Designer Rebecca Minkoff On Why She Stopped Micro-Managing And The Key to Longevity in Business
April 21, 2021
Rebecca Minkoff has a lucrative accessories and clothing business, a podcast--Superwomen with Rebecca Minkoff, a network--the Female Founder Collective, that supports women owned businesses, and in her spare time, has written her first book, Fearless: The New Rule for Unlocking Creativity, Courage and Success, which comes out this summer.

Here, the WIE Suite member discusses her new book, how ignoring her micro-management tendencies led to long-term improvements, why money is never as important as creativity and the key to longevity in business.

You have a new book coming out, what inspired you to write it?

What inspired me was all the rules we had to break in order to be successful as a company. When we started, and we've been in business almost 16 years, there was just a way that "everyone did it". None of those ways worked for us. So I thought, if I could write a book that was semi-autobiographical, but also give you the rules I've learned to implement along the way to achieve success, it would be beneficial to people. It's not just for people in fashion, it's for everyone.

How has the pandemic changed your business strategy in a good way? Rule #17 in the book is get friendly with failure. Often, you see people celebrate their wins and successes and only talk about that. But there is so much to be learned from failure, and you're going to fail probably more often than you succeed. A key ingredient to success is resilience. That comes from failing and being resilient. The pandemic has changed our business strategy in a good way in that we had planned to - over the course of five years - slowly lessen our wholesale presence, increase our direct to consumer penetration. And then basically had to do that in a day. What was originally going to take us five years to do, we did in in a couple of weeks. That was extraordinarily valuable. Now we know we can exist and succeed on our own. Plus how we market, how we talk to customers. how we do business, is something that, in a good way, has changed for us.

Have you made changes to your personal management style during this time? I used to be the annoying person who cared about when someone arrived and left. How many days were they out? Did they get their work done? It was a big distraction for me, because I was always worried about time cards. Are they dedicated enough? And are they really working?

Since the pandemic, it's clear that you can see if someone's working or not. I think that the cream has risen right to the top, and we see that our team is working hard. If they need to take a break in the middle of the day, I couldn't care less. That people can get their work done on their own time, is something I'm appreciative of and truly value.

You founded your company in 2005. What are important tools for creating longevity in a business? What is an overrated asset for creating longevity? One important tool for creating longevity in business is your ability to communicate. People tend to shrink or want to pull back in times of stress. And I think you need to communicate more whether that's as a brand or as a person. I think pushing back on the systemic, "this is always how it's been," is also important. So the more communication, the better.

Now's the time to be a woman in business because there's so much opportunity, so much openness, and so much celebration of it.

An overrated asset for creating longevity is that people think they need a lot of money to be successful. As a brand, we've never had a big marketing budget compared to the size we are. It's truly about creativity and what you can do with that creativity; if you have that, you don't need money. Don't get me wrong, money is helpful, money is great. But if you don't have it, you can't make that the excuse as to why you couldn't do something creative.

When is it an advantage to be a woman in your business? I think there's an advantage to being a woman in my business because I'm the same age and sex as the people I'm designing for. As I'm going through my life's changes, I can resonate and empathize with women who are on that same journey. Now's the time to be a woman in business because there's so much opportunity, so much openness, and so much celebration of it.

Favorite part of your job? Getting to work with my team and see all of the hard work come to life. Whether it's a fashion show or a photoshoot, when you have those moments of challenge, "Can we do it? I don't know," and then you do it. That is the happiness I get from it.

What's missing in your line of work or one thing that you would change? How would you fix it? There's still a lack of equity for women. If you look at what consumers buy, what companies are doing the best, sadly, it's still male dominated. I love Aurora James's pledge, which is about supporting 15% black-owned businesses. But I also want there to be a pledge to say, we're going to carry and support 51% women of businesses, as women are the consumers and the prime purchasers of so many goods and products and services. That would be really cool to see.

A business mistake you made and what you learned from it: Some of the biggest mistakes I've made were when I reached points where I didn't have the answers for how to fix something within my company and depended on some highly-educated person with an impressive resume to give me the answer. Listening to them even when it went against my gut, had terrible effects on the company. I wish I'd never done that. It takes a long time to bounce back. So it's about the importance of listening to your gut, and the importance of just following your intuition when something feels off.

Career highlight: One of the biggest highlights was in 2015 or 2016, when we closed down Greene Street for a fashion show, and over 5000 people attended. It was an outside show and there was an energy to that. All my shows stand for something, and at that time we were standing up against the terrorist attacks that had just happened in France. At the end of the show, we had this incredible lineup of 22 models wearing leather jackets that an artist and I collaborated on with messages of hope and unity. Those jackets were sold and the proceeds went towards an international charity that targeted terrorism and human rights abuses. To see the crowd's reaction at the end, that fashion is deeper than just selling something, you felt that in the audience. I'll never forget it.

A business culture priority for you now is: How to get the team together again when not everyone wants to or feels comfortable with that yet. I try but it's a struggle. You have to be understanding of people's fear levels and how to manage that. That's something we want to fix.

Your advice on how to give and receive feedback: When you're giving feedback, try to be constructively critical and highlight the positive attributes of someone, then lead into the things you want fixed. And provide solutions. I don't think it needs to be done in a harmful way. If someone has an issue, maybe there's a course they can take to solve it. Let them know you will support them taking it, that you'll pay for it and let them do it during working hours, so that person sees that you want to invest in them. I think as far as receiving feedback, it's never easy. If you want to move ahead and you're seeking to continually get promoted and get recognized, how you take feedback is important. You can't take it personally, or be resentful. See if there's a kernel of truth to what that person is saying and what you can do to fix it.

Was there ever a time your career or business was at risk? If so, how did you overcome it? Every day we're at risk. Our biggest was when all of our wholesale orders got cancelled and 70% of our business evaporated. We overcame it by reorienting our entire company; our current e-commerce site is the result of that journey.

Women on your radar: I have a great tribe of women I text, whether it's Jenna Kutcher, who has an incredible podcast/blog company, Divya Gugnani, the founder of Wonder beauty--she's incredibly smart, and the savvy Michelle Cordeiro Grant of Lively--she's awesome. I like having these women on speed dial.

Productivity hack: I'm a big list writer. I have different sticky note tabs at the moment, all separated and categorized by Podcast, Book, Rebecca Minkoff, Personal; it gives me joy to cross things off the list.

What motivates you: As an entrepreneur, it's meeting the goals that we have self-selected e.g. the growth we want to see. My customer motivates me when I see her posting. The women we are helping through the Female Founder Collective and seeing their successes--they raised a combined $15 million to get their companies to the next level, that motivates me. And of course, paying for my children's lifestyle and their school motivates me.

What steps have you taken to usher in a new generation of younger women? I speak a ton. I mentor a lot. Through the Female Founder Collective, we have over 9000 founders who have access to our education platform and community; it's ripe with collaboration, resources and tools to get their businesses to the next level.

Follow Rebecca Minkoff on LinkedIn.



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