt, dust off your trousers, and get back up”. Covid has been a speed bump (no question a BIG speed bump) but it is possible to put it behind us — just don’t forget it.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
If you do not have a peer group, find one. If you are not part of an industry association that offers networking and education, join one. These groups will get you through this. Knowledge is power, and the power is right in front of you.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There are two quotes that for me have been a driving force. Coincidentally they are both from strong women — one being a true icon and the other a fictional character.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.“ Maya Angelou
“Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!” Mame Dennis
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