Saturday, March 29, 2014

Abbyson Living showcased on TNT’s ‘Inside Job’

Did you see TNT’s reality series “Inside Job,” broadcast March 27, 2014 (Season 1, Episode 4), featuring Abbyson Living, the supplier of exquisite home and outdoor furnishings? Did you have a chance to see the exceptional and inspired work environment created by the Rafieha brothers, who took their father’s vision of international furniture manufacturing and delivery to new heights in e-commerce and business-to-business (B2B) relationships?

Three candidates and one insider work together as a team for one week, for one person to be chosen to be the new e-commerce Brand Manager at Abbyson Living. TNT, used with permission

L to R: Doddy, Yavar, and Rodd Rafieha created Abbyson Living, featured on TNT's "Inside Job." TNT Inside Job, used with permission

Abbyson Living President Yavar Rafieha shared, in an exclusive interview for, how it was he and his brothers came to need the process for which TNT’s “Inside Job” was a perfect match. “We were seeking a new Brand Manager for our company,” said Yavar, “and the experience offered by ‘Inside Job’ was the perfect opportunity to see multiple candidates using their skills in an exercise that was specifically relevant to our needs.”

If you’re expecting to click on to and purchase furniture, that’s not how their business works. In fact, if you’re an individual customer, you can look but you cannot order. Where you will be able to get their beautiful furnishings is online, through one of their many resellers, which include Neiman-Marcus,, Costco and There’s something for every price point and every budget. How did it come to be that Abbyson Living, quietly set back in California’s San Fernando Valley, exploded onto the national scene?

How Abbyson Living developed its international presence and industry distinction is a story that begins, as many good news stories do, with a father’s love for his family— a dream, and a substantial amount of hard work. Abby Rafieha had three good reasons as inspiration: his sons, Yavar, Doddy, and Rodd. As the senior Rafieha studied for his Ph.D. in economics in Houston, Texas, his mind was on creating his own business and his international background and acquired academic knowledge proved the perfect combination to begin his career. But first Abby traveled, “across Europe and Asia. Attracted and inspired by the rich and colorful cultures he encountered, he fell in love with functional art and artistic design.”

Ultimately it was the culture and design he found in Tibet that inspired the senior Rafieha to create the Abbyson Corporation. Abby’s first personnel “find” was his firstborn son, Houston-born Yavar, but first Abby had to wait until he discovered his actual career path. “I always thought I was going to be a lawyer one day,” said Yavar. “I liked watching all the courtroom scenes on TV and thought that’s what I would do. But I changed my mind.”

“When I was 16, I began traveling with my father on business trips. We went all over Asia and Europe. I sat in meetings with him, watching how he negotiated business deals, and set up manufacturing,” said Yavar. “Integrity was extremely important to him, in his dealings with people, and he took great pride in design and quality, which I saw on those trips.”

It made young Yavar so proud to watch his father in action; it seemed only natural that he wanted to follow his father’s path. But, he says, “Our father never really groomed us into taking over and getting involved with our career decisions. He never forced that on us.” However, “when I saw his products being delivered and how he would get such tremendous responses from his customers, I knew that this was where I wanted to be.”

Time passed and the business grew, on the ground, simply by “identifying, developing, and acquiring high quality products and selling them at a reasonable price, featuring items you would want in your own home.” Yavar said, “The joy is still there, for all of us. Last week I was at an event where someone I’d not met before came up to me and said, “Oh, I just bought one of your couches! Can’t believe I’m able to tell you in person how great it is!” You sometimes forget how great feedback is,” Yavar said, “when we have 5,000 shipments (not pieces, but full shipments) per month.”

Before you watch the program online, on demand, let’s establish one fact to prevent any misconception. In case you were wondering, the Rafieha brothers didn’t just fall into the business. Yavar, Doddy and Rodd are three of the most intelligent, cultured, and well-traveled young executives, who work more hours each week than their employees. Not one silver spoon here, except in the correct place on any fine dining table, as they travel the world as part of high-profile events where their furniture designs are seen. One visit to their website will show you all of the places where their work is prized and valued.

