Who has amazing design talent, an energetic soul and knows his career inside and out? Russell Harris of Russell Harris Event Group! FormDecor caught up with Russell during this busy event season for an interview for the Featured Professionals Blog. In our one-on-one with Russell, you’ll learn how he made a career out of event planning, what he’s most passionate about and what continues to drive him to succeed.
FormDecor: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Russell Harris: Being from Texas we were raised in sports. My sport was Tennis and it was my dream to be a professional tennis player. As a High School Senior it changed to Olympic Volleyball when my cousin was playing with a team and invited me to play.
One of the players on the team took an interest in my ability, started to coach me and I found a new love… VOLLEYBALL! In Texas, playing Volleyball wasn’t really considered a “men’s sport” so I got a late start. At age 25, I got to play for a US Club team in Europe; it was then that I realized the early twenties were considered the retirement age.
FD: At what point in your life did you realize you had the talent to plan events?
RH: My first job when I moved to LA was a personal assistant to a Hollywood Columnist at the Hollywood Reporter. Dealing with his private schedule and rsvp’ing for events, I came across every major event company in Los Angeles. After I left the Hollywood Reporter, I worked for a Neon Rental company that did décor for all the major events. That’s when I realized my talent and dream job.
FD: What was the first event you planned? Do you have photos to share?
RH: The first event was an Oscar party for a dot company called “HSX.com” and it was one of the largest post parties in Los Angeles. We took over the House of Blues on Sunset Boulevard, tented the whole parking lot, carpeted the entire driveway, and made a 100’ step and repeat on the sidewalk.
The budget was large and I had carte blanche on design, so I chose Asian inspiration. With technology progressing, we took “Feng Shui” and made it “Tech Shui”. We had the opportunity of having a Feng Shui Master come to our event and walk the space. He gave us a blessing and critiqued our event flow. It’s his words that have been my foundation ever since.
FD: Most recently, you planned a successful After Party for X-Factor which took place at Sadie in Los Angeles… What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?
RH: The challenge was to create more seating including VIP areas for the X-Factor judges. The main thing was to use furniture that complimented the existing venue design. I overcame the challenge by calling Jeff Sigler [FormDecor, VP of Sales]. He and I had been to a networking event at Sadie a couple weeks earlier. So when I talked to Jeff he had the perfect solution to our challenge.
FD: You’ve been in the event industry for more than 20 years. How is the world of special events today different from when you started?
RH: When I started in the industry, there was no education, courses, or books on how to plan an event. It was learn as you go, watch other people, and don’t make the same mistake twice. Now, young professionals in the field have college courses, certifications, and conferences with peers, which is priceless.
One thing I am grateful for is that I was able to work on many high-end events where I learned the life lesson to be a good listener. Listening to what the client wants is the starting point in all of my events and my focus is to understand their priorities and goals to deliver a successful event.
FD: You’ve had lots of success with high-profiled clients, like FOX, The Walt Disney Studios, American Heart Association and more. What “words of wisdom” do you have to share with up and coming professionals working with high-profiled clients?
RH: Research. Always know who your client is. The industry is very vast with resources so you should always have knowledge on all the new ideas, design, and technology. With good research, you can always find something new and engaging. Presentation is everything.
My favorite resource is my industry colleagues. A lot of us have been in the industry for many years, seen everything, and done it all. I truly believe in relationships, networking and referrals.
FD: If you could choose one design of FormDecor’s for your home or office, what would it be? Why does that one design stand out among the rest for you?
RH: I like the Bubble collection by Philippe Starck. I’m a big fan of simplicity; it’s more elegant and sophisticated. My number one rule is “lighting will make it or break it” and with this design you get the best of both.
FD: When you’re not working, what do you love to do?
RH: I’m a big Equestrian. I have a horse named Meritage that I spend all my free time riding and showing. I’ve been riding in the Gold Coast Series at the LA Equestrian Center, the Verdugo Hills Show at my facility, and recently rode in the Santa Barbara Show.
What I love most is the athleticism of the sport. Her athletic ability is amazing when it comes to height jumps. She’s moved up to the 1-meter class and won in the last two shows we’ve entered. The combination of the rider’s ability and the horse’s ability becomes a winning combination.
FD: What are you most proud of in your life?
RH: I’m a big dreamer with very high goals. In my life I’ve been given many obstacles that were extremely hard to overcome. One of my clients told me one time that I was a “Phoenix”. I always rose from the ashes. I’m most proud of the fact that I’ve accomplished every goal I’ve made no matter the circumstances and I’m blessed to look forward to more new adventures.
My company is growing and every day is a new adventure with new clients and new challenges. The biggest accomplishment is finally being able to do a Super Bowl party for a corporate client. I think 2013 is going to be a great year for all event industry peeps!
FD: If you had one legacy to leave behind, what would it be?
RH: Dream. People sometimes mistake dreaming as being irresponsible. I’m from a small Texas town in the middle of nowhere with big dreams. The most successful people in the world are the ones that take the biggest risks and because of that, I think I’ve been quite successful.