People to Watch 2010
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CEO, World Trade Center – New Orleans
For someone whose life and career has been spent globetrotting, a position as CEO of the World Trade Center in New Orleans – the first of 300 World Trade Centers worldwide – is oddly appropriate. Originally from Italy, the 27-year-old earned an M.B.A. from Tulane University’s AB Freeman School of Business; a master’s degree in management from the Business School of the University of Innsbruck, Austria; and an Italian Ph.D. from the University of Bolzano, Italy.
Knoll worked in Germany, Italy, Austria and Denmark before serving as assistant to the CEO and project manager of Kronberg International and working directly with companies in Milan, Vienna, London and the U.S. He also published his first book in 2007, How Companies Successfully Enter Clusters, written in German.
Knoll then decided to focus his business acumen on New Orleans. “I came before Katrina to New Orleans and fell in love with it,” he says. “(I) love my job…I was always interested in international trade, which was and is highly important for Louisiana and New Orleans.”
Knoll officially began his role as CEO of the non-profit business, investment and trade organization on July 1. “I am looking forward to serving the WTC members and the whole community of New Orleans and Louisiana in promoting trade, and creating jobs and wealth in our area.”
Owner, Highwater Gallery and Arts Kinetic
Valentine’s Day 2009 was an important day for Forrest Bacigalupi, and not because of candy hearts and Hallmark cards. Feb. 14 marked the opening of Highwater Gallery, the culmination of 10 months of renovating one of the oldest and most dilapidated buildings in the Carrollton neighborhood. He defied a terrible economy and a “minimally visible location” at 7800 Oak St., ultimately finding success in an unlikely time and place.
“The quality and unique character of the artwork in this gallery has stood on its own,” Bacigalupi says, “and has kept a growing number of patrons and supporters participating in a word-of-mouth marketing campaign that has helped Highwater Gallery become a successful business. I decided from its inception that if I was still standing on the other side of this economic morass, I would be a much better businessman for it. I’m working my way towards that goal, daily.”
Highwater Gallery features rotating exhibits of eclectic folk art and other craftwork that showcase the uniqueness of New Orleans and its artists. Bacigalupi’s first major endeavor, however, was in 2005 with the launch of Arts Kinetic, a collection of art including whimsical and provocative vintage posters and handmade jewelry. Pieces from Arts Kinetic have been featured in local festivals and art markets since its inception.
“My long-term goals involve continuing to improve and develop in my craft, maximizing the impact of my artistic vocabulary, and to continue to respond to the ever amazing community, lifestyle and experience here in New Orleans,” he says. “My creative vision has been honed in New Orleans, and my hope is that my art reflects my experiences here with fidelity and insight.”
Susan Woods and Becca Selvidge Fox
Owners, House of Lounge
Becca Fox and Susan Woods know better than anyone that sex sells. The two women, who have owned House of Lounge since 2009, see the benefits of sex appeal every day. “I get to help people feel sexy and glamorous all the time,” says Woods, who also hosts Burlesque for Beginners for bachelorette parties and other events.
“(House of Lounge is) a place where you can indulge in fantasy, but also find what we refer to as ‘everyday glamour,’” says Fox. “Women deserve to have well-fitting undergarments that make them feel fantastic every day, not just on special occasions. After all, this business is instant gratification.”
The two want to encourage a positive body image and lifestyle. “My long-term goal is to spread the gospel of New Orleans,” says Fox. “As Louis Prima sings, ‘Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.’ For me, that message starts with the first garment a woman puts on in the morning.” Woods says they also want to expand their private label line with designer Jill Townsend “and to be known as the best place in New Orleans for high-quality sexy unmentionables.” Fox seconds: “Doesn’t the rest of the world deserve a peek at what helps to keep New Orleans sexy?”
Lingerie is not, contrary to popular belief, all just fun and games. There are technical aspects as well. Woods says her greatest accomplishment is “learning how to fit a bra properly. Having a bra that fits well is the next best thing to money and diamonds, ladies!”
Fox and Woods have plenty of plans for House of Lounge on the horizon, including their annual Art for Art’s Sake party (“Think specialty cocktails, Fleur de Tease models in the windows, delicious light bites, etc.,” says Woods.)
as well as “more trunk shows, more special events and who knows? The possibilities are sexy and endless.”