Each of the brothers began their career paths strictly by choice, not by expectation, and each of them is equally distinguished and schooled in the areas for which they’re responsible at Abbyson Living. This is the company that the three brothers formed together in 2008, a natural outgrowth of the company their father, Abby, began. Today, Abby serves as Chairman, Founder and Special Advisor, and his input is both sought and welcome, but he’s equally confident that his sons are doing tremendously of their own accord.

Abbyson Living President, Yavar, earned his B.S. degree (with honors) from Cal State—Northridge with a double major in business administration and political science. He is also multicertified in martial arts, and if that’s not enough, he speaks basic Chinese and Spanish, and he’s been working in the business since he was 18.

As Senior Vice President/COO, Doddy earned his B.A. degree in Comprehensive Business Management Education. He oversees finance and manufacturing accounts and focuses on overseas operations and has worked there since he was 19.

For the role of Vice President of Sales & Marketing, Rodd prepared well. He graduated with a B.S. in Business Management from Cal State—Northridge and began working for the business at age 18. He works with all the teams and managers at Abbyson Living.

Yavar overseas operations, human relations and the branding side of the business, which is extensive. Says Yavar, “We are a tight family, and I love my brothers very much. The reason all of this works is that we each have established specific roles and responsibilities, and we come together when needed and can function independently as well.” “Our corporate culture is very important,” Yavar explains. “We want to make sure we have a happy environment and we reward our employees, regarding them as part of our extended family.”

Some of the amenities available at Abbyson Living might have some folks from Google coming by to visit. They have a chef who cooks for all employees once a month, providing food and fellowship. The employee of the year is gifted with a trip to Hawaii, and there are electric massage chairs for the employees. Nice touch.

In 2012 Abbyson Living was named as one of Inc 500’s “America’s Fastest Growing Companies.” For the “Inside Job” position opening, the person hired would be making a six-figure salary, and Yavar said, “We wanted to make certain we had the right person to join our team.” Now, who wouldn’t want to work at Abbyson Living? Yet, the criteria are demanding and the standards are high to find the right person.

The premise of “Inside Job” is that the show producers review resumes and credentials to select three prospects as finalists, and the company supplies one corporate insider to work (unrevealed) alongside the potential candidates for a week. Yavar said, “This was a new process for us, a big risk but a big experience. We were hiring differently for the first time. Hundreds of applicants submitted resumes and the producers spent one to two days just discussing with us the requirements we had for the new hire.” They then spent weeks interviewing candidates and came up with the final three. “Internally, we spent time and interviewed six different employees for the role of the insider,” said Yavar.

There were two assignments for the team of four. An executive from participated along with the Abbyson team to judge the first project, the creation of a living room design in 90 minutes, which would ordinarily take two days. The second test was to create a 30-second product video of beautiful outdoor living furnishings for their exquisite website, a real test of pressure. The three Rafieha brothers dropped in unexpectedly on the team in the middle of that process, and then saw the finished product.

No scene spoilers here, so no spoiler alert. Two women and two men are the candidates who spend a week together and have to work together on the tasks. This really “is” a “must-see” episode because you’ve never seen such attempts by one at throwing others “under the bus” and by another at presuming a “condescending superiority” toward the others. It’s also just fun to watch because you see the lengths to which people will go and the heights towards which they will soar when under pressure, particularly revealing their true characters.

At the end of the two assignments, the person who is hired is the insider, whose identity shocks all of the other three. No more commentary on the episode, lest the good news be revealed too soon. The winner is bright, talented, and entirely creative, plus experienced for the job. Yavar said, “This show was a wonderful experience for us and it’s changed the way we now hire our executives. We have adopted the elements of this process to test people in our environment to know how they’ll interact and perform in our corporate culture.”

