MOM.CEO recently had the great pleasure to ‘virtually’ sit down with Olga Balakleets for a 1-on-1 exclusive interview.
Olga is well known for being a renowned award-winning concert pianist, a multifaceted entrepreneur, and the CEO of many international cultural, philanthropic, and business events worldwide in the most prestigious venues such as the upcoming Creative Women Conference on June 5 and 6th.
Olga’s creativity and passion for her work became quite apparent during our talk as being her main driver while balancing her home life as a mother to a very academically and musically talented son who she speaks about with great pride and love!
MOM.CEO: The word NO is a powerful word in business, but how does it work in your home? Or is YES the more powerful answer?
OB: I don’t really believe in strictly either saying YES or NO. As a mother, I would have to say that I lean more to the word YES! I believe that in order to have harmony in one’s housekeeping the right balance is extremely important especially when it comes to your children. I feel that the word NO interferes with this balance. If the answer should be really NO (even though I want to say YES) then I try to find a creative way of saying it and implementing it. I am very much a person that tries in life and business to finding various balances while not compromising my own principles.
I think a good tactic rather than simply saying NO is to ask more questions in order to get to the root of the issue before answering in the hopes that my son will rethink his question to me and this will make him feel like his request or his opinion matters to me.
MOM.CEO: How do you want to look back and be remembered as a MOM and a CEO?
OB: It’s an interesting question considering that our upcoming Creative Women Conference on June 5 and 6th, we plan to speak a lot about careers and being mothers, etc. But, personally, for myself, I would like to be remembered as a loving and kind mother who did not have to say NO too often and did not interfere or destroy my child’s dreams, but who gave him the freedom to choose his destiny in life while being totally supportive towards what was important for him no matter what my personal feelings might be.
I think all women want to be remembered for being supportive of their children? I don’t believe women would want to be remembered as being a difficult mother who ‘mentally tortured’ her child!
Olga with her son John
If I take a look at my son who had to dedicated himself with a lot of hard work to learning several musical instruments from a very young age when it came to his musical aspirations. As a mother, it was extremely difficult for me to find the right balance because without this hard work and pressure that I had to put on his as a mother, (as there is no child from any age from 4 years old to even 12 years in this world that can naturally pick up an instrument and will practice for a long time and stay focused) it would simply have been impossible. Therefore, it was important to find a proper process to balance and guide him with love and care.
I was truly really worried that I would be remembered as a strict mother who was pushing him too hard in terms of practicing and not allowing him to have more free time as other children his age might have. This was not an easy time for myself and him as well, but as soon as he got to an age where we could speak a bit more on an equal level, I had the chance to explain to him why I was doing this before and what has to happen now with the importance of the processes that should be controlled by him with my support of course.
"I realized that I needed to stop being so pushy and there must be a limit to everything."
As a CEO and in business, it’s generally about money and financial success, but as much as I appreciate the importance of this, what comes first for myself is the final results of what you have been able to create and how you will be remembered for the positive impact you have had on the lives of other people. It can be for many people or even only a few, as long as you have managed to have an impact and make people's lives better. This is something that is important for myself, and while I believe from what I have been told that I have already created this impact
"I feel that I have much more to give and create."
This would give me great pride!
Olga Balakleets with Jeremy Irons
MOM.CEO: What top lessons did your parents or a mentor give you that you feel are still relevant in today’s digitally connected world?
OB: Sadly, I just realized that I have not praised my parents enough for what they sacrificed and gave to me. But there are some specific things that they gave me that I still use to this day.
My mother gave me the lesson of being absolutely dedicated, firm, and committed with whatever you decided to or said you would do. It does not matter what is happening around you or what influences your situation, but if you plan, announce and especially if you promise something, then you must deliver it and get it done! No excuses, only actions! This lesson has stayed with me and I can say this is how I am ‘programmed’ in terms of how I work in the events business and in my personal life as well. In life, your word is everything!
When it comes to my late father, he taught me about the importance of always having positive contact with people. This came from his love of communicating with as many people as possible and I find this a wonderful trait that I inherited from him which I value very much.
