June’s meeting was hosted by Holly Hunt, Founder and CEO of the eponymous Chicago-based furniture company. The Holly Hunt line contains hundreds of pieces, textiles, and leathers represented in ten showrooms worldwide. The brand is recognized for its classic lines, highly refined forms, and luxurious materials and finishes and includes lines from other select designers as well.
The success of Holly Hunt as a company epitomizes both the motivating force of necessity and the need to take advantage of fortuitous opportunities. Holly founded her company in the early 1980s as a newly divorced single mother of three children. She purchased a failing showroom, and, leveraging the limited design education options that were available at the time, envisioned reinventing the furniture industry into a ten-month cycle more similar to that of the fashion industry than its existing ten-year cycle. Holly also pioneered the use of a glamorous, well-staged showroom as a marketing tool at a time when furniture was still being sold in warehouse-like settings. She built her brand around three principles: 1) delivering the highest quality design, 2) emphasizing the presentation of the product, and 3) providing first-rate customer service.
Functioning more like a curator than an absolute designer, Holly repeatedly expressed gratitude for the team behind her brand. Because of her position, Holly had particularly strong insights on the difference between the leadership and management. Leadership is the ability to motivate people to do what they are best at, which requires a leader to give their team members freedom and foster a sense of pride in what is produced. Management is interested in control, from production to output. Making this distinction is particularly important when working with creative professionals because of the type of personalities and work involved.
Noting that “all the cliches are true,” Holly filled the evening with simple but inspirational quips:
Make hay when the sun shines (from her Texas upbringing)
Never let best get in the way of better
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
Not taking a risk is the biggest risk
The harder you work the luckier you get
Out of the initial personal crisis of divorce came the opportunity for Holly to succeed in the furniture design industry as a single mother. Looking back, she did reflect that the drive to provide for her children did limit her ability to take part in their lives as their mother. However, Holly stands as an ever gracious and singular role model for women in the design field. Thank you for an informative and inspirational evening.