If you didn’t see the original broadcast, you have a second chance to see it, at your convenience. Watch this tremendous story at TNT Drama’s online web site. See a company in action who really lives every element out its mission statement. The Rafieha brothers were inspired by their father to create a company, Abbyson Living, where they could supply furnishings of exceptional quality and unique beauty to retailers at a full range of price points, from affluent estates all the way to your first home. They even have a beautiful showroom in Las Vegas!

From a company initiated by a wise father, Abby Rafieha, who took his oldest son, Yavar, with him as he traveled the world to create a furniture business, the premise was like how many other “Father & Sons” dreams begin. Abbyson Living represents Yavar, Doddy and Rodd making their father’s unspoken dreams and wishes for his sons come true, when there was never any pressure in the first place to follow him there.

Ever had a dream job? One that you’d close your eyes and wished would be yours? Perhaps it was a place you’d heard of, but had never been to; maybe it was one where you had always wanted to work, but didn’t even know how to get your foot in the door.Suddenly, the skies opened and the chance of a lifetime fell out and you had a shot at the job of a lifetime.

That’s the premise of TNT’s new original series, “Inside Job,” and one of those company where dreams come true is Abbyson Living. After watching this episode, undoubtedly many people will visit the company website and click on “Employment Opportunities.”

The company is not called Rafieha & Sons. Instead, it is a loving tribute to their father—most appropriately named by Abby’s sons—Abbyson Living. Watch the episode and see it for yourself.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Music on her own terms: Kiki Ebsen’s Kickstarter and Father’s Day love message

Kiki Ebsen is one of the most accomplished musicians, who's toured with Christopher Cross, Boz Scaggs, Chicago, Bill Champlin, Peter Cetera, Tracy Chapman, Al Jarreau, Michael McDonald, Karla Bonoff, to name just a few, and she writes as beautifully as she sings. Her Kickstarter project to pay special tribute to her father, the late acting icon, Buddy Ebsen, will move you to want to join and be a part of this very special event. Read the full story and join in the fun of the Kickstarter Program!

Chances are good you’ve seen Nancy Kiersten (Kiki) Ebsen onstage if you’ve attended rock and jazz concerts around the country over the past fifteen years. A truly gifted musician in her own right, Ebsen granted a special interview to share good news about her latest Kickstarter project, “to my dad, Buddy Ebsen, for Father’s Day. Love, Kiki.”

Thinking her name is familiar? It should be. Kiki is a singer-songwriter whose own compositions are a celebration of jazz, rock, and soul; her emotions flow effortlessly as she plays. When she sings, the power of her vocals conveying the lyrics is mesmerizing. She has a good sense of humor and rapport with the audience when headlining her own house concerts. Basically she was born to be on stage, somewhere, anywhere, everywhere.

You definitely have seen her, if you’ve attended a concert headlined by Christopher Cross, Al Jarreau, Boz Scaggs, Bill Champlin, Peter Cetera, Karla Bonoff, Michael McDonald, and Tracy Chapman, or even just listened to their albums. She’s there.

In addition to being on so many other artists’ music projects, Ebsen has released several of her own albums, including “Red,” “Kiki,” “Cool Songs, Vol. 1,” and “The Beauty Inside.”

Her first Kickstarter project was born when she was rummaging through an old trunk of some of her mother’s memorabilia and came upon the sheet music for a song her dad had written, “Missing You.” As she held that sheet music and heard the melody in her mind, she was inspired to record that song and other song standards that were also important to her dad, about the time that he’d written “Missing You.” She thought, “it would be great to have it done in time for my Father’s Day card to him, even though he’s not here to hear it.”

You might not have made the connection between the singer and her well-known father, beloved actor, dancer and musician, born Christian Ludolph Ebsen, Jr. Or, perhaps Baby Boomers might easily have typecast Buddy as Jed Clampett, of “The Beverly Hillbillies,” rather than a multitalented actor, dancer, singer and songwriter who was first known from his movies, stage productions and even vaudeville shows.

Long before the days of the Clampetts, Ebsen was a popular cast member in “Broadway Melody” movies, and he played “Captain January” alongside the late Shirley Temple. The diverse Ebsen was as popular on stage as he was on television. Still, you saw the versatile actor guest on “Burke’s Law, “Davy Crockett,” “Bonanza,” “Red Skelton,” “Gunsmoke,” and later on another weekly show, “Barnaby Jones,” with Lee Meriwether, a Quinn Martin production.

In fact, when they were growing up, Kiki and her brother, Dustin, knew that their mother was a writer and had a community theatre; that was “her job.” And their father had “his job” on television. They weren’t exactly sure when he was on TV, but they thought that everyone’s dad worked on television because their dad did. That’s the extent to which they were a show-biz family.

One evening, Kiki and Dustin sat down to look for their dad across all the channels to see where he actually was. They tried one channel, then another, and they “sort of, kind of thought” they’d found him, but they weren’t sure. The duo changed the dial through a series of programs and actors until they settled on one man. Both agreed that was indeed “Dad.” Surely that was him! As their mother, Nancy Wolcott McKeown Ebsen, walked into the room, they announced, “Mom, we found Dad on TV!” Nancy said, “No, that’s Lawrence Welk.” Oh well, they kept on watching anyway.

As they grew older Nancy, Dustin, and their siblings, Susannah, Cathy, and Bonnie (by Ebsen’s marriage to Nancy McKeown) and older siblings, Elizabeth and Alix (by Ebsen’s first marriage to Ruth Cambridge) grew up surrounded by as much of a normal non-Hollywood life as you could imagine. Everyone in the family had talent in some form or fashion; it was definitely a creative environment to grow up in, but no pressure to enter show business.

Young Nancy Kiersten Ebsen showed early signs of being a maverick, if not a baby renegade. Her older siblings started calling her “Kirstie,” but she announced one day that she was “Kiki,” and that’s what they should call her. They did. The next sign that she had early talents that were unique and non-mainstream came soon thereafter. Her grandmother played piano, her mother played, and an older sister played, so Kiki was started on lessons. Turns out she didn’t really need them.

Kiki was an obedient child, and so she pleasantly sat for lessons, but once she saw and heard the teacher play a piece, she was able to immediately reproduce the song by ear. Encouraged to “read” rather than “play by ear,” Kiki decided upon a silent compromise. She sat at the piano pretending to read the music, while playing by ear. Don’t you just love her already? Music on her terms.

As she grew, Kiki had many opportunities to find her father on television. Yet outside his regular series roles on “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Barnaby Jones” and “Matt Houston,” Buddy’s movie talents became clearer, as Kiki discovered her dad’s tremendous dancing in Broadway chorus spots, and later in feature films including “Captain January” and portraying Doc Golightly, the man Holly Golightly left behind in her wake.

Kiki saw how Buddy effortlessly portrayed diverse characters in true-life fashion. One role was too true-to-life. In fact, he was originally supposed to be the scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz,” but wound up being re-cast as the Tin Man. This was years before producers could use CGI for skin color. In being subjected to repeated applications of alum powder to his skin, Ebsen developed a severe reaction and illness, which landed him in the hospital and out of the movie, “man of tin” no more.

Television would ultimately call him next, just a wish away. Ebsen was a man of many talents—song, dance, composition, and acting.

Staying true to your talent is what Kiki gleaned from watching her dad; that, and the value of working hard and doing your best, which she learned from both parents. Kiki’s mom, Nancy, was a full-time mom who also had her own California playhouse and produced many community theatre shows there regularly.

Kiki’s career in music was strengthened through high school and college. She graduated with a degree in classical voice (BFA '84) from California Institute of the Arts (CalArts).

Her first job after graduation came as a result of fortuitous happenstance. A good friend was offered the opportunity to tour with the iconic band, Chicago, playing keyboards (offstage) whenever Robert Lamm and Bill Champlin would leave their keyboards to take center stage on a song. Turns out, Kiki’s friend didn’t want to tour, so she said, “well if you won’t take that job, I will!” Her first tour with Chicago led to all of the other “big name” artists with whom she would see the country.

Even though her career was filled with backing stars, opening for stars, or perfectly showcasing the compositions of stars, that’s been what Kiki has wanted to do. Music on her terms. Simply the love of making music with people she regarded and respected, of being part of a greater effort, and contributing to a product of excellent has been more than “enough” thus far.

And yet, you can’t keep the creative person confined to structure too long before something inside them propels them to find a new path, at least for a time. All through the years and miles of touring, Kiki was writing her own material, spurred on by the joy of simply making music at the highest level. Her style dares to be confined to a single genre. In fact, it’s not. She writes rock, jazz, and more—material that would fit perfectly on the pickiest terrestrial adult-contemporary station (if they were likely to play anything that was outside their formulaic “The Eagles-Journey-John Mellencamp” tightly packed programming).

Ebsen’s own compositions have been “covered by Boney James, Eric Marienthal and Jessy J.” Plus, she’s been on television with Blake Shelton, Kenny Loggins, Glen Campbell, Michele Branch, Gloria Estefan, Melissa Etheridge, and her two hands-down favorites, Robert Goulet and Dolly Parton. No doubt about it—Kiki Ebsen is a first-call musician and has the respect of all the biggest names in the business today.

Yet, like 95% of quality musicians today, the days of the big record labels and singles launched on the radio we used to know are gone. Today, artists create their music, build and grow their following, and produce their CDs to sell to people who already know their work. It’s worked well for the past 10 years to develop this path. Social media is a powerful tool that helps artists by-pass traditional major labels. Facebook pages help fans track upcoming concerts. Twitter encourages direct contact between artists and fans.

In fact, constituencies and contingencies of music fans flourish on Twitter; just ask Will Champlin, a new young talent and musician who rocketed to national awareness last year on NBC’s “The Voice.” Champlin has 87,700 followers on Twitter, and one of those followers is Kiki Ebsen, as she’s known him since he was about 3 years old. Remember Ebsen played offstage for Chicago and later toured (separately) with Peter Cetera and Bill Champlin. It’s just one big musical family out there. Turns out Will and Kiki were on the same music bill recently and she had a chance “to hug his neck and tell him how proud she is of how well he is doing making his own music.”

Not long ago, as Kiki considered her own musical roots and family, it led her to look through some old trunks of things saved from her family’s home. As she pored over prized history, Ebsen discovered something that would ultimately change her life: a song that her father had written captured her eye and her imagination.

As Kiki shares in her own words on her current Kickstarter campaign:

A few years ago I discovered buried in my mother’s attic a box of original scripts and music from my father’s career. Among them were Born To Dance, Yokel Boy and even a songbook from The Wizard of Oz with his handwritten notes in it. I also found a tune my father had written called “Missing You," a song so beautiful and poignant it felt like a gift just for me. I began to include it in my shows and got chills before performing it, as if my dad was there with me.

Kiki’s drive to make an album of jazz standards in tribute to her father would then begin with “Missing You” as the centerpiece, her returning her father’s gift—years in finding its way to her—back to him, with love. She then decided to include songs she knew were her dad’s favorites, including:

“Moon River” (because he was in “Breakfast in Tiffany’s), “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (because he was supposed to originally portray the Scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz” and was switched to the Tin Man, until the alum poisoning took him from the movie altogether) “Easy to Love” (from the Broadway Melody movie series he was in) “Laura” (his favorite song) “Codfish Ball” (from “Captain January,” the movie with Shirley Temple where he portrayed the title role) “St. Louis Blues” (the first song that Buddy taught his maverick maiden on the piano) “Tea for Two” (Buddy’s signature dance routine that took his vaudeville skills ultimately into the movies).

The Kickstarter campaign is an opportunity for Ebsen to focus time and effort to complete her tribute to her dad in time for Father’s Day. In just 3 weeks, as of March 24, 2014, Ebsen has already raised pledges of $9,580 of her $12,000 goal from 123 backers. This is only by word-of-mouth, with people discovering that this gift of love for her father is on Kiki’s mind. The album is tentatively entitled “Scarecrow,” and with a successfully funded Kickstarter (or Keekstarter as she wryly titled one of her YouTube updates), she’ll be on her way to finishing. The album title also reminds you that a scarecrow is often overlooked but serves a valuable role out in the field standing all alone.

Ever the upstart, Ebsen has made a major financial commitment to animal rescue as well as to her Healing Equine Ranch, a nonprofit that brings people together with an opportunity for spiritual renewal via communication with nature, to study the intelligence of and learn by interacting with horses. That’s in her spare time.

To enjoy some of Kiki’s past performances that showcase her singing and playing, click on any of the links that follow to hear and see her work:

Kiki Ebsen, "Woodstock"; Christopher Cross “Never Be the Same” with Kiki Ebsen on keyboards and backing vocals; Christopher Cross duet with Kiki Ebsen, “Spinning” performed in Tokyo, Japan; Christopher Cross duet with Kiki Ebsen, “Open Up My Window”.

Preview a song from the upcoming “Scarecrow Sessions,” and consider a special Kickstarter contribution of support: Check out “Missing You” written by Buddy Ebsen (with Zeke Manners), performed by Kiki Ebsen. Musicians she’s joined by include David Mann as producer (plus sax and flute), John Patitucci (acoustic bass), Henry Hey (piano), and Clint de Ganon (drums).

Remember that Ebsen has neither craved, nor sought, a spotlight before, nor has she ever used her famous family name to direct attention her way. Instead, she has preferred to push herself—on her own—to create and share her music in intimate settings and venues when she’s not on the road. Perhaps as her amazing talent becomes better known, she’ll find more individual showcases for travel and performance on her own, as well as with all the artists who seek her to join them.

Opportunities to share your support for Kiki’s vision begin at an affordable $10, $15, $25, $50, $100, and more. Once you hear her voice, you’ll want to be a part of this outstanding opportunity to lift up a daughter’s love for her father. Don’t let the $12,000 end goal limit your enthusiasm, because anyone who’s followed a musician’s career knows that it takes money after the music is made to get the project out for distribution. The full project cost is somewhere closer to $22,000. Music on her terms.

For every daughter who loves her father, from every father who loves his daughter, and for those who wish they could still hug their loved ones’ necks today, here’s your chance. Join Kiki in her Kickstarter campaign, help her reach her goal, and take her over the top so others can discover her, too. You’ll be glad you did, come Father’s Day.

As a nice postscript, six months later, I discovered this video on YouTube:

As an even nicer postscript, the results of Kiki's Kickstarter project were entirely successful, and the Kickstarter site noted that "180 backers came together to pledge $13,216 (exceeding her goal) to help bring this project to life." And true to her word, the "Scarecrow Sessions" CD was in the hands of backers by Father's Day and you could watch her online in her Father's Day 2014 concert debuting the music if you couldn't attend in person. Bravo!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Disney's 'Let it Go' contest inspires Brian Hull to create video that goes viral

Brian Hull, 22-year-old college student at Dallas Baptist University, wanted to win a $100 gift card from the Disney Store. In less than 2 days, his video contest entry has gone viral. Thanks to for posting the video!

In an exclusive interview with Hull about his video, entitled "Disney and Pixar sings Let it Go," here's the inside story about how the video came to be created.