By being as positive as possible with everyone that I interact with especially in my business which can become very challenging and sometimes not so pleasant, it has allowed me to form strong relationships that have helped me greatly in creating and growing so many projects in good times and bad. So, finding the positive in all aspects of work, life, and especially in the family has helped me tremendously with a positive outlook on life in general.
And finally, with my teachers that I had over the years across several countries who helped instill in me that hard work is necessary and pays off greatly in the long run. There is no getting around it, you need to put in the work if you want to get to the desired results that will last. Otherwise, you might get lucky and get something fast, but without the foundation of hard work, it usually does not last very long.
MOM.CEO: When it comes to investing in a child’s future career, what do you feel is the right approach? To let them discover it on their own and supporting their vision or helping them find the vision and then giving them the freedom to expand on it on their own terms?
OB: I’m sure some might disagree with me, but I strongly believe that a parent’s role is to guide their child while taking in to account his or her talents and interests while shaping their interests on what they will be eventually studying. I don’t support letting your child wander on their own as it won’t bring good results in both the short and especially the long-term.
You need to find the right balance where you can encourage them while giving them the freedom to explore, but guidance and help are essential and a must!
It’s the approach that I am using with my son who is 16 years old now, is in the so-called ‘rebel teenager phase’. I want to give him the impression that he is totally free and not only the impression, but the opportunity to truly be free. Regardless of his strong work ethic from an early childhood whether it be challenging him academically or to his music career, I made it clear that he does not have to become a musician if he chooses not to be.
Regardless of what he finally chooses, it will be his choice, but in the meantime, I will be supporting and advising him as long as he requests it and will always remain a life-long adviser to him no matter what his age will be!
Olga Balakleets with her son John Gallant attending a film premiere in London
MOM.CEO: Can you share with us the most challenging situation you had to face and succeeded in your position in being a leader and how that helps make you become a better mother?
OB: Being a performer is quite challenging and demanding when taking the stage when you must deliver an extremely important performance with many important people in the audience, etc. As an example, you can be playing a small piece with several other musicians, and then it is not comparable to playing a ‘Piano Concerto’ as a soloist accompanied by a big symphony orchestra for up to 45 minutes and being the center of attention.
There have been several occasions where I was to play and my nerves were incredibly stressed and I knew I had no choice as everyone form the audience to the orchestra was waiting for me to deliver perfection as this is what they had paid to see.
It’s very much the same way as in my business dealings where things can go horribly wrong, but as they say, ‘the show must go on’ and you need to find the strength and clarity to get yourself together very quickly and to push forward!
Another successful event for Olga Balakleets!
MOM.CEO: So, this is very much like being a mother, being the center of your child's attention, and having a lifelong performance to deliver where you really cannot fail?
OB: Absolutely! And, you cannot fail because your children need you and are waiting for your best performance and leadership over and over as a mother. But these experiences in business have helped me as well in parenting where I was forced like in business to regroup and make very important decisions as quickly as possible. I hope that my son understands the great stress that I have faced both at work and as a mother and that I did my best to deliver for him the best possible results. Even if that meant that I failed here and there as no one is perfect!
MOM.CEO: Do you feel with the pandemic and all public events being canceled, home-isolation and the stress that it can bring us both a mother and a business person, are these the 2 most challenging events you have experienced so far? The perfect storm shall we say?
OB: I won’t deny that this is beyond difficult what is happening in business for myself and many of my colleagues around the world who are involved in live events.
Being in a line of work where it’s predominantly led my men, I am what some might call a rare women leader in this field of business and this only raises the challenges and the stress level for myself. But I have grown used to it as I wear several ‘hats’ on many different levels shall we say. Therefore, I know how to balance it all, but yes, this situation is way beyond what anyone ever could have imagined. But we are not letting it slow us down, but rather, we are adjusting our events from being live events to online conferences such as Creative Women's Conference and many other artistic events that I have been organizing.
Creative Women Conference
As well, I am trying to quite involved with my son who is very active at getting ready for his participation in an online charitable concert while overall keeping himself busy with several other projects.
I have not let this pandemic slow me down, but rather have used this occasion to explore new and dynamic projects. Same as at home with my son, we have used the time to our advantage rather than let it be used against us.
MOM.CEO: There is a saying that we would never wish our children to do the type of work that we do, regardless if we have achieved great success at it, as the sacrifices attached to it at too great. Being a high-energy multi-tasker, do you agree with this when it comes to your son possibly following in your footsteps?
OB: That’s a great question, Luc! The answer is definitely no! I would not wish for my son to become a part of my business as it’s simply much too stressful and as a producer, I often have several projects that are happening at the same time and so many variables can happen all at once causing an enormous amount of pressure on one’s health. This is not something I would wish on my son or anyone’s children for that matter. But I should stress that I would support him in finding his true passion whatever that will be and hopefully he will find happiness and bring joy to others as well!
MOM.CEO: Do you feel that MOM.CEOs have it harder at balancing their work/life duties than DAD.CEOs? Or is it now becoming an advantage due to the ‘home isolation double-duty’ that fathers are now facing and quickly realizing that it will somewhat be the new norm?
OB: Genuinely speaking, MOM.CEOs endure a much harder life as opposed to DAD.CEOs. Not speaking about the recent home isolation factor, men are generally becoming more involved in their children’s lives than in previous generations. While the lockdown as accelerated this evolution, it has been growing already for some time. I positively believe that this trend is not unique to the home isolation effect but that it will be a bigger challenge and adjustment for DAD.CEOs to combine their professional lives with their families as opposed to what MOM.CEOs find more second nature when balancing the work/life aspect as society was demanding and expecting it for such a long time already.
MOM.CEO: Do you feel men are now getting ‘exaggerated praise’ for what mothers have been doing on a daily basis without any recognition.
OB: While there is to some extent an increase in glorification of how men are paying attention to their children, and this will not last once we return to some kind of normalcy. I feel that also there are more and more men who are naturally and genuinely wanting to spend more time with their children and who want to influence them. I feel and see that it’s a genuine process that will continue past this pandemic home isolation self-congratulatory phase we now find ourselves in.
But to say that there is always a silver lining in a negative situation such as this pandemic is that DAD.CEOs are now discovering their fatherly side to themselves and have been given an opportunity to reconnect with their children and why they had children in the first place.
MOM.CEO: Being a creative family, how do you ‘unplug’ with your son that might surprise us?
OB: My son, while being very academic, is also very creative such as myself. During this ‘lockdown’ he managed to write more than 25 songs. So, during his downtime, he has managed to make it very productive by doing something he truly enjoys. As to myself, I must admit that I probably don’t suggest often enough time for us to relax and ‘unplug’.
Playing guitar is yet another instrument that John Gallant is mastering.
MOM.CEO: Creative Women Conference which you lead is about to happen on June 5 and 6th. What can you tell you us about it and will the subject of work/life balance and children be a topic of conversation?
OB: I started this yearly 5 years ago and this will be the first year that it will be held online for the obvious reasons. While the focus is on creativity and business, we will be touching on the subject of work/life balance including motherhood, as it’s a very important and relevant subject to many women leaders, especially now with the home isolation where our businesses are merging with our family life.
MOM.CEO: I saw on your list of panelists that Farzana Baduel who we had an interview before on MOM.CEO will be speaking at your conference?
OB: We are very happy to have Farzana Baduel to being a part of our conference as she brings a wealth of experience and values and we are thrilled to have her back at the conference sharing her knowledge and wisdom.
MOM.CEO: Being a public person who is in the ‘spotlight’ who travels quite a bit, what has been your secret to balancing it all (work/life) while still being a present mother?
OB: While everyone has their own unique set of circumstances that cannot be duplicated or even advised on in a general sense, I would give the following tips that have worked for me:
1. You should be incredibly well organized or else all the ideas or plans in the world will simply fall apart.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from others, as without a solid team or a strong support group, nothing is truly achievable.
3. When it comes to working with people on a project, it’s important to be very selective and even harsh when selecting as the quality of your team will make all the difference in the final product that is delivered
4. I cannot stress enough on the importance of your well-being such as getting proper sleep, eating well, exercising, yoga mixed with meditation, etc. I must admit that I was never deeply involved in taking good care of myself due to the high-stress nature of my business, but I am now entering a certain part of my life where I am now starting to understand the importance of well-being and self-care.
5. Most importantly I would say to make genuine-time with your children. I know first-hand the regret of having such a busy schedule where you need to slot in your own child into your agenda in between other meetings with notes on what is planned to do with them in order to feel like you are being an involved parent. This is not correct, and I would recommend no matter what to block off certain times of the week or weekend where work must wait and your child must come first and make it a known rule, even it will hurt your business.
Olga Balakleets with Prince Michael of Kent at the Russian Ballet Gala event in London, England
MOM.CEO: We recently had an interview with Vitali Klitschko (former heavyweight boxing champion of the world) who said:
“Meetings can always be rescheduled, but special ecents in a childs life cannot be repeated.”
There are many leaders with schedules that are beyond the busy that most big CEOs have such as Barack Obama who made it a point to have supper with his family 5 nights a week at 6:30 sharp and made it clear to his staff that no one was to disturb him aside from a national emergency.
I feel that if certain rules are put in place and people value your work, then people will learn to respect it and will accommodate you and work around it. I believe it’s we who make our time busy and not so much outside influences to some extent.
OB: I fully agree, as I also have my own strict rules so when the time comes when no time is truly not available, I need to put my foot down and refuse something in order to make time for my son. This might end up harming my business, but I would rather it be my business being harmed than it being my long-term relationship with my child. Business can always be fixed, but a relationship is not always so easy when the action is constant, deliberate, and systematic. But, like everyone in business and life, I am not perfect and working hard on becoming better.
MOM.CEO: They say with each generation, we must improve on how our parents raised us. What would you say makes your difference in your parenting style? How would you say you have improved your parent’s approach?
OB: We need to understand that each generation lives in a different time with unique needs and wants as compared to the next generation that will have a new path, new opportunities, and new realities, etc. as compared to their parent’s generation.
When comparing my parent’s life of being raised in the Soviet Union where everything was tightly controlled as opposed to my life where I managed to move to several countries to study and eventually settle in London where life was filled with freedom and opportunities is simply not comparable.
Having my parents being part of the soviet system of working for the state such as my father being a doctor and my mother being a music teacher, I had the freedom to become my own boss and charting my own destiny. This would help guide me in raising my son in a much different manner than my parent would have been able to. But regardless of the style of parenting, the foundation of being a good and honest person is lessons that I feel have no borders or generations and are core values that I am passing on as well to my son. So, while we have very different parenting styles, there are still some lessons that cannot and should not be changed or altered in my opinion.
MOM.CEO: You come from a very artistic background, but have managed to evolve into a business leader as well. Do you feel it’s important to teach kids on the business side of creativity (and teach creativity to business-focused children)? Are you doing this with your child, and how?
OB: Without a doubt, creativity is a vital instrument for business. Much like my upcoming conference Creative Women Conference on June 5 and 6th where we are focusing on finding creative ways and thinking in order to solve business challenges. Only with creativity can we create better businesses that deliver a real solution for our society. So, coming back to children, it’s incredibly important to instill the importance of both business and creative merging together so that both sides of the brain can work in harmony together and solve complex problems with the freedom of imagination while being focused to attain a concrete business result.
While it’s great to let a child’s minds wander from an early age and explore their creativity, I feel it’s equally important to teach them about the values of tactical thinking that can bring results with their ideas. Otherwise great ideas mean nothing if they have no structure to execute them.
And just like children who are becoming academically successful, they need to understand that without creativity, they will be missing out on opportunities of expanding or even creating a new business or simply just solving a problem if they are too rigid and linear in their thinking and approach.
“We need to let kids color outside the lines sometimes in order for them to create and discover a new picture on their own terms.”
MOM.CEO: As the great artist Andy Warhol once said:
“Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.”
MOM.CEO: Do you find that mothers are in a sense defacto CEOs running the household and everyone who is a part of this company which is the family?
OB: (laughs) I agree with this statement 100%! We are in charge of so many tasks such as financial control, human resources, task management, investment planning, employee development (school), etc.
I really would like to congratulate all the mothers out there for the great work they do on a daily basis and rarely get the kind of recognition that they should be getting! And even more so, working moms who are in a sense working as double CEOs both home and at work. This is truly a mountain of work that deserves more recognition and not only once per year on Mother’s Day.
MOM.CEO: Any last words of wisdom?
