Robert Vidra is CEO of Simply Elegant.
What’s Simply Elegant and what does it do?
Vidra: Simply Elegant is a hospitality firm. Our philosophy is “enlightened hospitality.” We work towards providing the best possible experience for our clients, guests, staff and vendors.
We must be more than a service or product. It must encompass our hearts and passions. We choose to focus on the details to make every event important.
The definition of hospitality is the relationship between a guest and a host, wherein the host receives the guest with goodwill, including the reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers. We do this by providing service that encompasses this relationship with catering, venues, décor design, floral arrangement and planning.
Why did you start this company?
Vidra: I started Simply Elegant out of desperation. My life was not going well. My choices led me to a place where I was lost and by 1996 I needed to change everything. I stepped away from who I was to build a new me. Let’s say Robert 2.0 began a new journey, what was was gone; what remained had to be rebuilt.
My life was mine and up to me to create. I had no money, no business education but I loved what I did. I was never frightened of hard work and taking chances. I reached out to the world and asked for help and then I started by driving a cab. I learned that people treat cabbies as second-class citizens. It took my engagement with each customer to change this. I learned what the customer experience meant. Let’s say school 101 and in the end the best career move I had ever made.
How has business been for you during the economic downturn in Calgary?
Vidra: An interesting and exciting time! I had been anticipating a downturn and knew we needed to save as much capital as possible. My team and I made a decision to use this situation to regroup, experiment on services and build market share. We invested more in getting the word out about our services and transformed Simply Elegant into a hospitality firm.
I can’t say it has been easy because it hasn’t, but we grew by expanding our operation into more bays and acquired our own venue – Skyline. The fourth floor of the new Royal Canadian Legion building in Kensington was available so I jumped on the opportunity to promote it using all our services. It’s been our home for just over a year now. The experience has given us great insight into who we are and how we face adversity, and as an added bonus we are working with the Royal Canadian Legion, an organization looking to change. This unique mix led to our exciting journey.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in being an entrepreneur?
Vidra: Me. I pretty much had to change everything around me while understanding I cannot run away from who I am. You have to constantly ask yourself if what you do will work and are you willing to pay the cost. While I have great staff, the hardest part was learning that being a boss meant nothing if their respect for you was minimal. Respect needs to be earned, that meant dedication to what you do and listen intently.
Fear can turn into anger, then resentment, or used as a tool to build resolve and respect. It’s up to the individual what they want. It’s a terrible motivator in the end, inspiring nothing. Fear is healthy if balanced with resolve and good judgment. I believe that the “art of the deal” starts from fear, a winner-take-all philosophy is simply sad.
Create a community where the people feel that what they’re doing makes sense, create a space where they have value, a sense of safety and excitement. All must be done at the same time. Some call that magic, art, but I like to look at it as being self-aware and readily looking at who you are. Time is the hardest. Patience is a friend because many decisions take years or even decades to achieve.
What has been the best piece of advice you’ve received in being an entrepreneur?
Vidra: I use these concepts every day. Bluntly: Who cares? Stop making excuses because something is not going your way. Believing the world is treating you unfairly is silly because life is neither fair or unfair. Life is what you make it; regardless of what is happening, think, stop complaining and act. Face whatever it is with humility, self-awareness and intelligence but start with one step in front of the other and never stop. Learn to face the worst possible things.
If you can do this successfully, you will achieve something most people will never understand. Being kind is not a weakness.
Interviewed by Mario Toneguzzi, a Troy Media business reporter based in Calgary.