Lena Evans is the founder of Jade Phoenix, an award-winning community organization dedicated to providing fundraising and event support as well as promotion services to non-profit organizations. Her philanthropy and cultivation of the spirit of volunteerism have garnered the honor of nominations for the prestigious awards of L’Oreal Paris Women of Worth, San Diego Magazine Woman of the Year, and Longines Women Who Make a Difference.
She has been featured in Yahoo’s “Women Who Shine”. She was named San Diego’s “Best Philanthropist/Volunteer” by Ranch & Coast Magazine and recognized for the “Hometown Heroes Award by her community for her service. She is also the mother of two amazing sons.
We had the pleasure of speaking with Lena and learning more about her and the world of philanthropy and gained more insight into volunteering.
Where were you born? Where did you spend your childhood?
I was born in Saigon, Vietnam. My mother is Vietnamese and my father is French. I came to the USA at age five and grew up in Marina del Rey, California. To pursue my passion and dreams, as a young adult, I eventually landed in the opulence of Beverly Hills, Brentwood and Bel Air. I now reside in the exclusive community of Rancho Santa Fe, California, in San Diego County.
Family, # of kids, parents’ occupations; influence of parents
My father was a lifetime Pan American/Delta operations executive. My older brother, younger sister and I grew up with a stay at home mom who frankly, was quite strict with discipline and behavioral expectations. With Western influence I choose to provide my sons with an empowered and independent upbringing to allow them to flourish in an atmosphere of ample opportunities.
Did you face any major adversity as a child or teen?
I had an upper-middle class life that lacked wanting. However, as a smart, headstrong young woman, I broke the authoritarian mold of tradition and anchored my entrepreneurial roots. I definitely see the ‘glass’ as full!
Education: Where did you go to high school/college/grad school?
I attended West Torrance High School and the University of California-LA (UCLA).
Work and career before launching or buying company
In the true spirit of being a strong woman, I have owned a paralegal company, and legal video/deposition company. I have been a film entertainment industry executive, with the focus specifically on finance, corporate strategic planning and digital visual effects. My robust network was created through these ventures and I attribute it in part to my ability to develop relationships on all levels. True to my philanthropic purpose, I also launched a line of cashmere sweaters known as “Cashmere for a Cause,” with 100% of proceeds donated to charity. My life’s work at this point is predominately focused on philanthropy.
QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR COMPANY
Mission and vision of company/firm
The mission of Deluxe Group (Exchange Deluxe and Golf Deluxe) is to become the global destination for all luxury products—new and pre-owned. We intend to make it simple for our customers to obtain what they want.
Who is your customer? How do you define your target customers?
Our customers are mainly women with a keen interest in fashion though perhaps not a lot of time to find it. This is true of our male clients as well. The guys are just often looking for different items – like watches! Our target customer is young, computer savvy and high-income.
What makes your company unique? What’s your company’s competitive advantage?
We endeavor to provide the best value, variety and service to our customers. We consider what we offer, “White Glove” customer service. We make the ‘best’, accessible and easy to purchase.
Start-Up Capital: How much to start/acquire? How did you raise it?
The business was seeded with $1 million in personal capital from six partners, on the founder’s level. As we expand our repertoire and our client base, our next round will be $5 Million.
Getting cities and municipalities on board (stories, how long, how hard, constraints on use)
We are providing a solution for those that are time constrained and who prefer a luxury product. The constraints are actually limited. As we create awareness of our services, the stories of success will spread. Our corporate offices are in Miami where in addition to an online presence we offer a storefront. We are also in the process of adding a Southern California office in San Diego.
Leadership style and business philosophies
Our leadership style is one of inclusion. The best team is of the right people who have the talent and skill to execute on our strategy. We appreciate those who take initiative, are proactive and have excellent communication ability. The culture we wish to create is one of enjoyment for our leaders and employees and certainly, our customers.
Thoughts on business partners and sharing ownership? How did you and partner(s) meet?
