Sometimes the most successful people hide in plain sight, not necessarily underestimated—they have serious achievements, after all—but definitely thought of as successful only in a certain way. That’s Eva Longoria Parker.
Most folks think of her as Gabrielle Solis on ABC’s Desperate Housewives, one of the funniest and sauciest characters in a show full of them. (A choice quote from Gaby: “It’s an elevator, silly. It has an emergency stop button. And I don’t.”) After that, what else? Yes, people might see her in celeb magazines with her husband, NBA star Tony Parker, or in her L’Oreal commercials.
That’s about, oh, half of her story.
Using Housewives as her foundation, Longoria Parker, 34, has leveraged her notoriety and growing wealth in areas well outside the acting realm, becoming a legitimate businesswoman and philanthropist and positioning herself to become the equivalent of the CEO of a multi-industry conglomerate. She’s started a production company, UnbeliEVAble Entertainment, to develop projects. She co-owns Beso, a 150-seat Hollywood restaurant that includes some of her own recipes on the menu (try the tortilla soup), and just opened a second lo-cation in Las Vegas along with a nightclub called Eve.
She is also part of The GreenVille Project, a real estate development initiative dedicated to building environ-mentally neutral retail spaces. She’s working on a fragrance. She’s a spokesperson for L’Oreal, Pepsi and Heineken Light. She has also founded Eva’s Heroes, a charity that provides an after-school program for children with developmental disabilities and support for their families. Longoria Parker is also national spokes-person for PADRES Contra El Cáncer, a charity dedicated to improving the lives of Latino children with can-cer.
Building upon Success
She sums all this up with one word: ambition. Longoria Parker decided a long time ago that any success she had in show business would simply be a foundation. “Building on success is a conscious approach,” she says.
“Whenever I do something, I want it to be a tent pole for many other businesses. My production company is all about writing, creating, developing film and TV projects. With the restaurants, I’ve always known it was going to be a franchise, with the tent pole based in Hollywood, but expanded into both big restaurants and smaller venues, and later with food items in stores, a cookbook and other things. And I want my perfume to be my tent pole for a clothing line, home line, bedding, shoes or accessories.”
"Ambition drives a lot more success than talent and intellect."
This woman, clearly, is not your typical Hollywood star. One of her advantages is that acting wasn’t her primary dream—she grew up on a ranch outside Corpus Christi, Texas, and has a kinesiology degree from Texas A&M-Kingsville. “I was a total athlete,” she says. “I wanted to work at a college, be a fitness director or recreational director. After I got my bachelor’s, I was going to go for my master’s in sports medicine, and I wanted to do sports injuries.” She laughs. “I mean, I couldn’t be further from what I had intended to do.”
A talent contest led her to L.A., where the acting itch developed into a full-blown bug. She landed roles on some daytime dramas, including one on The Young and the Restless that netted her a 2002 ALMA Award (true to her ambition, she is now that award show’s executive producer). Then came Housewives, and the rest is history, or, at least it would be for most actresses. Not Longoria Parker.
Business First See, here’s the thing: Initial success in (insert your personal dream here) sometimes ends up holding us back. We achieve something admirable and continue with that as long as we can because, hey, we’re livin’ the dream, right? Example: How many actresses in Hollywood would have been just fine getting a gig like Housewives and working on it until the show ran its course? Take some film roles during the summer when the show is on hiatus, and then work toward the next gig? For a lot of women, that success would be enough. But what if that left an awful lot of potential on the table?
That leads to Longoria Parker’s second advantage. Many aspiring actors work the famed “service industry” jobs while trying to establish themselves, creating an army of L.A. bartenders and waitstaff. Not Longoria Parker. When she landed in L.A., she went to a temp agency to find a job and they ended up hiring her.
“I was a headhunter for four years while I was auditioning,” she says. “It turned out that I was really good at it and it gave me a taste of corporate America. I loved it. I love the business side of my business, and I love anything that has a measurable success. In acting, there’s no rhyme or reason, no measurement that says, ‘OK, you succeeded.’ It’s luck and talent combined into one. Whereas I’ve always liked business, because if you have a clear, well-thought-out business plan and execute it, you know when you succeed.”
So while thousands of actors work tirelessly to escape their restaurant jobs to work on film sets, Longoria Parker’s pre-stardom background has her running restaurants from film sets.
Leveraging the Fame
Skeptics in the audience would say, “Oh, she’s just using her name to sell all these other things.” And after laughing at that for a second, Longoria Parker replies, “Leveraging the fame is the point. Everybody does that—it’s called a marketing plan. If you’re AT&T, you’re going to use AT&T’s name power in your marketing plan. Celebrities just happen to have a built-in marketing tool—themselves.”
That, however, leaves one very important factor exposed, and Longoria Parker knows it: “Celebrity names can only drive awareness,” she says. “It’s still always going to be about the product. That’s one thing I’m very proud of about Beso. I may have gotten the restaurant’s name out there, but the food keeps people coming back. You can be the celebrity owner of anything, a restaurant, a clothing line, a perfume, but that can only carry you so far. The product has to carry you the rest of the way.”
That’s why she’s so personally immersed in her businesses and charities, as opposed to just slapping her name on a label and heading back to the Housewives set. She is also savvy enough to know one of business’s more useful secrets: “an amazing team.” She has worked hard to make sure the people she partners with, and the managers she hires, give her what every CEO dreams of: “I’m involved in every aspect, but I don’t have to micromanage,” she says. “You stumble a lot trying to put the right team around you, but that’s one thing I’ve done really well. At Eva’s Heroes, my executive director is an amazing manager. The CEO at The GreenVille Project is probably the No. 1 contractor in green buildings of the moment.”
Ambition Is No. 1
So where does she find the time for all of this? Frankly, she doesn’t have to find time at all. “People have more time than they realize. There is so much wasted time in people’s lives. Just plan. And stick to the plan. My lifestyle requires a lot of planning—I wake up with 10,000 things to do. You just go over that hump and you get them done.”
If you need extra motivation, or an external force to help you prioritize, Longoria Parker suggests you volunteer for a charity that helps disadvantaged people. “When you visit with them and see a cause that’s greater than you, it pushes you. When I get out of bed in the morning, my motivation is never ‘not there.’ ”
It’s funny, in a way, but Longoria Parker and her husband are really just like any other driven, dual-income couple in America. They just work on bigger stages with bigger numbers thrown around. Everything else is the same—especially that question about ambition. Achieve a dream and roll with it? Or achieve a dream and use it to launch a half-dozen others? “Ambition drives a lot more success than talent and intellect,” she says. “You have to have a little bit of those things as well, but ambition drives the hard work, your need to get educated, and your need to learn more about your business plan and your market. Ambition’s No. 1.”