Who is Eliana Ianni, the Argentine woman who climbed from a rural hut in Buenos Aires to Miami’s business success?

From humble beginnings to founding a top-tier U.S. communication agency, discover Eliana Ianni's inspiring story of resilience and triumph.

Eliana was a teenager with a full life. She went to high school in the morning and from there straight to the conservatory to study dance: she spent four hours a day dancing, and she had friends and a family that took care of her. But at the age of 18, she got engaged and plunged into what she now calls “a big parenthesis in my life”: a dark and suffocating period in which she ended up sleeping on the floor of a wooden hut, alone and in charge of two very young children.

This is the story of how Eliana Ianni, who is about to turn 50, managed to get out of that tar and become what she (also) is today: a successful businesswoman in the United States who, whenever she travels, settles in her 50th floor in Downtown Miami.

It is also the story of why she, who could have settled there, chose to stay in Pontevedra, a very small city in the province of Buenos Aires.

Aliana Ianni: The bottom of the Pot

Ella together with her son
She and her son

“I say ‘a parenthesis’ because I think that period of time is what marked me in life. What I lived through was a kind of confinement,” she starts and takes a sip of tea to protect herself from the morning cold in the open field.

“I didn’t work, and I wasn’t allowed to work. I had to be inside my house, and my house was a precarious wooden shack in a semi-rural area where there was nothing. I had no friends, nothing, and that was compounded by economic scarcity.”

Eliana had become a bride at 18 and married at 22, and the only thing she had managed to maintain, albeit with difficulty, was her studies. She dreamed of becoming a teacher, so she studied and completed her teacher training, although hunger ended up pushing her elsewhere.

She suffered a lot of psychological and emotional violence, but at the beginning, I didn’t realize anything. I have to be honest,” she admits.

“Economically, we were getting worse and worse. I had only one pair of sneakers, I didn’t know what it was like to change clothes, and when I became pregnant with my first child, the economic needs began to show even more.”

They had many financial needs together
They went through a lot of financial hardship together

It was the year 2000, her then-husband left her 5 pesos a day, and Eliana bought what she could with that: bread, noodles, milk. She breastfed her son, Kevin, with the idea that at least he would be well-fed.

When the baby started kindergarten, the network of mothers – often stereotyped in the horror of the “mommy chat” – appeared on the scene.

“I started talking to one mother, to another, until one of them opened my eyes. Maybe she saw the need in me, in my family, the shortages we were going through.” The woman proposed to her to animate children’s parties together, so Eliana began to dress up in costumes and to pout in ball games.

When she was working as a children's party entertainer
When she worked as a children’s party entertainer.

“To work, the condition in my house was that I had to take the baby with me, in other words, ‘here, take the package.’ And I took him with me because I wanted to work if we lived by the day”.

The point is that with these chats at the door of the kindergarten, Eliana had broken her isolation, she had started to meet people, and that’s how she was offered a job at a local radio station. It was the lifeline she needed to gain some financial independence, although her dream of becoming a teacher was getting further and further away.

“So I would go to the local shopkeepers to sell them advertising, but instead of asking them for money, I would exchange it for diapers,” she says.

“That’s when I began to see that I could do more, that I could have a better life. That made my husband more and more angry, so he didn’t leave money to buy food. Added to that came the insults, ‘fat,’ ‘ugly,’ and ‘horrible,’ the insults. Now I understand that they were all attempts to break my self-esteem“.

At a school function with Kevin, when she was already pregnant with Paloma.
At a school event with Kevin, when she was already pregnant with Paloma

Eliana felt “dissociated“: on the one hand, she suspected that she could have financial independence and grow up; on the other hand, “I believed everything he told me. There was a great loss of my image at that time. In the middle of that disaster I found out that I was pregnant again”.

The news brought her close to the edge. “I thought, ‘This is a sign, I can’t go on like this, we can’t, I have to separate.’ And that’s when another kind of violence started: the pushing and shoving, the death threats. I didn’t need any more, did you see when you say ‘I know what’s coming next’?

Eliana filed several police reports and separated when her daughter was a newborn. “Against the world because nobody wanted me to separate. The argument was, ‘But how are you going to stay alone with two kids and without a serious job?’ It was a very traumatic separation because he didn’t want to leave. In the end, he accepted, but he took everything you can imagine with him”.

He named his daughter Paloma, which he sees today as a symbol of freedom.
She named her daughter Paloma, which today she sees as a symbol of freedom.

Eliana says she negotiated. And she means that she preferred to hand over all that furniture and household appliances rather than continue giving up her life and those of her children. She named her daughter Paloma, which she now identifies as a symbol of freedom.