From the first moment Issa Abou-Issa stepped foot into New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art at age 9 for a school field trip, she knew she wanted to be an artist. “These paintings spoke to me loud,” she says. “I took in every detail of these paintings. All I remember were Goya and Rembrandt – and the next thing, there was dead silence. I finally snapped out of my trance and realized I was alone. My classmates and teacher left to another room and I was surrounded by another school.”
Abou-Issa’s passion for art continues to this day, exhibited in her fervor (“I see art all the time in my head and in my sleep. Sometimes it’s maddening,” she says.) and in her versatility. She has studied and become proficient in ceramics, welding, pottery and glassblowing, as well as painting and furniture design. Abou-Issa, a New York native who considers Louisiana her true home, works from a home studio, which suits her free spirit perfectly. “I can choose to work anytime I want, even in my pajamas!”
Her clientele is quickly expanding and now even includes celebrities; Abou-Issa recently completed commissions for a star of Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of New York” and a star of “The Real Housewives of New Jersey.”
Her greatest challenges have come with trying to balance a career and family. Abou-Issa creates works for clients, designs her website, does her own accounting and public relations, and packs and delivers her works, all while raising two kids.
All the work is worth it, however, because she feels she’s following her dream. “When I feel something very strong, I waste no time in pursuing what I want,” she says. “I’m a risk taker. I would rather try and fail then to never try and wonder ‘What if? If only? I should have?’”
Andrew Wong, Egbert Ming and George Chin
Founders, Jazzmen Rice
It would seem as though the current economy would be the worst time to begin a start-up venture. Fortunately, George Chin, Egbert Ming and Andrew Wong disregarded naysayers when they founded Jazzmen Rice earlier this year.
“Our biggest challenge was to open a new business in a slow national economy,” says Chin. “Because of many business failures, it has been difficult to obtain financing and outside funding.” But, he says, “I like the challenges a new business brings.” Ming, who has also been a nurse anesthetist for the past 26 years, also found the risks of a brand new business thrilling. “To me, creating something from nothing is what it is all about,” he says.
Jazzmen Rice sells a U.S.-bred jasmine-type aromatic variety of rice called Jazzman – Americans have had to buy traditional jasmine rice imported from Thailand, until now. With the exotic strain now grown locally (and thus selling for less), Jazzmen Rice is expected to boost production from 500 tons in its first year to 63,000 tons by 2011.
The childhood friends find satisfaction in the venture’s potential to boost the local economy. “Jazzmen Rice is a new product to New Orleans and the rest of the country,” Ming says. “Growing this product creates jobs and helps the people of the state of Louisiana. The growth potential in limitless, and our goal is that this great product will also aide people in other states and – why not – other countries.”
“My greatest accomplishment is to see consumers realize that our premium rice is in fact better than many out there in the market,” Wong says. “In the near future, we would like to be all over the world,” Chin says.
Jolie Benson and Sarah Elizabeth Dewey
Founders and Designers, Jolie and Elizabeth
Jolie Benson and Sarah Elizabeth Dewey made it big in the fashion world – Benson was an intern for Betsey Johnson and a merchandiser for BCBG Max Azria Group in New York City; Dewey was her intern at BCBG. The two were in the Mecca of fashion, but decided to take their passion from the Big Apple to the Big Easy.
“We chose to start Jolie and Elizabeth because it has been a dream and a goal of ours to design, produce and overall base a fashion line in New Orleans,” they say. “We both have always been passionate about fashion and our home city of New Orleans … We knew our brand and our business idea could succeed.” They both have degrees from Louisiana State University in fashion merchandising and have used their knowledge to create a line of Southern designs, including seersucker fashions for women and “Heart Nola” tees, benefiting the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana. Benson is the head of creative design while Dewey heads public relations, marketing and sales.
“One challenge that we are most proud of overcoming is our goal to stay local,” they say. “In many ways, New Orleans is ahead of the trend with this. Using local resources, supporting local businesses, especially in a time of economic hardship is the clear way to sustain our city.”
Jolie and Elizabeth designs are featured in 20 boutiques locally and nationally, and will soon be unveiling a Spring 2011 line. They eventually hope to own a stand-alone flagship store in New Orleans and ultimately expand Jolie and Elizabeth nationally and internationally.