As a little girl growing up in Memphis, did Karleen Roy ever imagine that she would be curating memorable experiences for A-listers like Cardi B and Sean “Diddy” Combs?
Well, not exactly that, but she says the signs were there.
“I have always been someone who was involved in a lot of activities and not afraid to dream. I always had a voice as a child—I always had some sort of big idea that I would present to my parents.”
Though she didn’t know it by name or that it was a career she could have, she recalls that she was enterprising as a kid. She’d host shows in her basement with her big sister and coordinate every creative and administrative aspect—even remembering to charge her parents for tickets to watch her perform. Karleen participated in student clubs throughout school, serving as president of various groups and organizing out-of-state trips and events. It was evident that she was a dreamer and a doer, and a natural leader.
“I always had a big personality, very grand. I’ve never been shy a day in my life. In hindsight, I think it’s so funny, the stars will align and create the person you were meant to be.”
Karleen left Memphis to attend Howard University PreMed. She planned to be a dermatologist but quickly realized that science classes brought her zero joy. For years she didn’t have a major, then finally landed on Sociology and minoring in Public Relations. She later took an interest in the music industry during her second senior year in college.
Upon graduating in 2004, she headed to New York where she landed an internship in the publicity department at Island Def Jam Recordings. She went on to work with Grammy Award-winning artist Ne-Yo, and later, at Sony Music. Then Sean “Diddy” Combs hired Karleen as the Senior Executive Assistant at Bad Boy Entertainment, where she earned her stripes coordinating all the moving parts of his luxurious world, including his lavish parties.
In 2013, she struck out on her own, creating The Vanity Group: a boutique creative agency that produces bespoke events for top-shelf brands and celebrities.
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Quavo: I wanna throw a surprise 25th Birthday party for Takeoff w/ a Willie Wonka meets soda factor feel 🥤🍫🍭🍬🥳 Us: Say less 💅🏾💅🏾💅🏾 • • • How do you throw a party for thee most low key/low fuss guy?? ….Make it interactive x meets easy vibezzzz and include some of his favorite things: @exoticpop ✅ (It’s a whole thing y’all!) @officialrapsnacks ✅ And DRAAAANKS 🥤😩🤣🤪🤩💜 Happy Birthday‼️ @yrntakeoff We still waiting on our QC chain 🧐 #TheDrankFactory 💜 #MigosGang 🤑 #TVGDidIt #EventPros #ForTheCulture ✊🏾
Karleen is now bringing her years of expertise and experience home to Memphis to share in a speaker series called OWNING THE BLOCK: The Blueprint to Igniting Your Success. The event at Memphis Botanic Garden will connect aspirational career-driven young women with renowned women entrepreneurs and business leaders who are at the top of their game.
Karleen will be joined by her friend Myleik Teele, CEO of curlBOX, and they will use their respective journeys to help others level up, both professionally and in their personal lives.
We got to talk to Karleen about how her career unfolded, where she finds inspiration, and what she hopes to impart to millennial women of Memphis.
What was life like growing up in Memphis?
I grew up in East Memphis close to the Germantown area—right on Hacks Cross when Hacks Cross was just two lanes and dirt road. Now when I go back home and I see all these bustling businesses and stop lights, it’s crazy because It was not like that when we first moved into the area.
I loved growing up in Memphis and I love coming back home. The air is so fresh. I think you have to leave a place and come back to realize how beautiful it is. When I’m in New York, I miss Memphis.
I had a beautiful life growing up. My parents gave me the world. I went to great schools. I’m a graduate of Central High School. I had great teachers and educators in my life. My family was very much rooted in the community so I had a lot of powerful people around me my whole life. I felt like I had the best childhood and coming of age growing up in Memphis, and that’s why I’m always so excited to go home because it’s just a nostalgic moment for me. I always feel warm and fuzzy when I get off of the airplane.
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When “What I Asked For vs. What I Got” goes RIGHT 😩🤣🥳🥳🥳‼️|| Major shoutout to the team members who made MAJOR miracles happen in record time! ⏱💯 || 📸 @dinadouglass #TheShadeRoomNotGoneGetUsBih! 🥴 #EventPros #THESETGALA #KingOfTheJungle #JUNGLEDRIP 💎🍃🦁🍃🌴🦒🐅🐯🐒 #TheVanityGroup #NotBadForAWeeksNotice 💅🏾 #TeamWorkMakesTheDreamWork
When did you realize that you had an eye for details and memorable experiences? That you could visualize and execute these elaborate events?
I’ve always had an affinity for beauty and have been a lover of stylish, creative environments. I’ve had that innate ability my whole life, but I will say that I knew I had the spark for it during my time working at Bad Boy Entertainment under Mr. Combs.
