Jeanetta Hawkins

Jeanetta Hawkins has decorated nearly 4,000 events in her 30 years of running Personal Touches by Jeanetta, Inc., an event decorating and planning business.

Jeanetta Hawkins has decorated nearly 4,000 events in her 30 years of running her event decorating and planning business called Personal Touches by Jeanetta, Inc.

Yet last October, she found herself in the middle of an event-planning horror story. This time she was the bride. Two weeks before her wedding, an employee from the venue called and told her the space had been double-booked. She had two weeks to find a new space.

“Yes, my professionalism did kick in,” Hawkins said. “This is how it kicked in: I cried.”

She picked up the phone and called one of her event partners, the Platinum Group, who then worked with another event partner to quickly help her tour about 50 venues and then negotiate a contract. She and her husband, Nolon Hawkins, ended up having a beautiful wedding at the Sheldon Concert Hall.

“It was my industry partners that came together and helped me,” she said. “At that time, I was not CEO of Personal Touches. I was Jeanetta Hill (her former last name) in turmoil, and they came to my rescue.”

For Hawkins, the experience reinforced the powerful network and support system she and other entrepreneurs have built together to help each other succeed.

“Partnerships are everything,” Hawkins said. “Everything.”

Hawkins is one of two 2018 Entrepreneur of the Year honorees, at the 19th annual St. Louis American Foundation’s Salute to Excellence in Business Awards & Networking Luncheon, Friday, November 30. One of Hawkins’ close partners – Debra Owens, president and CEO of Premiere Production Choice – will also receive a 2018 Entrepreneur of the Year Award. 

Ever since Hawkins began her family-run business, she has never really had to start at the “bottom,” she said. Before starting her business, she was working as a high school recruiter and then began decorating prom events. That’s how she got her first inquiries.

Her first project was working with FleishmanHillard, the largest public relations firm in the country, on designing the grand openings of MetroLink stations. The firm then hired her to decorate the kick-off rally when the St. Louis Rams came to town. 

Weddings and receptions make up about 10 percent of her business, and the other 90 percent is working with corporate clients and non-for profit organizations to design a variety of events, from CD release parties to galas.

“I admire Jeanetta mostly for listening and understanding my requirements, keeping me informed every step of the way, taking ownership of the events she produces, and adding that personal touch to take it over the top,” said Carl L. Anderson, a retired corporate event planner at The Boeing Company.   

Hawkins gets her inspiration for colors by going to the St. Louis Zoo and looking at nature. She can spend hours watching the birds and their exotic color schemes.

“I love to see how God himself put those colors together,” Hawkins said. “Then I take those palettes, and I come back and I start creating and designing for my clients. All of what I see in nature, I bring it into the ballrooms and that’s how we transform spaces. And I think that’s one of the things that separate us from our competition.”

Hawkins was born and raised in Detroit, but she moved to East St. Louis while in high school. She was raised by a foster family, after being separated from her other four siblings, including a twin brother.

“My foster family loved me the best way that they could,” she said, “and I was told over and over again that I’m going to be nothing and I’m going to be like my mother.”

She grew up with a sense of insecurity and low self-worth, she said. 

“My friends and my family helped to pour back into me confidence, self-worth, independence and decision-making,” she said. “I believe that that was a gift, so I’m not looking for any sympathy. That was my gift. Never would I have ever imagined that one day I would be a boss.”

As a boss, you have to have confidence, she said, and you have to believe in yourself to make decisions and be a visionary.

“That provoked me to be the woman that I am today,” she said. “What I want people to understand is your beginning does not have to define your end.”

Hawkins has sat in the audience every year at the last 19 Salute to Excellence in Business events, she said, and she has heard that message over and over from other entrepreneurs and business leaders.

“I watched the very first recipient of this award,” she said, “and I was so inspired. And I said, ‘Maybe one day that’ll be me,’ and I am happy to say that this is that day.”

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