By Michael Adams
We knew we had achieved something of a coup when we persuaded Trisha Wilson to make a rare public appearance at the recent HD Expo. But we weren’t prepared for the lovefest that would ensue.
From the moment she arrived at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center till the moment she left, Trisha was stopped in her tracks, hugged, kissed, and fussed over by nearly everyone she passed—not only by those who had worked for her or with her, but by many who knew her merely by reputation. One young designer told me she had flown from Seattle primarily to meet Wilson . . . her “role model.”
The format of the appearance—the two of us seated in handsome chairs supplied by the session sponsor, Walters—was relaxed and informal, qualities almost impossible to avoid when you’re with Trisha. She exudes energy, charm, and passion, particularly when discussing her two favorite topics: Wilson Associates, her 42-year-old design firm that helped change the face of hospitality; and the Wilson Foundation, her ongoing effort to help poor and disadvantaged children, particularly those of South Africa.
From her first professional job, selling mattresses in a Dallas department store, to her phenomenally successful design firm, which has created more than one million high-end hotel rooms around the world, Wilson’s mantra has remained the same: “It can be done.” (A sign saying as much sits on her office desk.)
A film portraying the work of her Foundation, narrated by one of its beneficiaries, a South African living with AIDS, brought her and much of her audience to tears, as did her description of what it’s like to work on some of the most luxurious properties in the world and then witness incredible poverty and need when she returns to her second home in South Africa. “How can you not help?” she entreated us.
In the days leading up to the interview, I was stopped by many people who told me how much they were looking forward to attending. Many had worked for her and many with her as clients and suppliers. So I was pleased but not surprised by seeing so many of them front and center in the ballroom that day, and leading a standing ovation at the session’s end. I told her onstage that one of them, a former employee, had said to me earlier that he wishes that he could work for her forever. Trisha explained that kind of loyalty: “It’s all about love. I love the work and I love these people.” That morning especially, the feeling was mutual.
A video of the entire conversation will be available soon on www.hospitalitydesign.com.