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Whitney Bromberg Hawkings possesses a tenacious drive with an innate eye for beauty. Today, she uses these talents as the CEO and Founder of FLOWERBX, her internationally successful, direct-to-consumer flower delivery brand.
However, for 18 years, her spirit and skill thrust Whitney to the highest levels within the fashion industry. Before launching FLOWERBX, Whitney worked alongside fashion and filmmaking icon, Tom Ford. First, she worked as his personal assistant and eventually rose to the Senior Vice President of Communications position for his brand, TOM FORD. She calls Ford her greatest business mentor.
Still, as much as Whitney loved jet-setting around the globe to help Ford make an indelible mark on the fashion and entertainment world, she couldn’t help but dream of making a mark of her own. She just wasn’t quite sure how.
It was Ford himself who taught Whitney to always create a ten-year plan. During her 20s, she dedicated herself to growth within the company. In her 30s, it was all about adding family to her life. She got married and gave birth to three children.
But all too quickly, Whitney was approaching her 40s. She’d already risen to the top of her elite industry while balancing the challenges of raising a young family.
What would her next ten years look like?
Lessons from a Legend
Even if you don’t think you know Tom Ford’s work, you probably do. He started out as a fashion designer working with houses like Gucci and Yves St. Laurent before launching his own brand. He also designed the signature suits for three James Bond films and even has a platinum hit by Jay-Z named after him.
Once he conquered fashion, Ford took his creativity into a slightly unexpected arena—filmmaking. To date, Ford has directed two Oscar-nominated films, A Single Man (2009) and Nocturnal Animals (2016).
So, how did Whitney get connected to this multi-talented mogul?
As a recent college grad from Texas, Whitney moved to Paris, France with a dream of working within the European fashion industry. However, without experience or a work visa, she struck out at every interview.
Then, she got a tip that Ford, Gucci’s Creative Director at the time, was looking for a personal assistant. Whitney wasn’t necessarily looking for a PA job, but she knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Not only did Whitney admire Ford’s work—she also knew they had something in common. He was a native Texan living in Paris, just like her.
Whitney landed the interview and met with Ford. They immediately clicked over their common life trajectory and insights about the fashion world. She got the job and her career took off.
For the next 18 years, Whitney grew alongside Ford’s empire eventually becoming his Senior VP of Communications. She even met her husband, Peter Hawkings, the Senior VP of Menswear at TOM FORD while working at the company.
She attributes Ford’s wisdom and leadership style for molding her into the entrepreneur and business owner she is today. She learned that success followed tireless, hard work—something Ford and his team demonstrated constantly. “I’ve never met anyone who works harder than he does,” says Whitney.
Ford also instilled in his team the importance of having a strong, unwavering vision. “He taught me a lot about the singularity of vision and having a very clear, strong creative vision that you don’t deviate from.” says Whitney.” This advice would prove invaluable as Whitney slowly began jumping into a new world—entrepreneurship.
Sowing the Seeds of Entrepreneurship
In the world of high-end couture, few products are more important flowers. From the runway to photo shoots, anything from wilted roses to incorrect arrangements could upset the designer’s creative vision. As Tom Ford’s top assistant, Whitney regularly found herself putting out fires caused by the delivery of subpar flowers by unreliable floral services.
For years, solving these fiascos was a frustrating, yet typical, part of her job. However, as her inner-entrepreneur began to brew, Whitney knew there was a better way to run the floral industry—and she’d be the one to create it.
Whitney believed that solving this problem involved more than building a better floral service. She also wanted to build a strong brand that proudly offered consistent products, services, quality and freshness worldwide.
“If you go to Gucci in Shanghai or Tokyo or Los Angeles, you’re getting the same consistency of experience. The same store staff wears the same uniform and the same cologne. In flowers, there’s this real element of chance—and there’s really not a reason for that.”
A cohesive brand gives customers a dependable, high-quality experience. Oftentimes, this experience leads to lifelong brand loyalty. For example, you can walk into any Apple or Starbucks store on Earth and expect the same service, product and experience as anywhere else.
In today’s connected marketplace, why couldn’t consumers call a trusted floral brand to order top quality products? If countless other brands did it, why not flowers? That’s when the idea for her new business really took off in her mind. It was time to cut the middleman out of flower delivery.
“If I can create a direct-to-consumer brand,” thought Whitney, “I’m buying straight from the growers and cutting out the unnecessary steps that lead to less fresh and more expensive flowers. In putting pen to paper, I realized that financially, there really was a way to add real value in a fresher product.”
Whitney believed her dream had industry-disrupting potential. After over 18 years working with Tom Ford, she put in her tear-filled resignation and started her next ten-year plan—FLOWERBX.
Sprouting a Better Service
So, how exactly does FLOWERBX work?
Unlike traditional floral services where flowers are purchased in bulk from wholesalers, often days after harvest, FLOWERBX has no inventory. Instead, every order is individually cut in Holland and delivered directly to the customer.
By only fulfilling orders on-demand, this also means no wasted flowers which is a massive problem within the current floral industry. According to Whitney, “traditional floral services have up to 50% waste every day.”
The only caveat is the extra lead time needed to carry out the order—usually about 24 hours. However, thanks to FLOWERBX’s overwhelming benefits, customers happily wait a little longer for hand-picked flowers, especially when it means receiving fresh, consistently fantastic products to their door.
When FLOWERBX officially launched in 2016, the service was an immediate hit. The company quickly expanded from the U.K.—Whitney’s current homebase—and spread across mainland Europe. Today, FLOWERBX is in over 20 European countries and serves as the luxury option for flowers on-demand with clients like Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior and the Beckhams.
Next on the list for FLOWERBX—the United States. The flower brand just launched in New York City in May with hopes to expand nationwide.
Inviting the Right People to the Table
“Never hire someone you wouldn’t invite to dinner,” Tom Ford once told Whitney. She considers these words some of her mentor’s most influential advice and she takes them to heart every time she makes a hiring decision.
This insight hasn’t failed her yet. After all, the people you work tirelessly alongside to help your vision thrive should be more than just qualified. They should connect on a personal and emotional level too—just like Ford and Whitney did over twenty years ago.
Whitney’s leadership goal is also for everyone on her team to feel directly responsible for the success of FLOWERBX. As much as she loved working within huge fashion houses, she says, “I don’t think I ever felt directly responsible for any of the big successes of the company. I was a small part of it, but I never felt directly responsible.”
Now, Whitney runs a thriving company poised to change the floral industry forever—and there’s no doubt that Whitney is the woman behind it all.
“I’ve never worked harder in my entire life,” Whitney says “but I’ve never been more fulfilled and personally gratified by every single success.”
Want to hear my entire conversation with Whitney Bromberg Hawkings? You’ll learn about her life in the fashion industry, how she balances running a booming business with motherhood, why empathy and compassion are such important leadership traits and so much more. Listen to the entire conversation on my donothing podcast.
Connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn and keep up with my company imageOne here. Learn about my mission to show business leaders how mindfulness can transform you and your business in my book donothing. Visit www.donothingbook.com for more information.
June 3, 2019 at 08:07AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs