As a little girl, Pier Matisse Roach dreamt of the stage. One of five sisters, Roach envisioned a future where they would sing together and perform around the world. There was only one problem, according to Roach: “I couldn’t sing!”
This realization didn’t stop her from pursuing careers that were both glitzy and fulfilling. Roach did spend time in the music industry—not on stage but on the business side. And in 2007, she brought her experience from the music industry to Berkeley lab.
Currently an administrator for the Biosciences Area Operations team, Roach is in charge of coordinating a long-running speaker series and assists the Area facilities team with annual property inventories. She’s also tasked with planning events for the Area, both in-person and virtual. The pivot overnight due to the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t necessarily easy, but Roach and her team adapted. Drawing on her earlier memories of attending the Grammys and movie premieres, Roach strives to make each event memorable and special.
“You have to at least get your moment of glory on the red carpet,” she said. “I loved it, and everyone here deserves to feel it too.”
With a family friend established in the music industry, Roach grew up around stars like Lionel Richie, Smokey Robinson, and Stevie Wonder. In fact it was Richie who broke the news to her that singing was not her path. Afterward he told her, “When you see these singers on stage, it’s a business. Why not try that?” With her dreams of becoming a singing superstar dispelled, Roach considered an opportunity to instead get involved in the management side of the music industry.
Over time, Roach learned the ropes of the music and entertainment management business, and working to develop new talent became her focus. In the 1990s, she and her business partner discovered and signed Destiny’s Child to their music production company, an American pop music group that went on to sell over 60 million records to date and helped launch the independent career of its lead singer, Beyonce. “I think that’s a gift to be able to spot talent and then be able to deliver,” Roach said.
As a part of the gig, Roach also attended high-profile music award shows. In the ‘80s, she was in the audience the night Michael Jackson won a historic eight Grammys, and for one of Marvin Gaye’s final speeches at the American Music Awards. It was at the after-parties that Roach took an interest in the extravagance of events.
“It really struck me how they could turn nothing into something,” she said. Seeing the production designers create fabulous stage backdrops for the performers and how the party tables were dripping in flowers and perfectly accented with matching decor—even the appetizers and desserts were decorated with real gold accents. Everything was over the top, she remembered, and she realized that it all came from the little details.
Bringing the Red Carpet to Berkeley Lab
In 2006, Berkeley Lab astrophysicist George Smoot was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. Roach was approached by a Lab recruiter to see if she would be interested in helping coach Smoot for the imminent wave of media attention. Having spent nearly four decades working with VIPs, she was up for the challenge. She joined the Lab as Smoot’s executive assistant and immediately began working with him on everything from how to engage with the media’s questions, to what to wear during his acceptance speech, and coordinating the whirlwind international travel tours that went along with being awarded a Nobel Prize.
Roach was promoted to an Administrator, managing executive and administrative assistants, and in 2015 she transferred to the Biosciences Area Operations team. Her role now spans a wide range of responsibilities. She’s involved in planning the weekly John Lawrence Seminar in Biosciences series, now in its 24th year, which welcomes non-Berkeley Lab researchers to speak about their work. Scientists from each of the three Biosciences Divisions compile a plan of whom to invite and when while Roach keeps the groups on track and ensures that there’s an equal distribution of topics across the different divisions. She also helps to bring their ideas to life by coordinating logistics for the day of the events, and arguably most importantly, ensuring the question and answer session following the event is welcoming and conducive for follow up conversations amongst researchers.
As an Area administrator, Roach also helps maintain the asset database for the annual Division property inventory and coordinate events such as annual meetings and special celebrations. She enjoys working with counterparts across the Area to bring together all of the different pieces of an event—from the initial contracts, to the invitations and event agendas, to the themes and decorations— to create an awesome experience.
The near overnight pivot to a virtual world in the spring of 2020 introduced new challenges. While the majority of people were required to shelter in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Roach realized that she had to figure out how to make the virtual event experience feel exciting and welcoming. She tested out new ways to send digital invitations and event teasers that made a splash and helped people, even from the comfort of their own homes, to feel that spark of anticipation that comes along with a well-orchestrated event.
And now, as the Lab moves towards an as-yet-undefined version of remote and in-person meetings and conferences, Roach and her counterparts are navigating the complexities of planning hybrid events. She plans to continue leveraging and adapting the tried-and-true advice from Lionel Richie. “It’s going to be tricky,” she said. “But just like when I realized that my singing career wasn’t going to pan out and instead I pivoted to the industry, we’re going to keep trying out new things for our events. I want to create a special experience for each event … If one style doesn’t work, I’ll just try another!”
Read other profiles in the Behind the Breakthroughs series.