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Meet Luminary Member, Natalie Leary


Tell us a bit about yourself! How did you get started with your current career path/business journey?

I'm a native New Yorker, from Brooklyn. I initially began my career in government thinking I was going to get paid to save the world as a Public Administrator, but in 2013 or 2014, I was selected to join the planing committee for the late Kings County District Attorney, Kenneth P. Thompson's inauguration and life as I knew it changed.

That experience helped me to realize that my passion for event production, which I had casted away as a non-viable career option, could actually be integrated in to the profession that I just spent tons of money earning a Master's Degree for. From there I moved on to work for the Department of Youth and Community Development where I created special initiatives through public-private partnerships and always made sure to tie in a large community launch event.

Knowing that my experience in event production was limited, I tapped in to my network and found an internship with a small event production company, and before I knew it I was on a plane heading to Essence Festival for my first brand activation, which is where I met my two partners and co-owners of BlackBird Productions, LLC, Rasheeda Huston and Jenya Walters. Little did I know that the client on this project was paying attention to me and would later tap me to work for her directly in support of the world largest natural beauty festival- CURLFEST, of which she is a Founder.

When I returned from Essence Festival, I set my sights on getting hired to the NYC Mayor's Special Events team, and just a year after setting that goal I was hired to manage all sponsorships for Mayor de Blasio's community and special events. Simultaneously, I was supporting partnership management for CURLFEST, which meant working my 9-whatever time the work and events ended, and then going home to work on CURLFEST until 4 am, and I did this for about two consecutive years until I decided that I had to follow my passion full force.

BlackBird Productions was born out of a brunch conversation with our first client, Ceata Lash, CEO of The PuffCuff. My business partner Jenya and I, were at a brunch in Atlanta celebrating the founders of CURLFEST, and beside us sat Ceata. We went around the room doing the obligatory intro's and shares on our business and what supports we needed from the women in the room. Following that, Ceata asked for more details and our vision on the company, and she closed the conversation by asking if she could be our first client. For context, Jenya and I had no previous conversation about starting a company together, but I knew it was something we both wanted, so when Ceata asked about "our" company, I quickly adapted to frame the conversation with tons of "we" and "us" statements.

When Jenya and I returned to Brooklyn, we called Rasheeda and again over brunch we agreed to form BlackBird Productions, and within two weeks our LLC was registered. If I think back, this all happened VERY fast, but all of my steps were aligned and preparing me for that fateful Atlanta brunch conversation.

How are you overcoming challenges during the pandemic as a business owner?

The three of us are women that don't believe in "no". Personally, when I am told "no" I believe that message is being delivered by someone not able to think flexibly and I find other options. We started this year off on a high. We secured our first client, while simultaneously pitching and winning what would have been our largest contract covering five diverse events over the course of 2020, and then the pandemic hit.

We never let the world's circumstances seep into our heads in a way that would defeat us, and instead, we used it as motivation and time to learn, plan, and execute. We each kept our independent contracts with production and marketing firms to keep the lights on, but to also have access to learn how to develop and execute successful virtual events.

This strategy has paid off as just this past week we locked in our first virtual event client!

What behavior or personality trait do you most attribute your success to, and why?

I'd have to say that my relentless curiosity and willingness to learn is what drives my success. If you tell me something can't be done, I'm going to find a way to get it done. If you tell me I can't have access to something, I'm going to still find a way. If you show me something, I'm going to dig deeper. I have an incredible drive and can function on little sleep, which works well in my favor most times.

What’s a mistake you made early on in your career, and what did you learn from it?

The biggest mistake I made very early in my career is thinking that every battle has to be fought on the spot. Some things require strategy instead of emotional responses. I've gotten way better at being strategic in all that I do and always keeping the bigger picture in mind.

What’s one professional skill you’re currently working on?

I am currently working on better understanding social media as a strategic marketing tool. It's super important, especially in my field, so It's something I really am trying to master.

In what ways are you taking care of your personal well being and what are your #selfcare tips?

Whew! This is a tough one. Self care as a new entrepreneur that started a company just before a global pandemic is HARD. However, I take time whenever I can get it. Sometimes that means waking up at 7am to do a home mani pedi as I did today, or blocking time to take a walk outside with my new puppy. Sometimes it also looks like turning my phone off for an hour and just drinking a cup of tea or actually cooking a meal.

How are you inviting others to take a seat at the table #virtually?

This is actually something that my team and I are trying to figure out right now. As we regain solid footing moving in to 2021, our agenda includes exploring ways in which we celebrate and recognize other woman owned businesses. Stay tuned!

What impact has Luminary made in your career? eg: Business Generated, Revenue, New Clients, Career Connections, Advancement Opportunities 

So far, it has pushed me a bit out of my comfort zone, and has made me begin thinking about my business in ways that I hadn't been before, particularly as I think about where potential clients may be and how to non-traditionally attract clients.