As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrea Correale. Andrea is the founder and president of Elegant Affairs, a full service off-premise catering and event planning company. She received her training through the Hotel and Restaurant Management program at New York Institute of Technology. After starting her own business at age 16 in the catering industry, Andrea had made it her goal to inspire home cooks to make the ordinary, extraordinary using simple ingredients in unexpected ways. Andrea’s commitment to providing the best food, service and overall experience is exactly why Elegant Affairs is known as the go-to caterer in Manhattan and the Hamptons. Elegant Affairs has been honored to serve many amazing celebrity clients including: Billie Eilish, Mariah Carey, Leonardo DiCaprio, Nick Cannon, Adam Sandler, Alec Baldwin, Christy Brinkley, Kevin Costner, P. Diddy, Jimmy Fallon, Billy Joel, Debra Messing, Rose Bryne, Jonathan Cheban, TLC, Nelly, Bebe Rexha and Flo Rida. Andrea has also worked with corporate giants such as Amazon, American Express, Audible, American Heart Association, Cirque du Soleil, DuJour Magazine, Ferrari Maserati, Google, HBO, Jimmy Choo, Niche Media, Open Road Media, Ralph Lauren and Urban Daddy. Andrea’s creativity, passion, knowledge and skill set has prompted appearance requests from Bravo, CBS, FOX, HGTV, MTV, NBC, VH1, News 12 Long Island and PIX11.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
“Iwas 15-years-old and wanted to get a job to save for my first car lol. I got a job at a prestigious country club as a waitress and fell in love with the event industry. Needless to say, I worked in every position possible, bartender, bridal attendant, you name it! I soon became a captain and was running major events at age 16. I started my company that same year.”
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
“I knew early on that I needed a GM, or a strong second, to grow my company. I decided to reduce my income (which wasn’t much at the time) to 30 percent less so that I could hire an experienced manager who would be a key part to grow my new business. It worked!”
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
“I used to meet with my accountant quarterly and he used to tell me that I have to concentrate on increasing my margin. I had no clue what he was talking about and I kind of dismissed it. I just wanted to land sales. Well obviously, years later I appreciated the importance of that and now analyze it weekly.”
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
“Yes, I am looking to acquire smaller to mid-size companies in different markets to diversify my business but also to help subsidize the slower season. It would be a home run for the company we acquire because they would be instantly more profitable and so would we.”
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
“Surround yourself with knowledgeable people like accountants, labor attorney, an HR consultant, insurance agent, etc. etc. and make sure you are set up properly from the get-go.”
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
“Work on your business, not in it. Inspire your team and management daily! Give them goals to reach and make them accountable.”
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
“I had many mentors along the way. Bill Mcan of 1–800-Flowers was one of them. When I would get into a pickle, I would call him for advice. He always leant an ear and pointed me in the right direction. I also joined business leadership organizations specific to my industry. I attended conferences to discuss industry-specific issues with other like business owners. This was probably the smartest thing I did to grow my business and get advice from others sitting in my exact seat but perhaps in a different state or market.”
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
“I donate a lot. For 19 years, I have donated 400 Thanksgiving dinners to the families that are part of the Boys & Girls Club of America. I donate my company’s services as auction items to charities that auction them off at live auctions. For example, I’ve donated a cocktail party for 20 to Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. I’ve donated these at least 10x a year. I speak at colleges to students trying to get into my field as well.”
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- “It is important to hire an HR person to protect yourself from lawsuits. I had a few in my career that were very expensive. If my paperwork was correct, I would have avoided them.”
- “Have an attorney review your client contract to ensure you are covered. Once we moved a client’s furniture to be nice and ended up damaging it. Needless to say, it was expensive to replace, and I had nothing in my contract to hold us harmless.”
- “If you have salespeople or managers, be sure to have them sign non-competes and or non-solicitation agreements. I had a GM once leave and attempt to steal my clients.”
- “If your business is seasonal, be sure to know how much you will need financially to carry you through the offseason. Bank that first before you take profits. I did not once, and it caused me huge stress during the slow season because of diminished cash flow.”
- “You probably won’t think about getting a retirement fund early on but it’s the smartest thing you can do. Often entrepreneurs don’t think of that in the beginning. I didn’t for sure.”
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
“I would inspire people to be real and not afraid to show fear, insecurity, and all the discomfort of managing a company and dealing with clients as well as employees. It’s hard and we have all learned that we need to hide all of those kinds of emotions. It’s okay to feel all those things and be human.”
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The only way out is through! That means when things get hard, you just keep going and it will resolve itself. Always keep going and don’t quit!”
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
“OPRAH! I love her and respect her. I would want to ask her about her experiences in growing her empire and humbly ask for advice in the areas where I struggle.”