Everybody knows that he is the hardest-working man in show business and he lives a very beautiful and sophisticated life. As his assistant, it was my job to organize this beautiful, sophisticated, high-elevated life whether it was the flowers or the thread count of the sheets, or the artwork in the home. I was able to do my job well and facilitate all of these requests because I genuinely had a love for it and interest.
Mr. Combs, in his earlier days, was known for throwing these very lavish parties like the White Party. That’s a big event that he is known for and as his assistant, it was my job pretty much to spearhead this and I got a lot of joy from it. I realized after three or four years in, on top of doing everything else as his assistant, the events and the experiences were what I loved the most about my job.
Do you remember the first event that you put on as The Vanity Group and how that felt?
Absolutely! I was talking to a girlfriend and she was like, ‘Karleen, you’re pretty much doing the work of a company but you haven’t really put it out there. You need to do a launch event so people know that The Vanity Group is real, exists and you guys are basically open for business.’
So I planned a very elaborate launch event in New York City. I was just bartering with people I knew because I didn’t have any money to pay for it. Everyone came to support me including my mom, sister, family, and friends from Memphis came. It was a big deal. Then afterward, I’m like ‘Ok damn, well what do I do now?’
Maybe a week later, I got a call from an artist, his name is Fabolous, and he was like ‘I want you to do my birthday party and it needs to be done next week.’ And I was like ‘Oh shit, it’s happening. It’s here. It’s happening.’ It’s like jumping out of a window. Once you jump, there’s no turning back now. Fabolous was our first official client. His birthday party went off without a hitch. It was so smooth, so bomb, so beautiful, and so well done in a short amount of time I said to myself, ‘Okay Karleen, you got the gift.’ That was the confidence I needed to fully blast off.
Do you still get starstruck?
Yes! Oh my God. All the time. It’s so funny. People think because you work in the business that you are jaded and you don’t get excited. I get excited when I meet people, especially people that I respect.
Most recently, The Vanity Group produced the afterparty for the Hitsville documentary that was on Showtime. We did it in Los Angeles with Motown Records and Berry Gordy was the star of the evening. The Berry Gordy who founded Motown Records: The Supremes, Diana Ross, Jackson 5—all these great musicians. He created this company. When he walked in the room we were all like ‘Oh my God that’s Berry Gordy!’ We were all having a moment on the inside. You can’t believe that you are in these rooms just because of your craft.
What is something that you learned from a boss that made you a better boss?
I have to talk about my father and about Sean Combs.
My dad was a business owner in Memphis for over 30 years, and what I learned from my father was excellence. I saw excellence modeled in front of me every day because my father embodied what it meant to be a successful business owner. I saw a firsthand account of what excellence and what being persistent can get you if you work hard.
What I’ve learned from Mr. Combs is, if you want fifty, ask for a hundred. And that means that people are always gonna try to cut you down and get more for less. You have to ask for what you want and add a tax on it because you are worth it.
How do you get in a creative space mentally to start dreaming for a new project?
It is imperative if you are a creative person that wherever your workspace is—whether it’s a showroom or your apartment or kitchen—I worked out of my kitchen for five years—that you have a place where you actually can think. You can’t surround yourself in clutter because you aren’t able to think effectively.
For anybody who’s a yearning to be creative or feeling like ‘Where can I get creativity?’…
Creativity is around the corner. Creativity is in front of you. You just need to have your eyes open to see the world. It sounds so cliché but it’s the saying, ‘stopping to smell the roses.’
People ask me all the time what inspires me as a creative or an events producer whose job is to create these out-of-the-box experiences. I tell them I am open to the world, wide open to the streets. I am looking at the streets and the yellow in the street and I’m taking a picture of it and saying, ‘This is an amazing yellow. I wonder how we can incorporate it here.’ Or if I’m in SoHo and I see the young kids getting out of school and I’m seeing how they dress or how they walk I’m like ‘oh, that’s cool. That would be something that we can maybe incorporate into our hostesses for the event.’ Keep your eyes open so that you can receive and be inspired by the world.
The company that you keep is also very important. If you are a creative person, you need to have a community of creative people who support you, that you can bounce your ideas off of. They can be a sounding board for you because if you are a creative person, it’s really hard for someone to understand where you’re coming from because they’re just not cut from that cloth or they just don’t speak with that side of the brain.
What was the inspiration to bring OWNING THE BLOCK to Memphis?
My goal is to inspire the next generation of dreamers and doers in the city, through opening up my Rolodex to the city and sharing life gems that they can apply to their own life. One thing I notice is that a lot of people are afraid to jump and take ownership of what they want. Hopefully, with OWNING THE BLOCK, this will propel the attendees to live the life they dreamed of living.
If you’ve ever considered entrepreneurship, struggled in your professional journey with leveling up, or are simply a dreamer, then OWNING THE BLOCK is def the event for you.