Women in Business Q&A: Toma Clark Haines, Chief Executive, The Antiques Diva

Women in Business Q&A: Toma Clark Haines, Chief Executive, The Antiques Diva
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Toma Clark Haines is the Chief Executive of The Antiques Diva, Europe's largest antiques touring and sourcing company. As an American who has lived abroad over 15 years, it has been said Clark Haines is conquering countries faster than Napoleon. Working with a team of 18+ locally-based agents, The Antiques Diva® & Co offers customized antique buying tours in 8 countries working with both the public as well as the trade. Her favorite part of her job is stocking clients antique stores and creating new trends in home fashions.

When this Global Tastemaker is not taking some of the top names in the design industry on buying tours, Clark Haines is also a freelance travel and design writer, an international public speaker and a social media guru. She is a champagne connoisseur, a vintage Chanel addict and her hobbies include driving fast cars and gourmet cooking. Traveling extensively for work, she divides her time between her home in Berlin, Germany and each of her companies tour countries as well as quarterly visits to the USA. Her long-term goals include expanding her company into Asia. Her greatest challenge in life is remembering when she wakes each day whether to greet the day with a Buogiorno, Bonjour, Guten Tag or simply Good Day.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
As a child growing up in Oklahoma my mother had a cross stitch that hung in our living room which read "There are Two Lasting Gifts You Can Give To Your Children. One is Roots. The Other Wings." I was raised to be empowered. I believed I could fly. Early in my marriage after living in Pennsylvania, Massachussettes and Ohio my husband was offered an opportunity to move overseas. We moved first to Paris for 5 years with his job, and later to Amsterdam for 5 years and then to Berlin where I've been for 6 years. When we moved to Paris the French government denied my work visa telling me I was not allowed to work in France. Giving up my career in marketing and advertising I embraced Parisian life.... learning the ways of the Europeans. I took cooking lessons at the Ritz Escoffier and became a certified French Picture Framer and took art history lessons at the Louvre. I pursued my passions with a purpose never taking my time in France for granted - I considered it my finishing school. When my husband and I moved from Paris to Amsterdam I discovered a wonderful little glitch in the Dutch work visa status that if I created my own company I could bypass the traditional work visa regulations. This loophole allowed me to pursue a career again. While I'd loved my prior career I knew I was ready to make my mark on the world. Having been given the opportunity to pursue my passions in Paris I had clearly defined where I wanted to be spending my time - I understood what made me tick and was self motivated enough to tackle the bureaucracy involved in starting an international company. Living abroad opened my mind to new ideas and new ways of thinking, while at the same time it helped me cement my own belief system. And most of all it nurtured a tenacity to always find a solution. The French are known for their first answer to any question being "Non, C'est Pas Possible." But I learned that in reality in France, "All Things Are Possible" if you ask the right question.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure as The Antiques Diva?
Working in the USA in promotion marketing/advertising with clients such as Dunkin Donuts, Target, McDonalds and Pearl Vision was the best education I could have had before diving into starting my own company. From the beginning I employed the same level of brand management and marketing strategies in my own campaigns as I would have with big brand clients. While today The Antiques Diva & Co is a small but international company - working with a team of 18 locally-based guides in 8 countries - as a brand we have a big brand presence within a niche part of the interior design industry. With a very small budget when first starting my company I invested initially in graphic design. Giving my company a strong recognizable logo was key in building brand awareness. I was then able to employ guerrilla marketing techniques through social media to spread the word about our services, establish our brand presences and personality. When working in promotion marketing and advertising my strength had been in new business development, coming up with multiple ideas for campaigns and solutions to a variety of industry challenges. It trained me to have a flexibility in my mind - in my way of thinking - aiding me to react swiftly with clarify of thought to changing dynamics and perhaps most importantly, to see clearly ways in which I can increase and broaden my current business portfolio.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure as The Antiques Diva?
As a company our greatest strength has also been our greatest challenge - We are the largest antiques touring (and sourcing) company in Europe - we have a global reach - but at the core why we succeed and excel is because we have a local touch. My employees are reminded constantly to "Think Global. Act Local." Our clients can shop with us in multiple countries building on their European experience. We're able to seamlessly with one shipper facilitate a multi-country European Antique Buying Experience. What makes us special is that in each country we have locally-based guides who not only know the local antiques scene but they understand the local language and culture and are also able to advice which hotel to stay, what restaurant to dine, where to go for cocktails and where to do some additional (not antiques related) shopping. We understand that European antiques do not exist in a vacuum - when a client comes to Europe to buy antiques abroad they also want to experience some of the European - or Diva - Lifestyle. That's where our company name originates Antiques + Diva Lifestyle.

Highlights have been the continued sky-rocket growth of our company from being a one-woman operation to the team of 18 employees in 8 countries. Our company growth has happened organically - we've absorbed would be competitors in Italy, England and Sweden and meanwhile have gained employees entirely through word of mouth and referrals. Through crowd-sourcing my contacts I've pulled together some of the most connected people in European antiques under one very chic "Diva" umbrella. The challenge in this is managing guides in 8 independent countries. The President of France - Charles De Gualle's famous quote "How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?" applies readily to my company. While English is our business language we've 7 languages and 8 different cultures to take into consideration. Keeping guides connected to our core business - understanding our brand overall is imperative in helping them to feel part of a global team and not an island in themselves.

