The average business owner is a little over 50 years old. Houstonian Meredith Xavier smashed that statistic when she opened her first company in Los Angeles at age 24.
Fast-forward eight years, and Xavier has offices around the continent–literally. Her company, The Ligné Group, is a full-service business development and PR firm for interior design clients; headquartered in Houston, the business also has subsidiaries in Los Angeles, Miami, and Sao Paolo, Brazil.
A Houston native, Xavier started her business while living in LA–she first moved to study art history at Pepperdine. After working for other people, including a stint at Christie’s, Xavier decided she could fare better on her own. Adopting her late father’s entrepreneurial spirit and her own self-described “street smarts,” she launched Ligné–French for “line”–and never looked back.
Over time, the firm evolved into a one-stop shop for Xavier’s design clients. Today, Ligné offers services in PR, marketing, distribution, sales support, product placement, and licensing. Xavier focuses on high-end lighting design–she speaks most passionately about Windfall Contemporary Crystal Lighting, a German client she represents in the Americas and proudly displays in her new Houston office space on Summer Street.
It was there that we met Xavier earlier this month, a handful of spherical Windfall fixtures wrapped in Swarovski crystal glittering over the conference table. Xavier flew in from LA the night before; next week, it was off to Paris for the Maison et Objet design conference, where she’d present a talk on technology’s impact on the industry, host lavish events for clients–including one five-course wine pairing at a Michelin-starred restaurant by the d’Orsay—and celebrate 10 years with her husband, Yuri Xavier, Ligne’s CEO. They met in the LA design scene and married just 90 days later; today, they have two daughters, 5 and 15 months.
The 10th anniversary is tin, though. Perhaps known best for the shimmering chandeliers she distributes and installs (for Fifth Avenue stores in New York and Saudi Arabian royalty alike), Xavier will have to wait five more years for crystal.
On being married to her business partner:
"We work together now. It is a family business … he’s an amazing manager, great with structure, and he’s got really good views. He’s great with global thinking, so he’s been really great to help us grow on a global level. I’m more of the creative; I do the design of the showrooms, a lot of our client relations, the PR side. He handles a lot of the marketing side of the business now, and imports and things like that. I always say I do the fun stuff. … We do travel quite a bit. I landed last night from LA at midnight, and he left at 4 this morning for Miami … I feel like I’m in a long-distance relationship sometimes even though we live together, but it’s good."
On balancing motherhood:
"We do a lot of FaceTime. They’re used to it, but it was easier with the first one. I had her and in six weeks we took our first trip–I just strapped her on the front of me and we went to West Week in LA. I took her to the Milan Furniture Fair when she was nine weeks old. I was like, ‘Sorry there’s a baby here, just keep going.’ I think we did about 28,000 miles with her on the plane her first year of life. I just took her everywhere with me. That’s what happens when you own a business and you’re a mom. Life doesn’t stop."
On her parenting style:
"The way we’ve always been with the girls is, our life doesn’t revolve around them–they come into our lives, and we acclimate them to that. It’s a very European way of raising your children … it enriches them, I think, in such an incredible way. [Juliana, 5] goes to my meetings with me. Not everybody will agree with that style of parenting, but she’s always at the office with me. She tells me she’s going to be a CEO and start up a rainbow streamer business … I think it’s incredible exposure for them."
On venturing out on her own:
"I worked at a showroom … and the showroom owner was not a very good business owner. I was constantly trying to prevent lawsuits from happening because she was not taking care of the business financially the way she would have been, and I said, ‘I’m going to get out before my reputation gets ruined.’ So I left. I actually quit on Christmas Eve, because she yelled at me … after I called her with good news! I was like, ‘You know what, I’m done. Life is too short for this. I’m done.’ I remember I logged out of my email, I turned my cell phone off, I shut down my computer, and I looked at my husband and said, ‘I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do now. All I know is I’d rather be a barista at Starbucks than work for someone like that one more day in my life.’"
On Ligné's origin:
"I had an idea of what it was going to be, but I was like, I’m not going to set what we are. I’m going to let it organically figure itself out. I was very aggressive and confident in the fact that I’d just helped a company grow despite the fact that the business owner was so awful. Imagine what you could do if you had somebody doing all the right things! I’ve learned all the things not to do, and I think I can apply that and help other people … I never thought about how scary it was; I just dove in … If I didn’t know [something], I just Googled it. The answer’s always ‘yes,’ and then you figure it out later. I never said ‘no’ to anybody."
On being a young business owner:
"It’s tough … Six months after I started the company we moved into our first office in LA, and I remember signing the lease just shaking. It was only $850 a month, and I’m just shaking because it’s such a big overhead at that point and you’re so young. … You’re trying to build your reputation and you’re trying to get people to trust you, and it was harder in the beginning with our office in LA; [people] would come in and be like, ‘oh, are you the intern?’ I’m the owner–surprise!"
On employing other young women:
"My big thing is, I worked for a company that was so awful, and I just want to create a work environment where everybody wants to come to work, and they want to be here, and they love what they do. We have really good vibes here. The whole team is awesome. The girls get to travel with me … I tell them, ‘I want you guys to be successful. When you’re successful, I’m successful.’ I want to expose them to things and teach them as much as possible."
On proving her worth to clients:
"I’m the youngest [Windfall] agent by far–all the other agents are male and much older than me. I wanted to be an agent for them for so long … and it took a while for them to feel confident in me doing it. … We flew to Germany and we had conversations and they finally gave me [the job], and I was so happy. We have grown the business; I think me, by myself, I’m doing more sales than they did when they had four huge showrooms, and I think it’s because we give such specialized attention to our clients."
On the industry:
"[Design] makes me so happy. Obviously it’s a certain level and everybody can appreciate it. I always say we’re not curing cancer or anything miraculous, but environments are important, and I think we are bringing something really beautiful and unique and different. … It’s just fun. We’re happy campers, and I’m excited to be here and maybe push the design community a little bit more."