Cornelia Guest has been passionate about animals and nature since she was a child. Her passion is reflected in every aspect of her life including her philanthropy, animal activism and business enterprises.
In 2009 she founded Cornelia Guest Events and Cornelia Guest Cookies, catering high-end charity and entertainment events with healthy, vegan dishes. Her mission is to encourage and inspire people to be conscious of the dietary choices they make in their daily lives.
Cornelia has a line of cruelty-free bags, which recently won the Fashion Group's prestigious Rising Star Award. Her first book,"Simple Pleasures" (Weinstein Company) is currently on stands and includes original recipes, decorating and party tips, and photos from throughout her life. She participated in the Food Network's hit show, Rachel v Guy and most recently, was named a special correspondent for EXTRA, covering events from the Tony Awards to red carpet premieres. Most recently, Cornelia was named Project Gravitas's "Women of the Month" and helped designed a line of cruelty-free leather jackets, which have garnered national media interest.
Cornelia has been able to use her media attention and professional contacts to support the Humane Society of New York, and was named by Donna Karan as one of the Women Who Inspire. She was the face of PETA's I'd Rather Go Naked campaign, advocating against wearing fur. She also serves on the Mayoral appointed Grow NYC board. Cornelia has been a supporter for New Yorkers for Marriage Equality and in 2010 hosted their New York flagship event with Mayor Bloomberg.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
My father had wonderful manners and was incredibly kind. He treated everybody the same way. He was lovely. This made a huge impression on me as a child and continues to do so every day of my life.
I find that my animals have taught me to really pay attention in life and to have patience, which, when you are running a company, are very important things to do.
How has your previous employment experience aided your position as a businesswoman and designer?
I have always been self-employed so I really have always relied on myself for everything. Since it was just me and an assistant at the beginning, I really did everything which was very educational. I learned on my feet, which to me is the best way.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure as CEO of your own company?
The highlights have been seeing my bags in Bloomingdale's in NYC the day we launched. It was incredible! I was thrilled to have gotten that far and was really aware that my work was just starting. Also, a huge highlight for me was winning the Rising Star Award from the Fashion Group International. It was such a fantastic honor. I was very proud of all my team and I had accomplished.
The manufacturing process has been very challenging at times. At times shipping and making delivery deadlines has been a bit hairy. But, as I have learned, all of this happens to everyone, and I learned not to freak out too much.
With my catering company, Cornelia Guest Events, we have had to create dinners in tiny kitchens with no electricity, so, once again, we learned how to make magic happen on our own feet. You don't have a choice when you are in charge of your own business. You must make it work and especially with food, it must be delicious!
Tell us about the new projects that you are working on.
My latest project is a collaboration with Project Gravitas. Lisa Sun, the founder, and I have decided to do a line of "cruelty-free" leather jacket. They are fantastic and we launched our first capsule collection of three styles this fall and will add others for Spring. I'm very excited about it.
What advice can you offer women who are seeking to start their own business?
My advice to women starting their own business is first to say, "Fantastic! Go for it!" And be prepared to bust your hump!! It is 24-7, 365 days a year when you first start. As you grow, surround yourself with people that you like (it's not easy to work with someone you don't like, no matter how smart they might be) and who are fantastic at what they do. All of us at Cornelia Guest LLC do it all. If my team sees something that needs to be done, we get it done. You're only as good as the rest of your team. So make sure you have a good one. Also, don't be embarrassed to ask for advice from others. I am always asking my friends for advice and no question is a stupid one. Go seek out advice whenever you can. I also love to read biographies to see how people accomplish things. And be nice and helpful to other women... it's great karma!
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Maintaining a work/life balance can be tricky, but essential. As I have gotten older, I have learned to really take care of myself and take breaks. I find when I do, I'm refreshed and my creativity doesn't get stuck. When I work like crazy 24/7 for weeks on end, after a while, I just get in a rut and nothing feels right. Of course,there are times when work is crazy but I try and plan for that time and I find it really helps to turn my gadgets off at night. No emails or calls about work clears my head!
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I think women must support other women. Times are changing for us all and we are all learning as we go. As women become more and more successful, more is expected of us and the magnifying glass is intense. So help other women, talk and mentor them. Let them know it's not so scary and it's incredibly rewarding.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
To me, mentors are so important. They are a calm, safe place in the middle of the storm. I could not survive without the knowledge and kindness of my mentors both in my personal and work life.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire Carolina Herrera, Jane Goodall, Alice Waters, Diane Swayer, the list goes on and on. These women are all mavericks in certain ways and they are all incredibly gifted and kind and generous to others. To me, that's what it's all about.
What do you want to personally and professionally accomplish in the next year?
I will continue to grow all aspect of the Cornelia Guest Cruelty Free world and also start a home collection and another book. I'm also working on a TV show, which I'm very excited about!