An American entrepreneur living in London.
By Mirela Sula
Photos: Rinaldo Sata
Julia arrived in London in 1999 working for a Canadian-based real estate company, where she gained experience from starting speciality retail programmes in seven countries, mostly in Eastern Europe. After being made redundant, she started and grew an international multi-million pound business called Retail Profile Europe, which operated in three countries.
After fourteen years, Julia successfully exited and set up a new business called ‘Bold Clarity’ where she now works with entrepreneurs and CEOs as a strategic coach, trainer and facilitator, combining her real life knowledge and experience to help businesses grow.
Julia’s story is of an extraordinary woman that evolved from an ordinary childhood in a small town of Mid West USA, while overcoming the challenges of dyslexia, turning the initial adversity into a disciplined strength, and becoming hugely successful in her career and as an entrepreneur, who has lived in London for the last fifteen years.
Success and wealth has not changed Julia at all as a person, who values the life balance, with time for her family, friends and healthy living. The only thing missing in Julia’s life is a tall, well-mannered and gracious man!
I met Julia in her luxury flat in Oxford Street and felt the positive energy that she has created around herself, which led me to believe that behind a successful and beautiful woman is more than what we see on the outside. The story that she shared with me shows that she is a great inspiration for every woman of the Universe.
Where does your curiosity and inner drive to explore the world come from?
While at university, I was selected to go to Taiwan on an exchange programme. I did not speak Chinese and I had to apply for a passport. I was one of 130 students from 35 countries who participated. The experience of facing my fear with excitement and anticipation, taught me that sometimes with big risks come big rewards. I not only learned from the other international students about their countries and cultures, but also got to experience Asian culture for the first time.
A quick story: as it was summer in Taiwan, we used to take the local bus to the Sogo department store to get Gelato.. All the locals would stare at me as I stood hanging onto the bar because I was so tall, and one of them giggled behind me and tried to touch my blonde hair. I probably looked odder to them than my feelings of being overwhelmed by adapting to a very foreign culture.
How do you remember your childhood?
I grew up in Any Town USA, like you would see on a TV sitcom. It was very small, quaint and had a main street with all the businesses lining the two sides. We had one grocery store and one bank, so it was very small and friendly. I felt very safe, somewhat sheltered, and was quite naïve as I went away to college at 18. It was idyllic because I got to do everything in grade school and high school. Aside from studies, in Grade School I played on the boys’ basketball team, was a cheerleader, learned to play the flute, and took piano lessons by the Suzuki method. In High School, I was a baton twirler in the marching band, I was in the choir, played volleyball, basketball, and softball, and was involved in the student council.
What is your experience of dealing with dyslexia as a child?
When I went to kindergarten at five years old I loved the social aspect of school, learning and playing with my friends. However, I realised quite quickly that I did not get it as fast as my classmates. I struggled with reading, and as I progressed and grew older, I used to dread Fridays because it was spelling day. It felt like no how matter how hard I tried, I could never get the letters in the right order and do well on the spelling test. I was popular, well-adjusted and athletic, however I continued to struggle in my own head with why it was so much harder for me than it seemed for my classmates.
I was dyslexic. Finally, I started to understand why I felt different and why I might have struggled for so long …I learned how to overcome my problems by memorising things.
At the age of fourteen, when I was a freshman in high school, my mother convinced the Special Education Director Ginny Dorth to test me. It was really nerve-wracking sitting through a battery of test after test of images, words, pictures, and associations. The test came back conclusively that I was dyslexic. Finally, I started to understand why I felt different and why I might have struggled for so long.
I was put in the class for children who were disruptive or had learning disabilities. I hated it. I hated the stigma and I hated being with disruptive children and not being able to concentrate. Eventually, my mom started to teach me at home, and I learnt how to overcome my problems by memorising things.
How did this weakness become a strength?
I believe that my desire, determination and tenacity to overcome my learning disability taught me discipline, hard work and persistence. This is how I overcame my academic challenge to reach fifth in my class within four years. This showed me that no matter how many roadblocks, barriers or disappointments there were, if I stuck with my goal I could achieve it. It might take me longer and I’d have to work hard, but I could overcome whatever the obstacle.
What made you decide to come to London?
While living in Chicago, working for a major corporation, I used to take my five days holiday (Americans are only entitled to short vacations) and fly to Europe to spend two weekends and the week, giving me ten days to explore.
One of these trips was with a girl friend called Marsha to Ireland, to see her friend Lauren, who was married to an Englishman running Pepsi in Ireland. On the tail end of our trip, we stopped over in London for three days. I remember staying in the Renaissance Hotel on Tottenham Court Road behind the Dominican Theatre. I remember ducking into the tube, following the map, and popping up all over London to explore the sites, streets, and hustle and bustle of the city.
On that trip, I said to myself: wow, wouldn’t it be great to live here one day, and that is where the seed was planted that one day my big dream would be to live and work in London.
Having become a key person of influence in my industry, I put the intention out to my trusted network that I was interested in an international position. I wanted to take what I knew from my industry in the US and export it to Europe. I was contacted by Joe Larsen, a respected industry leader. I was interviewed by him and won a position working with a European retail real estate company, thus relocating to London.
How do you remember the first year in London?
