Jill Harrison: Reflections of a Brilliance-Based Businesswoman

Briefly, what are the highlights of your career story?

I have always had an interest in languages, art and international economics.  I won a scholarship to Franklin College in Lugano Switzerland where I studied languages and history. Then, I took a job in banking working as a foreign exchange trader.

Banking didn’t really suit me.  It was very confining. I was very young at the time and there were only three women in the trading area. But still, I could multiply in my head and that counted for something.

After a brief stint in Paris,  I completed degrees in international economics at Harvard. While in Cambridge,  I got hired by a major software company where I worked for seven years in a series of international sales and marketing jobs in the US and Canada.  Then I started a company Isole designing italian leather luggage.

A volunteer job at the Peabody Essex Museum reinforced a lifelong interest in art. So I completed a post-graduate course in appraisal studies from Rhode Island School of Design. I have been an art and antique appraiser since 2004 and have focused on fine art since 2007. I love it! It combines all of my interests and skills. I get to meet interesting clients, do research, contact auction houses and dealers all over the world and use my analytical skills to put a value on objects. Plus, I use all of my marketing skills on a regular basis.

As best as you currently understand it, what are you here to do?  Who are you here to serve?  What difference do you make for your clients?

As an appraiser, I identify, assess and value art and antiques. Identification is the easy part. Comparing and valuing items is more difficult. My role is to get the proper information and break it down so that my clients can make informed decisions about their objects.

When I became an appraiser, I was shocked to learn that it was an unregulated field.  There are few appraisers, like myself, who are truly unbiased and do not purchase items.  There are many  dealers and auction houses who are “appraisers” but really have a vested interest in selling or valuing items.  The highest value I bring to clients is being able to look across the market and give them advice that is appropriate to their needs.

For example, I recently had a client with a modern dining set. It was sent to auction in Florida to take advantage of the local market there. In some sense, it is pure economics, supply and demand being a big driver of prices.

My clients are in the process of downsizing, settling an estate or collecting valuable items. Many are older people and they are smart. My job is to provide them with the resources they need to appraise their art. If they decide to sell it, my job is to connect them with the proper resources so they get the best prices. And, always my ultimate job is to be ethical and honest. That’s easy for me, I have always been very direct and upfront.

How do you define “success” for yourself?

Success is balance.  It is being able to keep your focus on the right things. Success to me has always been about doing practical things in extraordinary ways. I always chose to study practical things so I could get a job and make money. And I did.

Later, when I had children and a husband, my priorities shifted.  I wanted to combine my passion with my strengths to build a second business. My interests in many things helped me build a variety of skills.  When I decided to change careers I was able to choose from many paths.  I had confidence in my business skills from my years in corporate America and my first business. All I needed was a bit more knowledge which I now have.

What changes have you made or experienced in your life and business that have enabled you to experience more ease?

The biggest change I made was to know what I wanted to do. I used to have a business designing and selling Italian leather luggage. I loved the design aspect but I didn’t enjoy selling the products. I was too close to the design process and saw only the flaws.

Once I realized I didn’t want to be in that type of business it didn’t matter if the business made money.  It wasn’t what I wanted.

Now, I am careful about the direction of my business. Last year, I added a new line of business where I broker art. Clients had asked me for years for this service, but I waited until I was ready. It has been phenomenally successful because I thought about the direction I wanted to take before I offered the service.  By offering a brokering service, clients get to tap into my knowledge of the market,  ask questions and make informed decisions about what they want. Most of my clients are retired professionals and highly educated so they understand they cannot simplify gain knowledge via internet searches or get a call back from Sotheby’s Old Masters, as I can. My honesty and direct communication get them the best price for their art.  They are smart people and they know immediately if they are getting value. Plus, clients recommend me to their family and friends. I love that.

What would you love your next breakthrough to be?

I am brokering a very valuable painting (possibly seven figures). I look forward to going to the auction and seeing it sold. It’s not the amount of the painting, it’s the story. The painting has been in the owner’s family since 1756. It took a great effort to move, assess and get it to auction. My hope is that it will go to a major museum where I can see it one day.

Another breakthrough I’m working on is the shift from being a recipient to donor. I realized about a year ago I was at the age where I had to start thinking about philanthropy in the sense of being old enough to give back to those educational institutions which gave me the start I needed. This is a great country, it’s a place where education and hard work can take you places.  I want to make sure that continues.

What brings you joy?

That’s easy.  So many things make me happy.  Let’s start with Art. I love the color, the shape, the beauty of art.  My family makes me happy in so many ways. The funny little things my children say add levity to my day. Their smiles make my world. My husband makes me happy, especially his love, his business insights and excellent cooking.  Nantucket, late in the day when there is no one else on the beach. Crooked little streets, like the ones you find in Italy. Islands, rugged ones, tropical ones, uninhabitable ones.  All of them.  Unexpected winter storms, because they force you to slow down and sit by the fire. Italian sandals. Good books. I’m afraid I could continue for pages on this note.
As a successful Brilliance-Based Businesswoman, what’s the best piece of advice you have for other aspiring and active Brilliance-Based Businesswomen out there?

Have passion around what you do. Get the best education you can and never stop learning. Ever. Listen  carefully and be ready to change your opinion. Be ready to hear what someone is trying to tell you.

I recently had a client, a noted author. I asked her, “Have you always been an author?” She said “No, I was a spy in World War II.”  I got to hear some great stories and learned a lot.

One last thing: under promise and over deliver. Excellence is so rare these days. Combine excellence with knowledge and good manners and you will have more business than you can ever take on.

What’s the best way for others to learn more about what you do?



I have written a series of ten articles including How to Settle an Estate, The Value & Identification of Prints,  and many more. Please send me an email and I will send you a link.

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