Weddings require enough organizing to daunt even the most competent of planners, and many modern day women just don’t have the time to put their everything into wedding prep. With full-time jobs, classes, and other commitments to manage, they’ve got more than a venue, dream dress, and floral arrangement to worry about. This is where professional planners come in, Founder of C&G Weddings, Jeannie Uyanik, being the best of the best.
An elaborate reception at Cipriani 42nd Street by Jeannie UyanikBefore founding her firm, Uyanik founded true love with her own sweetheart, Alpert Uyanik. She recalls meeting him in Turkey, though a bit of memory mix-up is involved as he thinks they met in Turkey three months earlier than she does. Regardless of when the couple actually first met, their blossoming romance led them to an engagement and the need to plan one of the biggest days of their lives. “I was supposed to be planning my wedding while getting my MBA [in finance], and I didn’t want to do anything,” she admits. “I hadn’t dreamt about my dress or my wedding. I wanted something fun and beautiful and breathtaking, but I didn’t care about anything else.” Uyanik decided to get in touch with three major wedding planners at that time and was left sorely disappointed. Rather than speaking directly to Uyanik about the financial side of wedding planning, they skirted around that topic, saving it for her mother. “What I wanted to say to this women in 1999 when I was sitting in her office was ‘I am here, I have a right to be here, and I have a right to be spoken to’—this isn’t the ‘let the parents plan your wedding’ generation anymore.”
Uyanik’s firm’s name originally was Cap and Gown Weddings, to “reflect women getting graduate degrees,” since Uyanik herself was in the thick of that arduous process when she tied the knot. It has since been shortened to C&G Weddings, but carries the same meaning.
“I would say the key to our success is referral. We don’t advertise, we don’t do marketing—it’s all word of mouth, both from vendors and venues to clients.”
The wedding guru, Jeannie Uyanik
Although referral is now C&G’s recipe for success, when they first got off the ground, they had no one to refer them, leaving them with planning pro bono as their sole option. “Starting a wedding business doesn’t require capital,” she explains. “It started out in my apartment, we were all willing to not get paid—I was in finance doing well for a pretty young kid and I had a great job. The opportunity cost was fun for a month or two.” The fun wore off and difficulties emerged, Uyanik turning to Google Adwords to obtain clients for a while. When the client pool was shallow, she did not sit around and wait for opportunities to come knocking on her door, she put in the work. “I went everywhere, I met everyone, I saw every venue there was,” she says. “I spent a year—when bridal magazines like New York Wedding were critical—going through every page, pulling the ads, reading the backs...it was gorilla bridal warfare 101.” Now her company can do 35-85 weddings in a mere year—an extraordinary leap, made possible because of Uyanik’s unyielding determination.
When it comes to acquiring clientele, Uyanik does not take the modern approach of promoting via the social media platforms that have saturated our society. “I don’t have any social media presence,” she reveals. “This morning before 9am I talked to seven clients. I don’t have time to take pictures, but poll any of my forty clients and they’ll tell you I’m always five minutes away.” Uyanik believes a larger firm could effectively utilize social media because they’d have the ability to hire people for that purpose alone, but much of the wedding content posted online seems “superfluous” and “vapid,” which Uyanik does not wish to contribute to.
“A lot of my company and the trajectories we’ve made as a firm are based on how I wanted to be a mom. I don’t know how I did it, I think part of it is that, I can only speak as an entrepreneur in a sense, and when I started out I never really thought of myself as one, the one commonality is that you will not accept failure. You will not accept giving up and there’s always a way to make something work. And also, get over it. People have done harder things.”
