Dear Tsering, You have no idea the adventures that await you! Right now, you’re just a young girl from Sikkim (a tiny kingdom in the Himalayas) who excels in school and dreams of becoming a diplomat. But that’s not the life journey that awaits you. You’ll live in America, traveling the world as a footwear executive. You’ll work for some of the world’s greatest retailers and go on to manage leading brands. It’s a career filled with fate, fashion, good fortune and, of course, great shoes! You’ll love it!
It all starts thanks to the Queen of Sikkim, who selects you, one of two female students, to attend Mary Baldwin University, (then) a women’s college in Staunton, VA. The plan is for you to receive a good education and return to help Sikkim. That’s until your homeland is swallowed by India and you decide your economics degree would be put to better use in the U.S., which is where you meet your lifelong partner, Charles. You move to New Orleans for his job, and that’s when your retail career takes flight. Enrolled in the Maison Blanche executive training program, you become as an assistant buyer in housewares. You are swiftly promoted to buyer in small electronics. It’s where you meet Herb Douglas, the executive vice president and first in a string of marvelous mentors. He teaches you the art of negotiation and how to create a winning advertising campaign.
Douglas becomes GMM at Meier & Frank in Portland, OR, and recruits you to be the buyer for the silver department. A year later, you are promoted to women’s footwear buyer, starting your life-long love affair with the shoe industry! You learn to be flexible, multi-task and, above all, work with people. The year is 1981 and the footwear business is booming. Judy Hofer is president of Meier & Frank, one of the few women leading a department store in those days. Brilliant and charming, she takes an interest in your career. You’re promoted and that’s when you meet Harry Home, DMM of shoes and a legend in the industry. Home, who possesses an amazing talent for spotting trends, teaches you the value of hard work, consumer analysis, keeping your word and treating vendors as partners. Once you make the mistake of referring to vendors as “they.” “It’s not they, it’s us,” Home admonishes, “We’re all in this business together.” You never forget that.
In 1984, you’re recruited by Federated Department Stores. You relocate to Chicago to work for MainStreet, a new concept that will become Kohl’s. You love being on the ground floor of a startup and working for CEO John Eyler, a rising star. It’s where you hone your merchandising skills and learn how to create a business plan. But two Windy City winters take their toll. When a recruiter from May Co. calls, half in jest you say under one condition: the job must be in California at J.W. Robinson’s, a premier chain the company recently acquired. A week later, you’re offered a position in their footwear department. Your dreams of living in California finally come true!
Unfortunately, the rules of retail have changed. Instead of being first to launch a new item or take a risk, it’s more about the numbers. When you receive a call from Harry Kubetz, president of El Greco, about joining its Candie’s division as a line builder, you jump at the chance. Charlie Cole (father of Kenneth Cole) is the CEO. Wholesale is where you learn the art of shoemaking, setting you on a sourcing odyssey. You travel to Italy, Spain, Taiwan, China, Korea and Brazil. For design inspiration, it’s London, Paris, Amsterdam, Geneva, Copenhagen, Berlin, Milan, Montreal, Hong Kong, Tokyo…You’re always packing and unpacking. You’re seldom home, but your wonderful husband supports you unconditionally.
You then receive an offer to manage Chinese Laundry. You’ve always loved the brand and the fact that it’s headquartered in Los Angeles makes it an easy decision. Plus, Bob Goldman, the founder, is famous for spotting emerging trends. In fact, his business acumen and love of product will attract you back to work for his company on three separate occasions spanning 22 years. It’s where you learn that empowerment of managers leads to success. It’s a team effort.
In between your Chinese Laundry stints you work with incredible leaders, like Consolidated Shoe’s Dick and Billy Carrington, who you will also work for on three different occasions. First, developing Madeline and then as president of Palladium. As president of International Business for Consolidated, you work with leading retailers, like San Marino in France and Next in the U.K. But it’s your six-year stint as president of Pentland USA where you learn all facets of this business. Chairman Stephen Rubin is a brilliant entrepreneur and leader. There, you oversee a roster of diverse brands like Maine Woods, Franco Sarto and Kickers. Most recently as Group President of Chinese Laundry (Chinese Laundry, CL by Laundry, Dirty Laundry, 42 Gold), you put all your past experiences to good use. You’ve come full circle as you prep for your next great industry adventure.
Every job along the way is a privilege and an invaluable learning experience. You make life-long friendships with people around the world. Your life is filled with adventure and reward. I can’t wait for you to get started. Embrace and enjoy every minute, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. You don’t have to do all the heavy lifting. Give credit generously and always be grateful. Good luck!