OB: I would like to remind people not to be so quick to judge but rather become more forgiving starting you’re your family, to business partners, and finally to people in general. Judging too quickly and not forgiving pushes harmony aside and replaces it with a negative aura that has a ripple effect on not only their life but even more on your life as you are the one who is poisoning you own ‘well’ shall we say. This will stop long-term relationships in developing to their full potential and kill future prospects that could have led your life and others in a more positive and productive manner.
MOM.CEO: As the old saying goes:
“When people are too lazy to try and understand, they judge.”
ABOUT OLGA BALAKLEETS
Founder & CEO of Ensemble Productions
Russian born, and London based renowned award-winning concert pianist who has appeared at many international music festivals and as a soloist with orchestras such as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, BBC Big Band, Ensemble Modern among the others, Olga Balakleets is also a multifaceted entrepreneur and a CEO of international events company Ensemble Productions which organizers numerous cultural and philanthropic projects worldwide in the most prestigious venues such as the Royal Opera House, London Coliseum, Royal Albert Hall, Vienna Musikverein,Teatro della Opera di Roma, Frankfurt Alter Oper, Cairo Opera House, Dubai’s Madinat Jumeirah, Hong Kong Performing Arts Academy Concert Hall and many others.
Her annual projects include The Cyprus-Russia Gala in the Presidential Palace under the Patronage of the First Lady of Cyprus Mrs. Andri Anastasiades in aid of Radiomarathon Foundation which started since 2007, The Russian Ballet Icons Gala at The Royal Opera House and Coliseum since 2006, Russian Festival Maslenitsa since 2009 among others. She is also a Founder and CEO of an international platform Creative Women since 2016 promoting successful female entrepreneurs with a creative approach to business with an annual conference.
Creative Women became a Strategic Partner of Women in Innovation and Creativity Conference in Bahrain in 2020 and the next Creative Women Conference will take place at Sheraton Grand Park Lane Hotel in June 2020.
Olga has appeared as a speaker at various female conferences most recently at the Women Economic Forum in November 2019 in London. Olga is also a Founder of a global multifaceted venture Theatrum Vitae which is designed to transcend barriers and unite people around the world through a unique synthesis of performing and visual arts and create a lasting cultural legacy for many years to come.
Olga has been acting as an adviser on cultural matters to various governments and particularly closely works with the Ministries of Culture of the Russian Federation, Cyprus, and Hong Kong, with the Mayor of London, British Parliament, the Russian State Duma and the Presidential Palace of Cyprus.
Olga Balakleets with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Recently Olga has received a nomination for the highest Award for a Russian living outside Russia, the Pushkin Medal authorized by President Vladimir Putin which has been presented to her at the Russian Embassy in London in June 2019.
In November 2019 she has received a nomination for the Prix of Excellence award in Italy for her contribution to the promotion of ballet and dance. Olga often appears on international TV channels making valuable contributions to cultural and philanthropic matters and writes for several international publications in the UK, Russia, and Cyprus.
Since 2005, Olga has been an Artistic Director of the British-Russian Cultural Association, between 2008 and 2010 a Vice-President of the Swiss-Russian Cultural Foundation and in November 2009 she was elected as a member of the Russian Speaking Council of Great Britain to become its Head of the Culture Section there and in 2015 to become its Chairman.
About Olga Balakleets son - JOHN GALLANT
VIOLIN / PIANO / GUITAR / VOICE
John Gallant was born in 2003 and started studying the violin at the age of 4. His first public performance took place in 2009 in front of a 5000-strong audience at the Maslenitsa Festival in London. In 2011 he won the First Prize in two categories at the Richmond-upon-Thames Festival Competition. In 2012 he won the First Prize in the International Competition for Young Instrumentalists “America’s Golden Strings”; this resulted in his appearance at Carnegie Hall in March 2013.
John performed at the International Festival “Moscow Meets Friends” under the patronage of Vladimir Spivakov in June 2012. In December 2012 he performed at the Moscow International House of Music, invited there by the Vladimir Spivakov Foundation. In May 2013 he played Charles Auguste de Beriot's Concerto No.9 with the St Mary Magdalen’s Orchestra. He has been invited to perform the music of Handel at the Handel Museum in London and appeared at London’s Cadogan Hall in June 2013 performing Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto. He has been selected by the Mozart Italia Association at the International Music Master Classes and Festival in Narni, Italy in August 2013 and in August 2014 as the youngest musician to play in the festival’s orchestra there.
