Barrett-Jackson’s VIP Liaison
When Susie and Tim Wesley left their family jewelry business behind in 2006, they really didn’t have a clue what the future held. In some ways, that was a good thing.
Susie’s real-estate business had flourished, but the residential market was starting to tank. From the time she was 23, her California-blond good looks had generated television modeling jobs, including for national companies such as McDonald’s, Suave shampoo and Sports Illustrated. Those opportunities began to dry up. And in the more flush days of 2005 when she made her commitment to chair the 2007 Heart Ball, she had been comfortable knowing it was a very demanding role, but that she could take time from her professional life to dedicate to the cause.
Susie Wesley's Heart Ball committee included Carole Moreno, Nan Hunter Howlett, Susie Wesley, Sarah Suggs Cheek and Shelley Adams. The ball generated $1.8 million for the American Heart Association.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t having concerns about the future,” Susie reflects. “However, I shared my problems with only a few of my most trusted friends. I chose to put a smile on my face and do the job the past Heart Ball chairmen had asked me to do. I also chose to hold tightly to my faith and trust that everything would be OK.”
She adds, “In all honesty, 2007 was the best and the worst year of my life.”
A few days after the Heart Ball, a friend told her that Craig Jackson, CEO of Barrett-Jackson Auction Company, had mentioned casually at the ball that he needed “someone like that Susie Wesley” to work with top VIP bidders at the Barrett-Jackson auctions. Jackson and the Wesleys weren’t complete strangers. They had done business together when the Wesleys were in the jewelry business. Susie called him immediately.
“That phone call is part of an amazing story that Craig Jackson, my husband, Tim, my daughter, McKenna, and I all share.”
Jackson hired both Tim and Susie immediately. Tim became the auction’s property room supervisor. He also oversees all of Jackson’s boats. Susie was charged with upping the experience for the auction’s VIP bidders. Both are present onsite at the four Barrett-Jackson auctions. In addition to Scottsdale, annual auctions are held in Palm Beach, Las Vegas and Orange County. Later, McKenna joined the team as a block girl during many of the auctions.
“In her gorgeous red gowns, she looks like a movie star standing next to the gorgeous collector cars Barrett-Jackson sells,” Susie says. “We all enjoy what we do!”
Mom is right: McKenna looks stunning in her red evening gown.
You meet the most interesting people at the various car auctions, Susie says. But Marilyn didn't have much to say.
If ever a family’s DNA were coded for the twists and turns their careers have taken, it is the Wesley family’s. The two sides of the family have similar career bloodlines.
Susie’s grandfather owned Continental Motors, which produced airplane engines. He even owned a Pierce Arrow, Susie says — and the Barrett Jackson auction is offering a Pierce Arrow this year. Her great-grandfather sold real estate, after he ran his family’s jewelry business until he tired of it. Her mother’s family were directors and producers in Los Angeles.
Tim grew up in the family jewelry business, and his love of cars, airplanes and boats resulted in his earning both a pilot’s and a captain’s license.
They were naturals.
What’s a VIP liaison?
“Craig wanted to up the experience for bidders,” Susie says. First and foremost, she oversees the skybox at the auctions. At a certain level of spending, bidders become instant VIPs. Susie goes into the crowd to find them and extend a personal invitation from Jackson to join him in the skybox.
“When someone arrives in the skybox for the first time, I always say, "Welcome to a little slice of heaven.
“The mix of personalities in the skybox changes daily throughout the auction, and I help ensure everyone has a great time. There are always top VIPs, well-known celebrities and special guests in the Skybox, so the experience is always over-the-top. I have also witnessed Skybox guests purchase some amazing automobiles! I carry a loud whistle for when I need to get an auctioneer's attention if someone suddenly decides to bid on something gorgeous that's crossing the block.”
If you're going to blow a whistle to get their attention, it pays to know the auctioneers.
The skybox hosts around-the-clock entertainment orchestrated by event producer Lewis Medansky. Food, drink and bidding meld into a happy car-collector experience.
“Sometimes I keep the peace,” Susie shares. “There’s a lot of testosterone there. Light humor is always appreciated.”
This year, the Scottsdale VIP experience includes wives. (Yes, most bidders are male.) As she has already done at the other three auctions, Susie will oversee four Ladies’ Experiences during the week of the Scottsdale auction (Jan. 17 through Jan. 22).
Separate from the skybox VIP experience is the VIP Lifestyle Lounge. While this is not Susie’s responsibility, she says it adds to the auction guests’ experience. The Lifestyle Lounge includes private seating, culinary samplings, wine tasting, beverages and cocktails. Throughout the week, spa services such as chair massages and manicures are offered.
Tickets to the skybox cannot be purchased, but tickets to the VIP Lifestyle Lounge can, and they sell out quickly.
Drive the Dream
For the third consecutive year, Susie joins friends Missy Anderson and Jinger Richardson as co-chairs of the Drive the Dream Gala, a black-tie event that precedes the auction and benefits Childhelp. This year’s event will be Jan. 14. Celebrity honorees are television’s Kathie Lee Gifford and Nancy Grace. Michael Bolton will entertain.
Susie Wesley, Childhelp supporter Cheryl Ladd, Missy Anderson and Jinger Richardson
Giving back is an aspect of the Barrett-Jackson company that Susie admires. Drive the Dream raises money for Childhelp, and charity cars at the auction sometimes sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars, Susie says.
The Wesleys support myriad community causes. This photo was taken at the 2009 Beach Ball.
Because her work with Barrett-Jackson is only auction related, she still has time for her real-estate business and the community participation she cherishes. For her, what goes around comes around. “By agreeing to chair the 2007 Heart Ball, my husband’s, my daughter’s and my life skills were all brought together because of a little conversation I had with Craig Jackson four years ago.”
Photo at top: Tim and Susie Wesley
– C. Miller