Relationships are certainly key in any business. Trust results in time invested together, which results in decisions to invest in business together. For example, I met the main founder whilst on vacation at the Four Seasons, Nevis 16 years ago. Our partners are long-time friends who have committed to join together to scale the business—with half being passive, and half hands-on. We do understand the lifestyle of those we serve and aim to please.
CRITICAL INGREDIENTS FOR SUCCESS
Seminal moments and achievements in company’s history; biggest setbacks & challenges
Our greatest achievement is our exceptional leadership team and our ability to procure stellar products. Our challenge is to compete with established companies with deep pockets. A setback, though already remedied, was to secure a solid and reliable technology company to assist with web functionality.
Where do you see your company in 5 years? Paint the picture for us.
We are in our scale growth phase as we continually work on financing and refining our business strategy. As our value continues to increase, we would like to conduct an IPO and have liquidity within five years. We are and will continue to be a global player in luxury from many product lines—from financial services, gourmet food, sports equipment, travel and healthcare.
Would you do anything differently?
As we reflect on our start up and progress, we would raise more capital from the nascent stage and secure the best tech team possible.
BEING AN ENTREPRENEUR
When did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I understood my desire for contribution and independence from a very young age. I believe entrepreneurs have the capability to create change in communities and in people’s lives by offering employment and useful products and services. I founded my first company at age 18 and have created or participated in a multitude of entities since.
Key traits for a successful entrepreneur?
There is much written on how to create success. As an entrepreneur, my best advice is to never give up. Be persistent and diligent in your actions each day. Stay focused on strategy and on service. You must take risks and have a threshold for ambiguity. Also, seek advice and help as you need it. There is more power in asking then trying to go it alone.
Biggest challenges to being an entrepreneur?
The challenges, in part, depend on the industry you have chosen. However, one staple is to not run short on capital. I would add that the team and people you surround yourself with are critical. Be discerning. Believe in yourself especially when you experience criticism, as you will. Stay the course.
Setbacks: What have you overcome? What did you learn from setbacks?
As business owners, we often learn from our mistakes. Sometimes these are expensive lessons. For example, our first web site was not up to our standards. We had to begin again on the design and content. Seek references, examples and testimonials for those you are looking to hire. Do your research. If you have a poor experience, just learn from it and pay it forward. Do not let it stop you.
What drives you? Has it changed over time?
Being a contributor drives me. As we provide luxurious products, my sense of luxury is helping others. A primary focus of my life and what lights me up each day is giving back. This provides the energy and the motivation to do what it takes because I take a stand for the well-being of others.
What is your personal highlight/proudest moment?
Simply….my sons. I am grateful for the fact that they are smart, caring, fun and growing to be great men.
Advice for those who dream of starting or running their own company
First, good for you and dream big – but intelligently. Do your homework on your competitors. Identify the best practices that you can apply. Create a plan. Determine and obtain the capital necessary to sustain. Assemble a reliable team. Enjoy the process. There is nothing better than being at the helm of a company born out of passion and purpose.
How did you find your passion for traveling?
My father was a pilot, and worked for Pan American Airlines. We traveled extensively thanks to the perks related to his job. As a result, I have loved seeing people and places around the world and realizing how connected we are in humanity regardless of culture or creed.
Where are some of your favorite places in the world?
I suppose what tops the list is Egypt. This is where I learned I was pregnant with my first son, so that is certainly most memorable. Another favorite is Venice, Italy, where I learned of my second son. The sense of mystery and history leaves your soul pondering their creation and wondering about the lives of the people who did so. I also love Australia where I spent the Millennium New Year and am still here to tell of it!
What are your top 5 favorite hotels in the world?
Honestly, I do not think I can limit it to five. Below are my favorite places in several countries of our world:
Villa d’Este, Lake Como
The Hôtel du Cap-Eden-Roc
Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris
Hassler Roma, Rome
Hotel Arts, Barcelona
Peninsula, Hong Kong
Four Seasons Hotel Buenos Aires, La Mansión
Copacabana Palace, Rio De Janeiro
Fasano São Paulo
Bellagio, Las Vegas
Peninsula, Beverly Hills
Mansion on Turtle Creek, Dallas
Four Seasons, New York
Hay-Adams, Washington D.C.
