Name: Vin Lee
Organisation: Grand Metropolitan
Beverly Hills' family office Grand Metropolitan, $7 billion AUM privately-held luxury goods holding company with a 60 brand portfolio.
The Group specializes in distressed debt assets of luxury brands. Finlay Fine Jewelers is one of the largest private jeweler groups in North America. Heilig-Meyers is also one of the largest private furniture retailers in the United States.
We also own Boulmiche, Strottarga Caviar, Gallery Rodeo, The Beverly Hills Cigar Club, and Beverly Hills Sports Car. We participate in charity auctions, celebrity events, and red carpet functions including the Cannes Film Festival, Oscars, Grammys, Emmys, and Independent Spirit Awards.
I spend my time between Gulf Coast, Florida & Southern California
Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!
I hope Vin's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
The world has changed so much since I started my professional career in the late 80s/early 90s. Back when I was starting out you had to constantly prove yourself, prove your concept, demonstrate your ability to follow through to the goal.
People were always reticent about following the fancies of someone in their 20s especially the more grandiose your ambition and vision. If I were to tell someone of my actual business plan, they would have laughed me out of the room and into tremendous self-doubt.
Today they literally throw billions of dollars at entrepreneurs to build the biggest ideas they can muster. For me, once I crossed to the other side of 40 and our portfolio the other side of a billion in sales, it became much less arduous to manage people into the future.
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
Grand Metropolitan is a holding company with a tiny administrative office not much larger than your average dental office. Originally, my career started in animation in the mid 80s. Very little requires more attention to detail than operating 1/28th of a second with the stroke of your pen becoming amplified 10,000 times to the silver screen.
The 3 minute film I created as a teen went on to become a treatment for a Saturday Morning cartoon and some of my art participated as merchandise for the 1988 Winter Olympics. My early patents (with prototypes built in my parents basement) went on to spur a $6 billion mechanical billboards industry.
While none of these activities involved me working as a supervisor or manager, they gave me the capital to buy existing businesses which allowed me to be the kind of leader I am today. I bought my first jewelry company in my early 20s.
It took 10 years of trial and error before I was able to acquire the second group. The larger your organization gets the more responsibility you have to those that helped you get there.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I started this interview at 3:00am EST. Grand Metropolitan operates in multiple time zones, so there is no such thing as a 9 to 5 for me.
But I have such talented and dedicated group of people around me, during COVID and my recent health issues I was able to rely on their skills to keep us operating. In this regard I have a great deal of freedom in my day and my work schedule is built upon where to grow our business next.
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
This is not neccessarily a lesson in leadership as it pertains to the management of staff, but more of a life lesson in business. Patience. Almost 25 years ago I had ambitions to open up our West Coast operations in Beverly Hills, CA.
More specifically Rodeo Drive. I wanted to buy businesses that were prominent and influential as building blocks to an American Luxury Conglomerate. It took over 20 years before we were able to add Boulmiche to our portfolio. Patience.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
I for some reason have lost interest in reading books. Most days I spend reading articles or interviews online anymore. But I was once addicted to business biographies. One book I read a couple of times is called The Fourth Estate.
It is a fictional tale of how two men built their media empires. Well it is apparently a real story of two fictional men (based on Rupert Murdoch and Robert Maxwell) built their companies. Alternating each chapter. I found great detail in deal making and risk taking in those pages.
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
Don't wait until you have enough money or success to spend time with the ones you love most. You'll find you will never have enough of either and you really can only ride in one car or jet at a time.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
Management is not the same as ownership. I made a play to buy one of the largest jewelry companies in North America many years ago. The shareholder group that owned a stake in it and a similar company at the time pushed management in my target asset to borrow $500 million from GE Capital to buy dead assets from their other business with that debt making my deal implausible.
After untangling the rat's nest of debts with the aide of the courts, I took control sans management. A few years later those same executives came looking for positions.