Whether it’s a Nashville Predators playoff win, an album release or a group of visiting bridesmaids, there’s always a reason to have a party in Music City. And in many cases, Randi Lesnick, President and CEO of Randi Events, is the one who plans it.
Though she regularly designs six-figure nuptials and celebrations for country music royalty, Randi’s foray into the business was less than glamorous. She was at a child’s birthday party when her then 1-year-old threw up on her shirt, and as she was cleaning it off, she met the man who was opening the Nashville subsidiary label of DreamWorks Records. Randi ended up throwing the grand opening party for DreamWorks Nashville, and she has been planning similar events ever since.
Business has been great for the last 20 years, but as with any business venture, there have been challenges. The biggest? Her breast cancer diagnosis in 2008. Randi is now cancer-free, and with her illness firmly in the rearview, she shares what that experience taught her about life and business, as well as the best way to support someone going through a similar diagnosis. Welcome our newest FACE of the South, Randi Lesnick.
Your breast cancer diagnosis in February 2008 was obviously very difficult for your husband and two sons to process — and it was difficult for you on a personal level as well, but how did it impact your business?
At the time I had five employees, and we were working out of the basement of my house, which was set up like offices. And I was very much involved in the planning phase of the business at that time. I would go to every single event, and my husband and I would roll tables and drop linen.
So once I got past the fact that I had breast cancer, and I had told my kids and my husband, my biggest concern was my business. I just assumed I was going to have to close it down because the way it was being run at the time was all about me. But then my staff came to me and said, “We’ve got this. Don’t worry about the business; you have to take care of yourself.”
Why do you think you were so worried?
I thought that as soon as my clients heard that I had breast cancer — after they had worked with me day-in and day-out for years — they would react in one of two ways. They’d either say, “I don’t want to bother her,” and they would go to another company. Or they’d know that I wouldn’t be able to work as hard as I had been, and they’d find another planner. Those are two legitimate thoughts that I completely understand, but I wanted clients to know that I wasn’t going to let this get me down, and that the company wasn’t just me — I had great planners and great designers working with me.
So I sent an email out to some of my top clients, and I told them all that I had breast cancer. I asked them to please support my company and to not run the other way. And they all supported me. They were awesome, and so was my staff. So I guess the silver lining to all of that — besides the fact that I’m healthy and I beat breast cancer — was that, for the first time, I was able to realize it wasn’t all about me.
What immediate changes did you have to make so that your staff could go in and execute without you?
I had seven three-week chemo cycles, so I would take off to do one week of chemo, then I would go to work the next two weeks. The next two weeks, I would go to work, but I basically let go of everything, and my staff did all of the planning and designing. The only thing I held onto was the checkbook and the accounting.
You obviously didn’t have much of a choice, but was it difficult to make that transition?
To this day I probably would still have never let go unless I had a reason, and having breast cancer was my reason. It forced me into letting go, and without that experience, I probably wouldn’t have realized what a great team I had then, or what a great team I have now, and I wouldn’t have appreciated them as much as I do.
What advice do you have for other women who have gotten a bad diagnosis — or are going through a health scare — and are nervous that their world is going to fall apart because of it?
The first thing they have to do is take care of their family and themselves. When I got sick, I knew I was not going to give up, and I was not going to leave my husband and my kids. So first and foremost, it was about me and my family. The second thing to remember is that your business is just your business. It’s such a miniscule part of life, so you just have to learn to trust the people around you. And if it falls apart, it falls apart, because the most important thing is you. A business is never built on one person. There might be one name on the door, but it’s never built on one person.
So this is something that even healthy women need to consider as they build and run their own businesses?
Absolutely. Build a solid team around you and learn to trust them with more responsibility. It shouldn’t take cancer to convince you that you need to maintain some balance between work and the rest of your life — especially when it comes to your health.
As someone who has survived cancer, what advice do you have to help women support a friend or family member who is battling the disease?
Unless you’ve actually gone through breast cancer, you absolutely cannot relate to it; you absolutely cannot give advice; and you absolutely cannot help — except to just be supportive. And by being supportive, I mean taking things off their plate and making life easier.
When I had cancer, I had a neighbor come by unannounced and say, “I’ll take the kids to school.” Something so small can make such a big difference, so you can offer to walk your friend’s dogs, or go shopping for them. Just try to be supportive in a way that has nothing to do with cancer, because if you haven’t gone through it, it’s hard to know how to really help with that disease. People used to send me fruit baskets without understanding that you can’t have fruit when you’re getting chemo.
Really, the best thing you could do is connect your friend or relative to another survivor who is willing to talk about their experience. Give them a phone number, so that when they’re ready to talk, they can talk to someone who knows exactly what they’re dealing with.
You plan fabulous, luxury weddings and throw parties for folks like Thomas Rhett and Florida Georgia Line. But what would you be doing if you weren’t doing that?
I had always worked in the hotel business, but when we moved from New York to Nashville, I was really concentrating on being a wife and a mother. I thought that I wasn’t going to work, but that didn’t last very long. But I also know that I wouldn’t continue to work for someone else. I had a great salary, and I loved the company that I worked for in my previous job, but when I realized that they still owed me 14 cents an hour because of all of the overtime that I had worked, I knew that I was done with corporate America. So if I wasn’t an event planner, I don’t exactly know what I’d be doing, but I know I’d be an entrepreneur.
Aside from faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
My business, my home and my staff. I love my staff, and I couldn’t be where I am today without them.
Thank you, Randi, for sharing your story and offering insight on how best to support those battling cancer. And thank you to Leila Grossman of Grannis Photography for today’s beautiful photos.
Meet more amazing Southern women in our FACES section. Prepare to be inspired!