He has been studying the violin with Professor Natalia Lomeiko at the Junior Department of the Royal College of Music, where he has been studying since September 2013. He led the String Orchestra of the Junior Department since September 2016. He was also a music scholar at Sussex House School in London where he was awarded the “Instrumentalist of the Year” Prize each year between 2013 and 2017.
In May 2014 John participated in various categories in the Ealing Festival Competition in London. He won the Junior Concerto Cup and Golden Medal (String Section, under 14s), 1st Prize and Golden Medal (Piano, under 12s), The John Juviler Cup for “The Most Promising String Talent” aged 16 and under. He also performed as a soloist with the Orchestra of St Mary Magdalen in May 2014 performing Louis Spohr Violin Concerto No. 2. In June 2014 he won the Hugh Bean Violin competition (the only violin competition at the Junior Department) at the Royal College of Music in London.
He has performed Haydn Violin Concerto in G Major with the Silk Street Sinfonia at St James’ Piccadilly in April 2015 and Vitali’s Chaconne for Violin and Orchestra with the St Mary Magdalen’s Orchestra in May 2015. In the same month, he has again appeared in Moscow at Vladimir Spivakov International Festival at the Pushkin State Museum.
In October 2015 he was the youngest instrumentalist in the country to be selected by the Royal Philharmonic Society in their Young Instrumentalist of the Year Prize. John has been also selected to perform in the National Children’s Orchestra of Great Britain in December 2015 and was the winner of the String Section of Emunah Young Instrumentalist of the Year 2016 in February 2016. He has also performed at a special charity gala for the Rotenberg Foundation as a soloist with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in February 2016 and in May 2016 performed Saint-Saens Violin Concerto No 3 with the orchestra of St Mary Magdalen.
In October 2016 on a special invitation, John performed at the House of Lords. In December 2016, John was selected among many applicants to perform in the Main National Children’s Orchestra of Great Britain. In May 2017 he was again invited to perform as part of the International Festival “Moscow Meets Friends” at the legendary Pushkin Museum as well as at the International House of Music. In September 2017 John has joined Eton College where he is a music scholar and a student of Professor Natalia Lomeiko. He won both the 2018 and 2019 Eton Advanced Junior String Competition. He has been a member of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain in 2018- 2019 season performing with the orchestra in such prestigious halls as the Royal Albert Hall and Berlin Konzerthaus. He has passed his DipABRSM in July 2019 with distinction. John has also started an orchestra London Young Soloists where he is a leader in March 2019 and the orchestra has already performed in several prestigious UK venues.
John is a keen chamber music player and enjoys playing in his piano trio with his colleagues from the Royal College of Music, the pianist Calvin Leung and cellist Megan Clarke.
John also plays guitar and writes his own songs which he started publishing on his own YouTube Channel.
John was also studying piano with Professor Danielle Salamon at the JD at the Royal College of Music and from 2017 continued to study piano with Professor Gareth Jones at Eton College.
He has performed as a piano soloist with the Orchestra of St Mary Magdalen in May 2014 Mozart Piano Concerto in B Flat Major.
In October 2014 John has received a special Trophy at Jaques Samuel Pianos Festival and was selected to perform at Wigmore Hall among only 9 other prize winners chosen from young pianists from all London conservatories. Also in October 2014, he has received the first prize in West London Pianoforte Competition in a piano duet section. He has performed Dmitry Kabalevsky’s Piano Concerto No 3 with the St Mary Magdalen’s Orchestra in May 2015, receiving the first prize for playing the same concerto in a concerto section at the Ealing Festival Competition.
In October 2015 he received the first prize in West London Pianoforte Competition. In May 2016 he performed Beethoven Concerto No 1 with the orchestra of St Mary Magdalen and in June 2016 received the Dorothy Fryer Memorable Prize for Pianoforte by the Association of the Royal Board of Schools. He won Junior Advanced Piano Competition in 2018 and in July 2019 he passed his piano DipABRSM with distinction.