As far as the evolution of the wedding industry itself, Uyanik recognizes a few notable changes that occurred over her 20 years in the business, one being financial. In this day and age, weddings are often extravaganzas marked by dollar signs and fancy destinations. “I'm fascinated by the fact that if you look back in the 1950s, 95% of people did not hire a florist,” she says. “The idea of hiring a florist was ridiculous. Most people were putting together weddings that were small and intimate. So this whole wedding industry really didn't get its game on until the 80s and I mean, we're not talking about $100,000 anymore we're talking about hundreds of hundreds of thousands of dollars.” Uyanik has also noticed a shift back to moms being engaged in the process of wedding planning. “When I was getting married, women were starting to really be busy, and a lot of them had moms who worked,” she says. “20 years later, what I'm seeing is a little bit different. A lot of moms aren't working and their daughters are insanely busy in a very different way. So you're seeing a return to parents being super super involved and I think that's generational. Doing everything and wanting the kids to be happy.”
So how does Uyanik feel about working with not only brides, but with their mothers? She loves it, describing it as a “joy” and a “pleasure.” If they are reasonable and genuinely want her advice, she is happy as a clam to help out.
What gives her an edge is her honesty when it comes to planning the wedding that will be uniquely perfect for a particular bride. She speaks to her clients as she’d want to be spoken to, raising red flags when she sees them instead of turning a blind eye and hoping they don’t regret their decisions the day of. “Sometimes I say things that throw people off,” she admits. “‘I'm not sure this makes sense for you, but…’” With honesty comes trust, Uyanik of the belief that chemistry with her clients is paramount—nearly 20 years of experience has taught her that.
“I had a conversation with the mother of the bride this morning. Who, when she first hired me she said, ‘I've thrown all three of my kids Bar Mitzvahs, I throw parties all the time. I really don't need this, but I have a busy year coming up.’ I love this woman because she trusts me. So even though she has all her own ideas, when I say stop you need to listen to me for a second, she not only listens, she thinks about it. I love her because she's someone who is willing to release control.”A typical week for Uyanik doesn’t exist, her schedule ever-changing due to her inability to control how many new clients will show interest in her firm. When a sea of prospective clients rushes in to inundate Uyanik, her day(s) get a little more hectic. “[Prospective clients] want to move fast,” she explains. “They want information fast—either they have been just engaged and they're really excited, or they're terrified that they've been engaged for a month and it's too late now.” Uyanik has to move swiftly, as her firm’s policy promises a proposal sent out to prospective clients within 24 business hours of the request. “I started [the policy] when I had zero children and no clients, and that seemed like a great idea...people loved it,” she says. “Now I wish I could take that back, but I'm not going to. It's great because usually if someone's going hire us, they hire us pretty quickly.”
Not everything can be picture perfect. Uyanik remembers when things went sideways because of a catering company hiring a new chef, but luckily crisis was averted thanks to Uyanik. “Frankly, I think that that is a testament to my involvement because I'm playing a very big role in making sure that the expectations are managed,” she notes. “I know exactly what I’m dealing with within 20 minutes of talking to someone. If someone tells me they want it to be really elegant and simple, that tells me 5,000 things.”
Bringing brides the memorable weddings they deserve is not all Uyanik does, she supports her husband in his spontaneous food ventures as well. “My husband was on a walkabout—he’s literally obsessed with the neighborhood—I have never walked about in my life, I don’t have time. I'm hosting Labor Day Monday and he comes in and says, ‘Hey guys, there's a wood-burning oven that's beautiful in a store for rent on 116th.’” Upon first opening the businesses in Harlem, about four years ago, Uyanik and her husband had found themselves in a neighborhood devoid of great pizza—a NY staple. The oven that caught Uyanik’s husband’s eye was like golden treasure, spurring him into suggesting they open up their own pizza place with the help of an experienced executive chef who previously worked at esteemed restaurants such as Nobu. And that’s how Harlem Pizza Co. was born, to be followed by a burger joint called Harlem Burger Co, both satiating customers’ comfort-food cravings.
From planning weddings and running restaurants to raising kids and doling out wedding-planning wisdom with her radio show “The Event Jeannie,” Uyanik has proven herself to be an inimitable woman with a work ethic that should be emulated. If you have a wedding to plan, who you gonna call? C&G Weddings!
Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.
A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.
The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.
Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")
The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."
This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.
Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.
She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."
Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.
"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei
While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.
Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.
The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."
This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.
Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.