Women of Note

I am inspired almost daily by the success, assertiveness, kindness, strength and generosity of  women, both in my life and all over the world. Especially by those who support, foster, and inspire personal and professional growth in others.

Today, being International Women’s Day, it seems appropriate to profile two ladies leading the way towards gender equality in senior executive positions at global organizations. I was inspired by their unique, innovative perspectives on business and leadership.

Marigay McKee

In September of last year, Marigay announced her departure from British retailer Harrods where she served as chief merchant since 1998.  With the Hudson’s Bay Co. acquisition of Saks Inc, Marigay McKee became President of the upscale department store, replacing Ron Frasch.

Marigay grew up in London with an interest in fashion, but never acquired any formal business training. Instead, she studied history and languages in college, picking up financials and business on-the-job. She started her career at Harrods as senior beauty buyer, working her way up over her 15 years with the luxury store where she oversaw most retail offerings.

I was interested to read about her logical and business-like approach to fashion. In an article in the Wall Street Journal, Marigay explains that many buyers in the industry can’t tell you what the return is on a product, what the top-selling pieces are, or how they’re doing on dollars per square foot in sales, because they’re too focused on trends and hemlines!

“However fashionable the brand, we always start and finish with the numbers—the sell-throughs, the margins, the returns, the contributions—and then we talk about the pleasantries.”

In her new capacity at Saks, she’ll be looking at how to cater each store to it’s region’s lifestyle and preferences. The idea is so simple, yet totally brilliant. An excerpt from the WSJ article describes: “Before starting her job in January, McKee visited each of Saks’s 41 storefronts in 22 states. She envisions the Beverly Hills Saks transformed into a hub for Hollywood stylists and actresses, while Miami’s Bal Harbour outpost should cater more to its Hispanic clientele. South Florida will shed the all-black clothing that’s better shopped by New Yorkers and Bostonians, and California will cut down on overcoats and heavy tweeds.”

“Beauty is about new product launches, exclusivity, margins, volumes, seasonal periods, opportunities, offers,” McKee says, ticking each item on her fingers. “So I kind of approached fashion in the same way, and they all thought I was crazy.”

More about Marigay: Wall Street Journal, Reuters

Angela Ahrendts

 Angela  Ahrendts grew up a small town girl from Indiana. After studying marketing and merchandising at a local college she moved to New York City where, after working her way up through the company, she became President of Donna Karan, eventually running the Liz Claiborne division in it’s entirety. In 2006 she was poached by Burberry, and after much consideration, moved her husband and family to London where, under her direction as CEO, she grew the fashion house’s value to nearly $12 billion dollars, from 3.3. Last year, she became the highest paid CEO of a group of publicly listed companies in the UK, and in 2014, was honored with The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Her rise to the top certainly is an inspiring tale, but what I was most struck with when reading about Angela is her perspective on family and life.

 “Balance is a really big word for me. It’s one of the most important parts of my job, showing that you can’t do it all. We have a lot of women working here and I always tell them they are mothers first. Those children are their legacy and they have partners and that’s a big obligation.”

 “I don’t want to be a great executive without being a great mum and a great wife.”

She appears to have this sense of empathy and selflessness that I wouldn’t necessarily expect from a woman who has to arisen to her level.

“It’s compassion. It’s humility. It’s saying thank you. It is always putting yourself in the other person’s position. I know it might sound weird, but empathy is one of the greatest creators of energy. It’s counter intuitive, because it’s selfless.”

It’s her perspective on branding and how people interact with the products and companies they love that seems to be at least one key to her success with companies like Burberry. Angela was behind the Art of the Trench social media and digital campaign that took the internet by storm a few years back. Burberry currently is the leading luxury brand on Facebook, with 15 million fans, and over 2 million followers on Twitter.

“I don’t want to be sold to when I walk into a store. The job is to be a brilliant brand ambassador. Don’t sell! No! Because that’s a turn-off. Build an amazing brand experience, and then it will just naturally happen.”

What’s next for the 53 year old executive? She is scheduled to join Apple as Senior Vice President of Retail in spring 2014. There’s been lots of speculation about how she will spark a culture shift and revolution for her new employer.

For more on Angela: Golden Girl Finance, Forbes Profile, Fast Company 

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