Jonathan Adler found himself in an all-too-common predicament after graduating college: "What do I do next?” Above all else, Adler believed in his own creative instincts when it came to his love of pottery. By staying resilient, keeping his eyes on the prize, and doing what he loved, his break finally came when his work was featured in a Barney’s showroom. Today, Adler’s home décor empire is thriving, with store locations worldwide. In a recent Office Hours episode with host Suneel Gupta, Adler talked about the early days, the creative process, and confidence. In a bonus Q&A, he dishes on his workplace habits, organizational skills, and the best advice received.
Workspace & Routine
If you’ve spent more time than usual at home this year…
Do you have a workspace or office at home? Tell us about it. Did you have this space before the pandemic?
Jonathan: I spent much of the past year and a half sheltering at our place on Shelter Island, where I’m lucky enough to work outside getting inspiration from the best designer there is – Mother Nature.
Are you someone who needs an organized workspace, or are you comfortable with a little clutter?
Jonathan: As a potter I’m constantly covered in clay and surrounded by about a million ceramic models; you can’t be too concerned about cleanliness or clutter.
Do you consider yourself more introverted or extroverted, and how does that affect the way you work?
Jonathan: I’m an extroverted person; I’ve also surrounded myself with extroverts who are talented, hardworking, and hilarious, and I’m lucky to get to work with them every day.
Time & Organization
How do you approach time management for a workday? Is it one solid block of time that’s over at 6 p.m.? Or is a workday a few blocks of scheduled tasks with personal time interspersed?
Jonathan: For better or worse, my work and my personal life are the same thing – there’s no separation. I make what I want to make, and hope that people love it as much as I do.
What are three things you do to gear up for your workday?
- Stay in bed as long as possible, since whoever gets up first has to walk the dog and make a pot of tea.
- I eat brekkie with my husband, Simon Doonan, and we each read about a billion newspapers.
- I have a morning call with the team to chat through news, business, current projects – and to have a laugh.
What’s one thing that motivates you to get to work?
Jonathan: I love what I do.
Can you name a few ways that you keep yourself organized during the day—an app, a planner, a physical to-do list?
Jonathan: I’m a potter, so I’m a very analog guy: the most high-tech I get is with Post-It notes.
Who do you turn to for advice about your business?
Jonathan: Maybe it’s bad advice, but: no one.
What’s the best piece of advice they have given you?
Jonathan: My brilliant husband Simon (hope he’s not reading this) says the best advice is to arrive to work ten minutes early and stay ten minutes late, and I agree.
Is there anyone—whether you know them or not—who especially inspires you as a businessperson? As a leader?
Jonathan: Sir Paul Smith – he’s built a hugely successful business, while staying true to who he is and his vision. He’s a true inspiration (and a great guy, too).
What do you say when aspiring entrepreneurs ask you for advice?
Jonathan: Keep it cheap. You think you need a showplace of an office – you don’t. You think you need custom bags, tissue paper, a website, whatever – you don’t. Spend as little money as possible.
Just for Fun: Out of Office
We business professionals devote much of our lives to our careers. But what we do with our time off from work can tell us a lot about who we are as people. Please tell us…
In your spare time, do you prefer winding down – meditation and movie nights – or gearing up, e.g. rock climbing, traveling, etc.?
Jonathan: The only two things I’m interested in in life are paddle boarding and watching TV (not at the same time).
What does an ideal vacation look like to you? What activities are you most likely to engage in?
Jonathan: I’m not saying my ideal vacation is the Amangiri in Utah, but I’m not NOT saying that. It’s bone-crushingly expensive, but it’s worth every penny.
What’s one place – a country, vacation spot, landmark, etc. – that’s high on your bucket list?
Jonathan: I’ve been to Japan a squillion times, and I want to go a squillion more times. Their sense of design is unapparelled (and, not for nothing, it’s the only country in the world where all the clothes fit me perfectly!).
This interview is part of Office Hours, a series that connects you with entrepreneurs and experts and tips for running and growing a business right now. Find other can’t-miss conversations by visiting our Events page.