My first year in London was both exhilarating and lonely. I had an amazing flat on Queens Gate in South Kensington, and I took the Number 14 bus through Piccadilly and walked through the Burlington Arcade (still one of my favourite places) to my office on Old Burlington Street.
I loved the challenges I faced in my new position, the weekly travel to multiple countries was exciting, and my fellow colleagues were warm, supportive and friendly. However, I found it hard to build friendships outside of my work environment, as I found that the English people I met tended to hang out with their school mates. They had very long-standing relationships and it was hard to make friends with the English at first.
I felt a long way from my small town beginnings and the life that I knew in downtown Chicago. I had given back the loft apartment I was purchasing in the US, put all my things in storage, given my cat to my mother, and moved to a city where I didn’t know a soul.
Do you remember any time of not having any money in your bank account?
I had my first time job when I was ten, and I started my first business when I was fourteen, teaching baton to little girls on my parents driveway for fifty cents, so it might have been a small amount, but no, I have never had no money.
I have always been a good saver and always lived within my means, being quite conservative with what I purchase and looking for good deals and value.
What is the worst job you have done in life and what did you learn from it?
I have babysat newborns, changing diapers, I have been a filing clerk in an office, I have picked off golf balls from a driving range, and waitressed at an all American diner and a fish farm.
None of my jobs have been the worst because I was always enthusiastic, friendly, gave good service, and was always learning. My attitude was, and still is, that a good attitude and a friendly approach with hard work go a long way.
How did you make your first million?
A combination of growing the asset base of my company and being able to divest some of the interest and re-investing it in central London real estate, which has appreciated greatly.
I have babysat newborns, changing diapers, I have been a filing clerk in an office, I have picked off golf balls from a driving range, and waitressed at an all-American diner and a fish farm.
Where did your determination to be an entrepreneur come from?
I believe I got my entrepreneurial roots from my father, who was my role model and mentor. By day he sold life, automobile and health insurance, but his true passion and part-time business love was building other businesses. He owned a couple of gas stations, and he bought and sold pieces of land. One time he relocated a whole house on a flatbed transport truck down the main street of our town at 2am so that he could sell the land commercially. He also developed a large piece of farm-land and turned it into a commercial and residential development. Seeing his creativity and determination helped me to dream that I could own my own business one day.
What has changed in your life after having this financial success?
Nothing. I am still the same small town girl with hopes, ambitions and dreams. I am entering a new stage in my life where I still want to succeed, however, it is about helping other people to grow their businesses.
How do you manage your life balance?
Not very well in the past, however I am trying to turn over a new leaf. I am looking to build my new business with London-based companies so I can travel less and be able to see my friends more, hang out at weekends, and spend time with my god-daughters and close friends.
How important are family and friends in your life?
Very. I have a huge network of close friends in every time zone, and I find it quite difficult to find quality time to catch up with each of them individually. I still travel to my home four to five times a year and keep in touch with both grade school and high school friends. They still think of me as the same small town girl, even though I now live abroad and travel internationally.
I believe I got my entrepreneurial roots from my father, who was my role model and mentor.. Seeing his creativity and determination helped me to dream that I could own my own business one day.
What about your personal life – what do you look for in a man?
My ideal man would be tall (so I can still wear heels as I am six feet tall), accomplished, confident, knows who is he, learns from his lessons and mistakes, and is well mannered and gracious.
What is the secret of your good appearance?
I eat healthily. For over thirteen years I have been a vegetarian at home, and when I travel I am a fishetarian. I drink no coffee, caffeine or sugar drinks at all and I have boundless energy. Can you imagine me on caffeine? I am active in terms of working out and occasionally running. Most recently, I have started Vedic meditation which I find calming, brings clarity and allows my racing mind to truly rest.
How much time, money and energy do you dedicate for your physical wellbeing?
I devote a lot of time, money, energy and discipline to being healthy and consistent. If you don’t have your health, you have nothing. All the money in the world can’t buy a healthy body.
What is your relationship with money? Which is more important: “How to earn money, or how to spend money”?
I have a healthy relationship with money. I see it as a tool and a means to an end. I came from an environment of scarcity in a small town where many people had lower incomes and lived frugally. That taught me that money doesn’t buy happiness, and you can get by very well on very little.
I enjoy earning money because I feel like it is a reward for providing value, and I come from a retail background where I know both personally and professionally that retail therapy feels good. However, my spending is always within a budget and needs based, as I don’t like to be wasteful.
I drink no coffee, caffeine or sugar drinks at all and I have boundless energy… can you imagine me on caffeine?
What is your biggest fear and how do you overcome your fears?
As human beings we have lots of fears. One of the biggest shared fears is if we are enough. What I mean by this is, sometimes I feel like I constantly have to do to be worthy, and my ideal would be to be able to be myself and know that is enough. This has to do with self-confidence. I am sure that other people would relate to this feeling.
What would be your advice for women who want to be financially successful?
Find out what you love, are good at, and that other people will pay you for.
Build your network of both clients and suppliers, have a clear vision and then single-mindedly move towards that vision, building your business, career, and network in order to be financially recognised.
What is your biggest dream that is not yet realised?
It would be to have a fantastic personal relationship with a partner who I respected, admired and learned from every day.