Women in Business Q&A: Cheryl Cecchetto, Owner and President, Sequoia Productions

Women in Business Q&A: Cheryl Cecchetto, Owner and President, Sequoia Productions
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Cheryl Cecchetto, owner and president of Sequoia Productions, has been at the forefront of the special event world since 1990. At the heart of the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, Cecchetto and her crackerjack production team have consistently delivered comprehensive, cutting edge celebrations to the most distinguishing of clients, and savviest of guests. Trained in Toronto and New York in the performing arts, Cheryl's penchant for the dramatic inspires both classic elements and emerging technologies to transform guests via all of the five senses.

Cheryl's many prestigious clients and projects include:

•Academy Awards Governors Ball - 25 consecutive years
•Emmy Awards Governors Ball - 17 consecutive years
•The G'Day USA Gala - 11 consecutive years
•Emirates Airlines
•Children's Hospital Los Angeles
•The Tournament of Roses - Rose Parade
•Warner Brothers Studios
•Cedars-Sinai Hospital
•Entertainment Weekly
•20th Century Fox
•People's Choice Awards
•Goldman Sachs

Cheryl has been featured on Good Morning America, The Today Show, CNN, E! Entertainment, Entertainment Tonight, FOX News, CBS News, ABC's On The Red Carpet, and Access Hollywood. Her events and designs have been featured in countless publications including The Los Angeles Times, In Style, The Robb Report, Entertainment Weekly, USA Today, Vanity Fair, and People Magazine.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
My parents were first born children to Italian immigrants who came to North America with almost nothing but their dreams, their courage, and a strong work ethic. Dad ran the family construction business with his brothers. They were independent, entrepreneurial, creative, and had a zest for life. At the same time, they instilled in us a strong love of family. Just as my father ran his own business, I've l always enjoyed mentoring and managing a group of people to work as a team, ever since I helped manage my uncle's restaurant when I was still in my teens.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure as a special events producer?
My parents found plenty of reason to celebrate the whole, extended family as often as possible, with homemade food and home-grown music. Leaving for college, I studied theater arts and pursued acting in New York and Los Angeles where I developed a penchant for the dramatic, for the visual, and a fascination with the technical elements of behind-the-scenes production. Without initially intending a career in Special Events, those supposedly unrelated variables assured that the dye was cast.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure as a special events producer?
Working with a client comprising of a committee often translates into multiple visions and areas of expertise contributing to the project. My job is to listen carefully to everyone's inspiration and priorities, adding my own areas, all the while encouraging a synergy and common purpose.

As another example, the austerity of the recent economic downturn demanded an extra measure of ingenuity and resourcefulness to preserve cutting edge design excellence and service during challenging times. It's such a joy to see my idea brought to full fruition.

What advice can you offer women who are looking for a career in your industry?
It's wonderful to build a career doing what you love. I would first suggest that you be honest with yourself about giving it your all, working past being tired, and being a self-starter. Also, you might consider working for an event producer for at least a year or even two in order to learn about the nuts and bolts of the business before embarking on your own.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I schedule my family and relaxation time in my datebook right next to my business appointments. Our family life is STILL a work in progress, but I do manage to attend most of my daughter's recitals and my son's soccer games when he was in middle school. We reserve Sunday whenever we can as a family day, when we endeavor to put our smart devices in a drawer and spend time with each other. I'm also a yoga fanatic, which I find helps center and relax me more than an extra hour of sleep.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I really don't feel that I'm challenged as a woman in the workplace, any more than if I were a man. Perhaps it's because I live in Los Angeles, a most progressive of cities. I'm so driven and passionate about creating the next celebration, if there are issues out there because I am woman, I don't really notice them, because I'm too excited about the project. Again, as a working woman, with so much responsibility running my own company, I'm very much aware that children need their mothers, so even on the most busy of days, part of my brain is always connected to where my kids are, what they might need, and how is their day? I may be tired and have a number of emails still to answer on a Saturday night, but you will hopefully still find us at our favorite restaurant or at the movies together. The kids are becoming more independent - but last Saturday we trimmed (most of) the tree together. It's a busy life - and the kids' schedules seemed even more packed than mine - but we enjoy each other's company so much, and we do our best.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Training someone to learn a skill and take responsibility for it is not only satisfying, but vital for my business. Someone once said, perhaps whimsically, 'Hire people who are better than you." It's exciting to hire someone with a fantastic attitude and great energy, and be part of their evolution towards expertise. Many of my most productive and creative staff began as my assistants. I love mentoring them, as they find their potential and develop into a great asset for the company. Perhaps THAT'S the woman and mother in me, but it's win-win.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I have come to know some wonderful clients, whom I can now call my good friends, and who are very inspiring to me. Cheryl Boone Issacs is a respected executive in the Entertainment Industry who recently became the first African-American woman elected President of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. I love how Oprah Winfrey incorporates entertainment as a tool to teach and inspire woman and men to cherish each other, live good lives, and give back. Angelia Jolie, recipient of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award Honorary Oscar, draws vital attention and resources to at-risk woman and families the world over.

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