The Player: Andre Wells
Andre Wells is at the center of glitzy fundraisers, expensive weddings, and corporate parties. And that’s when he’s not scoping out the hottest hotels and restaurants.
But a glamorous life comes loaded with responsibility. As planner, producer, and owner of Events by Andre Wells, he orchestrates some of our city’s most beautiful events with energy and ambition. When I spoke with him at RIS restaurant, Andre shared his favorite type of client, some dream clients, and discussed how he thrives when little separates a messy disaster from a memorable spectacle.
What makes an event a success?
What is the goal of the event—that’s what we always ask. What are you trying to accomplish by having this event? What’s the message you want to give?
Also…when your guests don’t have to think. When you arrive there’s valet; when you walk in the door someone takes your coat; if they’re passing hor d’oeuvres, you’re not stuck with this long skewer; there are beautiful and intelligent people to talk to. All of that makes a great party or a great event.
How did you get involved in events?
I always wanted to be an event planner. During high school I was on this board called the Team Board. I grew up in Jacksonville, Florida. We had about 20 high schools. Two or three people from each high school represented the high school for this department store that was part of the May Company. You would do community service projects. You would get to work in the store, print ads for the stores, do fashion shows, go and visit senior citizens’ homes. There was one woman, her name was Jane Slater, and she was the special events coordinator for the store. I thought, I love what she does, it’s a great job.
I had interned at Bloomingdales in New York and JCPenney. I graduated in ‘91 [from Hampton University] when we were in a recession . I got offered a job by the May Company as an assistant buyer. Of course, I was taking the job because I was not going back to Florida. And so I started my career. I worked for May Company, I worked for JCPenney, and I was a merchandiser and a buyer and I hated every moment of it.
I did it for three years. I remember I was dating my [girlfriend, now wife]. I told her, “I might have to move back to Florida because I’m putting in my resignation and I don’t have another job offer.”
Then a position became available at PBS for an assistant meeting planning position the day I resigned. I was able to come right in and I started doing all their meetings and events throughout the US. After that I went to work for a catering company building their corporate and social markets, and then I went to work for an event planning company building their business. And seven years ago I started my own company.
How do you deal with people who have very high expectations, a lot of stress and a habit of controlling outcomes?
I always tell people from the beginning: “Are you going to let us manage the event or do you want to manage it? Because you can’t be a micromanager, you have to let us be able to do our job.
If you come to me to have an event and you want it to be an Events by Andre Wells event, but then you start telling me things like: I want to use this person, I want to do that…well, I can’t take ownership of that. We’re not just coordinators. We’re designers. We’re logistic experts.
Does the client who says, “You’re on your own” scare you?
Oh, I love that kind of client. That’s the kind of client that really trusts you, and they’re aware of your capability and skill set. They let you fly.
Who are all the people who come together for events?
Attorneys, insurance agents, staff, permitting, valet…The [people who work] the actual event. Then the décor, furniture, lighting, sound, AV, linens, flatware, china, wine selection…I always say it’s a big, big choir that does a wonderful performance in the end.
Lots of venues in the city?
One of my jobs is to stay abreast of every new and old venue in city, even some that people wouldn’t think they could do an event in. For instance, all of the Smithsonian museums are very good places to hold events. There are lots of little hidden gems.
Do people want the same quality of event as ones where celebrities might have a budget of 10 or even 100 times more?
Oh yeah. And I always say, manage those expectations. People think, “I want to do my wedding just like that.” But they don’t really think of the cost that is associated. That’s why, to me, it’s very important to budget. We meet with the client first, we talk about the event, we talk about all the logistics and the details and what they want. Then we go back and do a proposal and a budget based on that conversation and present it to you.
There must be people who just tend to have brainstorms throughout the entire process even after they sign off something.
Oh they do. And it’s their right. I always say that everyone has the right to change their mind and to come back to you with different ideas. Six months leading up to a wedding is the perfect time to plan it. A year out…so many changes.
What made you decide to go out on your own?
Because I was working really hard. I used to be the last one in the office. I would look up and it would be 12 and 1 o’clock. You get used to making a certain amount of money and you get accustomed to a certain lifestyle. But I really believed in myself, and my wife really believed in me, and she was very supportive. So I said, “What’s the worst thing that could happen? I would have to go back and work for someone else.” It’s very hard, sometimes all-nighters. You have to constantly be on point. But I love working for myself.
Do you have any dream clients?
Of course. Come on over Oprah! HBO and Showtime…I like people who are interesting, people who are doing good things. I wouldn’t mind Facebook as a client. So I’d say I have some great clients that I have yet to work with.
Sounds like an exciting life.
It’s fun. I like that I get to meet so many different people, from celebrities to politicians to everyday good people.
I always ask the people that work with me, “What’s the creative lesson for today?”
I never want to be bored with this and I never want to be boring. I always want to create, have fun, make people laugh and share joy.