What are your top 5 favorite restaurants in the world?
They may be funny names, but The Fat Duck in Berkshire or the French Laundry in Yountville are excellent, as are:
Le Tour de Argent, Paris
Le Louis XV, Monaco
Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee, Paris
Eleven Madison Park, New York
What are you 3 favorite fashion brands?
Chanel, Prada, Hermes. I love their sophistication, comfort and colors.
What is your favorite car brand?
A Bentley or Ferrari can rev me up…
What does luxury mean to you?
Luxury is not considered a necessity, but is considered as something that brings pleasure or happiness. If you can afford something of luxury, whether it is a vacation, a home, product or an experience it is a representation of quality of life in addition to the opportunity to be of service. I do believe in the work hard, play hard motto.
What are 3 ways to live luxuriously without spending so much money?
Fill each day with joie de vivre, style and elegance – all of which can be achieved with little money in the bank. Find quality in people and experiences–not things. Luxury is about quality, and sometimes the best quality experiences are free. To give is luxurious. When you give of your money, time and energy, it’s like opening up space to allow abundance and luxury to flow into your life.
SOCIAL MEDIA ADVICE
What are 3 ways to increase your social media following?
First, I believe a common mistake in any sort of marketing or media is to tell what you ‘do’ rather than share what your customer or participant ‘receives’. Let your audience know the value to them. Second, focus on differentiation in how you communicate your message. Further, value is key. How are you better or best? Next, be relatable. Consumers and investors want to know a bit about who they are dealing with.
How did you build your following?
Pictures speak a thousand words. Powerful images are the absolute, number one way to capture an audience.
What is your favorite platform and how do you utilize it?
Communicating and marketing must be done through a multi-pronged approach. With Facebook, I have experienced it to be a most useful platform to get a message out to a wide range of demographics and psychographics. It is also simple to use. Instagram has really done a fabulous job of tying together the other platforms. My recommendation is to begin with Facebook because it is very accessible on every device, then move to Instagram and spread from that point.
PERSONALITY INSIGHTS/LESS SERIOUS TOPICS
What would you do if you weren’t doing this?
Well, I do love my businesses and my philanthropy, so do not require much more. I have harmony in my life by taking trips to new places around the world and I do play a mean game of poker!
What do you like to do for fun? What are your hobbies, sports, outlets?
Certainly, travel is a favorite hobby. I also enjoy the arts, including theater, symphony and ballet. I enjoy sports, including golf and yoga. My aim is to always beat the guys in a great game of poker. But my best day is in the service of others. It is my joy to help.
What inspires you? Who inspires you? Most influential people in your life?
Spirituality inspires me. Kindness and giving inspire me. His Holiness the Dali Lama, who I have had the honor of being in the presence of on several occasions, inspires me. Gandhi and Mother Teresa inspire me.
Mentors: From whom did you learn? Who deserves partial credit for your success?
I believe we have mentors in our personal lives and also in our spiritual lives. When working in the entertainment industry, I considered Ron Meyer (a founder of CAA, and now Vice Chairman of NBC Universal) my mentor. I learned a lot from him about how to be graceful in what can be the challenging world of business. And, as mentioned previously, my guides are those that have gone before us with courage of their convictions, such as the Dali Lama, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, etc.
Causes and charities you believe in
If you visit my personal website at JadePhoenixCorp.com, you will read about not only the organizations with which we have worked, but also the entities that have helped sponsor our ability to do so. A short list of recipients includes:
- Rady Children’s Hospital
- March of Dimes
- San Diego Rescue Mission
- San Diego Master Chorale
- The Old Globe Theatre
- Clinton Foundation
What’s next for you? What goals and dreams remain for you?
I feel we are meant to be on this earth with a partner to grow old with. That’s the only dream left to fulfill, but I am working on it…
Looking back on your career, does the path make sense to you? Do the dots connect?
One word – Perfectly.
What is your most memorable experience?
I have had the great fortune of meeting wonderful people of all walks of life. But, meeting Her Majesty The Queen, and hosting a number of senior members of the royal family are certainly highlights.