In the room of the cot, the crib, and Kevin’s bed were left; standing on a wall was a thin mattress that Eliana arranged for her every night on the kitchen floor. There was no table or chairs, and “he also took all the documents.”

Eliana continued working at the radio: she would go on the air with her daughter in tow, begging her not to cry. “I always jokingly say that the whole town knew my boobs because I breastfed her until she was four years old. A little bit because it was good for her but also because I needed her to be calm to go on air so that I would interview people with her breast out.”

Live on radio
On the radio

It sounds heroic, but the price was high because Eliana lost 10 kilos at that time, and the decalcification she suffered was so great that she lost almost all her teeth. It also left her with chronic renal insufficiency.

“It was the worst period of my life, sleeping like that on the floor for about six years, buying little by little one thing, little by little another, because here there was never a food quota. But let’s say that’s where I got all the lessons I learned,” she says now.

Going out

Eliana was still working as best she could at the local radio station when she was called to work in the Press and Communication Department of the municipality of Merlo. For the first time, she had a stable, registered job.

With that money, she began to build her brick house on the same lot where the shack was.

Where the box was, he built the house for the three of them.
Where the shack was, he built the house for the three of them.

Her children grew up without limitations, at least mental ones. At 16, her son Kevin won a scholarship from the U.S. Embassy and traveled to Silicon Valley and Washington DC through a program called “Youth Ambassadors.” He continued to travel every year, learned about e-commerce, and at 17, founded an online jewelry store with which he discovered his vocation as an entrepreneur.

Imitating the steps of her mother – who had studied dance at the conservatory when she was a girl – Paloma trained as a dancer.

“And you?” was the question. Eliana was almost 40 years old when she approached the little school number 4 in Pontevedra to offer herself as a third-grade teacher and fulfill her pending dream.

Eliana at the school where she made her teaching debut at the age of 40.
Eliana at the school, where she made her debut as a teacher at the age of 40.

The three of them, at the same time, continued together with the online sale of jewelry. They were doing well, but the pandemic brought everything down in a few days, “and we practically melted,” she says.

It was in that desperation to see how to start up again that the mother and the two sons decided to change business lines. That is: to take advantage of Kevin’s experience in the United States, Eliana’s in the media, and Paloma’s in the world of dance to set up a communication agency for emerging artists.

They founded “Leyes Media” in the United States -Kevin is the CEO, and Eliana, who had to learn to speak English from scratch, is the co-founder- and began to offer artistic consulting services, organic growth in social networks, website maintenance, and Community Manager services. And they started adding clients, one after the other—artists, European soccer players, and so on.

Last year, Forbes magazine published an article about Eliana’s son and the company they created together, and the title says it all: “How Leyes Media CEO Kevin Leyes built a million-dollar online business at the age of 20”.

At his Miami offices, together with Kevin, his son
In his Miami offices, along with Kevin, his son, Kevin Leyes, is the CEO of Leyes Media.

Inside says, “In his role as CEO of Leyes Media, one of America’s leading PR and marketing firms, he has helped countless startups find their footing quickly and accelerate their development.”

Kevin is 23 years old and has nearly 10 million followers on Instagram. The company they founded between the three of them already has 2 million. In a short time, they bought an apartment on the 50th floor in Downtown Miami to live in, and another one on the 15th floor where they set up the offices.

From the balcony of the Miami apartment
From the balcony of the Miami apartment

Their children moved there. Kevin had his Mercedes Benz, and now he drives a Corvette.

It might seem that he “bought it,” but in the Forbes article, the young man showed that he knows well the B side: “Many people see success as easy and fast because of what they see on social networks, but that is never the case. Sleepless nights, anxiety and stress, burnout, insecurities, doubts about the future, and overwork are just some of the things no one talks about when climbing and moving up the ladder.”

Eliana in Sunset Island
Eliana on Sunset Island

Eliana, however, decided to stay in Pontevedra, in her forever home, and only traveled to the United States once a year. The only thing that kept her was her old love, the little school where she goes every day to teach fourth graders.

“The world I live in when I travel is a bubble, an unreality because it’s a life where you can buy a $3,000 wallet,” she explains. “School, on the other hand, is life itself. You see the real needs because the kids come hungry, so the challenge is to meet those needs first and then see how to teach them.”

Eliana walks to school every lunchtime. It is an integrated school, so it also has students with autism.

“I know that everything is backward, that the educational system fails, that the kids are unprotected, that they don’t have the same capacity as before, but in the classroom, I try to do the best I can to cover those needs,” she says goodbye.

It’s not just a need to eat, and it’s also a need for joy. That’s why I even try to make the events fun, at least to make them happy while they are there. This is something that neither the 50th floor in Miami nor the most expensive wallet in the world can give you: there is no other place where I can live what the school gives me”.