Lastly one of our greatest challenges is simply awareness that this profession - antique sourcing guide - even exists! Many of our clients stumble onto our website through our blog while googling how to buy antiques in Europe and only then- after finding themselves in the thick of our company website - realize they can hire someone to help them navigate the international waters of buying antiques abroad.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
My industry offering customized antique buying tours is such a niche industry! The best way to get into the industry is to begin by building your little black book of contacts on both sides of the pond. Build both your potential client list as well as your vendor list. At The Antiques Diva & Co we don't sell antiques - we sell relationships. We introduce buyers to sellers, bridging the international gap. The most important asset you can develop can't be bought - you need relationships in order to be successful in this industry. Get out there, make yourself known, go to antique fairs, meet the vendors, go to furniture markets and antique fairs, meet the buyers. Meanwhile learn all you can. Be a jack of all trades. Dip your hands into antiques learning the entire process - from learning how to restore antiques, to appraise antiques, to ship antiques. The more you know the better you'll be.

What are the most important lessons you've learned in your career to date?
Just do it. Take a Chance. Don't wait until you know everything there is to know. You will never know it all. Learn as you go. When you make mistakes admit them. Fix them. Apologize and move on. Be Bold. Ask for what you want. Be Inventive. Think of ways to set yourself apart from competitors. Realize competition is not bad. See competition as an opportunity. Improve your game. Improve your services. Continue learning. Never think you know it all. Always ask questions. Be wise enough to ask advice. Be strong enough to ignore advice that's not applicable. Trust yourself. Trust your instincts. And whatever you do - no matter how many articles there are printed about you - never - ever - believe your own press. Always press to be better. Be wiser. Do your best. Every. Single. Day.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Maintaining a work/life balance is the greatest challenge I face in my personal life. I love my job. I'm happy to live, eat and breathe my job... BUT I've learned that in order to succeed in business I have to take time away from it. A small step towards work like balance began when I hired my personal trainer and when I found fit boxing I knew I'd found my stress reliever!

And believe it or not - one of the biggest solutions to managing my time crunch - has been learning to take a break. Each morning after my first 4 hours in the office - I go for a walk. Exercise gets the blood flowing and wakes up the brain. I'm able to use this time to process and think through things that need more dedicated time - while doing something healthy it also enables me to think more creatively about work problems, finding solutions while in that new environment walking in nature or working out with my trainer.

I've also learned to listen to my body in determining my natural rythm and thus work when I am most productive. For me it's in the early morning hours that I am most productive- I wake daily around 4am and have 4 hours in my office before most people leave to go to work. During those 4 hours I am able to accomplish twice as much work as I'm uninterrupted and have high energy which gives me more time later in the day... to just be a normal "real life human being"! It allows me extra time to take a long lunch with a girl friend or end the day early to join a social club activity in the evening.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Work/life balance is by far the biggest issue with women in the workplace. We women tend to be perfectionists - we don't just want to do it all, we want to do it perfectly, look great whilst doing it, have a home that could appear on the cover of a magazine, out earn our spouses, be perfect parents to perfect kids... oh... and we want to make it seem easy peasy pumpkin pie. My motto in life tends to be "Never Let Them See You Sweat" but on the inside I'm often wearing some heavy-duty antiperspirant to survive my life demands. The biggest realization I've had is that it's okay to not be perfect. Last year a problem in my personal life meant I wasn't able to carry my normal work load - And you know what? The world didn't fall apart when I missed some deadlines, didn't respond to every email, and didn't accomplish every task on my to do list. It was a wonderful lesson for me! As women we need to set aside that natural inclination for perfectionism and accept that sometimes "Good" is "Good Enough" - Perfection isn't always necessary. My mom always tells me to choose my battles... and I do believe there is a time to be a perfectionist... but not everything needs to be perfect!

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Whereas I didn't have one mentor - I did have many friends whom I went to for advice. One of my best friends Catherine Russell today works as a social media consultant at HireCatherine.com. At the time when I started my company she gave me a lot of advice in what new social tools I should be using. Some of her advice I followed, others I tucked away for later, and some didn't feel applicable to my market at that time. Today she continues to consult for my business updating me on new tools, encouraging me when it's time to join new platforms and advising on what platforms are passé in addition to managing special projects such as our new website launch late fall 2015. Catherine pushes me into arena's I might not have discovered on my own. Her advice also causes me to think - to see if I agree with her - and if not, why not. Its incredibly important to have someone you can bounce ideas off of - a third party not invested in your company who can look objectively at your business from the outside, a friend you can trust to tell you the truth as well as a cheerleader who believes in you even on those days you don't believe in yourself.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Almost all my female heroes are in the food industry! Julia Child, Rachel Ray, Nigella Lawson and Ina Garten are all utterly inspirational for me. When founding my company I modeled my brand The Antiques Diva & Co after watching the evolution of the Ina Garten's brand The Barefoot Contessa. Ina inspires me as a woman who wasn't afraid to take a chance - despite her lack of experience running a business or working in the food industry Ina left her successful career in the White House to pursue her passion in the food industry by buying a small speciality food store. Under her leadership the store exploded expanding to a 3000 square foot space. She then wrote a series of incredibly popular cookery books and created an even more popular eponymously named television series on Food Network before delving into licensing products. Her simple and straightforward approach makes entertaining utterly effortless. Her direct clear way of communicating with her readers and viewers empowers them. She makes her world accessible, inviting you into her lifestyle so that readers/viewers can be a part of all it is that she does. At The Antiques Diva & Co that's our mission - to make European lifestyle and antiques - accessible.

What do you want to personally and professionally accomplish in the next year?
Long term, my goal really is worldwide diva domination! Today The Antiques Diva & Co is the largest antiques touring and sourcing company in Europe and within 10 years I want to be the largest in Asia. But in the meantime I'm comfortable conquering Europe one country at a time. This year we're in process of expanding in Spain, Portugal, Switzerland and Scotland. My goal would be to find local guides in Poland, Czech and Hungary by the end of 2016. Overall my objective in addition to increasing our tour offerings is to continue to increase our income streams.

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