Celeste Risimini-Johnson is a dynamic leader, Women in Retail Leadership Circle member, and merchandising veteran who has worked for Lands’ End, Babies”R”Us, and The Children’s Place. Currently, she’s senior vice president, general merchandise manager, women’s/intimates/footwear for FULLBEAUTY Brands. We asked Celeste some rapid-fire questions so you can get to know her better!
- What’s the best book you’ve read recently?
I recently read “Find Me Unafraid” by Kennedy Odede and Jessica Posner. I heard Kennedy speak at a Women in the World conference, and he was so inspiring that I ran out to get the book. It’s a story about him and his now wife, who do amazing work in the African slum where Kennedy grew up. I literally couldn’t put it down. It was disturbing to read, but gave me a good perspective on how others have to live, and the danger girls, in particular, deal with growing up in the slums of Africa. It’s heartbreaking while inspiring all at the same time, and a good reminder that we each have the ability to make a difference in the world!
- What excites you most about retail?
The constant change that happens in retail excites me. The fact that trends are always evolving, and consumer behavior is forever changing has a way of keeping us moving and constantly guessing. Just when you figure it out, it changes! The other piece that excites me is having a vision that’s only in my head, and months later it becomes reality — the curated collection I envisioned for the customer or that new store layout that came to life. It’s so exciting when it all comes to life and the customer loves it as much as you did.
- Who is on the guest list for your ideal dinner party?
This may sound cliché, but I’ve always been a bit obsessed with Oprah Winfrey. I think she’s an amazing leader — in TV, in publishing, in movies, in education. Her reach is limitless. When she speaks, people listen, and not only do they listen, but she gets people to think differently and really open their minds. That’s a leader! Most importantly, she gives back in such meaningful ways that I admire.
- What’s one thing you wish you knew when you were younger?
That life was truly a journey. I wish I understood early on that each and every thing happens for a reason, and it’s all just a stepping stone to the next thing. I wouldn’t have spent so much time wondering or worrying how or why something happened, it would have been more about what’s next. It’s so much easier when you realize that the next thing will be bigger and better.
- Where do you do your best thinking?
My best thinking happens on airplanes — long lengths of time with very little interruption. I always take a journal or scrap paper because inevitably I will need to jot ideas throughout the flight.
- What woman inspires you right now, and why?
I’ve been super inspired by Mindy Grossman recently. Watching her transform Weight Watchers to WW Reimagined has been so interesting to me. We’ve all seen iconic brands try to reinvent themselves, but very few succeed in the end. She has evolved this worldwide brand from a “weight loss” focus to a “wellness” brand. She has done an amazing job creating loyalty through an app that’s easy to use and keeps customers engaged. I’m also inspired by the fact that she moved from traditional apparel merchandising to a completely different business. I think great leaders have the ability to change roles in this way, but typically get stuck in the same business models throughout their careers.
- When you’re traveling for work, what’s a must-pack item?
A book! It’s the only time to get really good reading in without interruptions.
- What’s the hardest thing about your job?
We all know retail is a complicated and challenging endeavor right now. Keeping teams positive and motivated through the tough times is very hard. It’s important to celebrate the wins, even if they’re small.
- What’s your favorite aspect of your job?
I love to teach and mentor. I truly enjoy watching a light bulb go off on the face of a young, brand new merchant. I love the teaching moments when something clicks. To see teams grow and get better and better just feels amazing!
- What’s the best advice that’s ever been given to you?
Hire the best talent out there and make a change quickly when you know someone isn’t a good fit.
- What’s your favorite time of day to be productive?
I’m typically in the office an hour before everyone else arrives. It’s my quiet time without interruption to prepare for the day. Part of my morning ritual is to read “The Maxwell Daily Reader” by John Maxwell. It provides 365 days of insight to develop the leader within you and influence those around you.
- What’s the biggest surprise you’ve had in your career?
Early on, I learned that not all people live by the same standards and level of integrity. It’s true that some people betray others in order to move up the ladder. I was young and I couldn’t believe how someone could try so hard to make others look bad in order to make themselves look good. I learned in the end that the only way to truly succeed was to focus on me and doing what I believed was right for the business and the customer. Then good things come naturally.
- What’s your favorite app?
As I previously mentioned above, I love the WW (Weight Watchers) app. Not only can you track your foods and activities, but you can also find recipes, track progress, and even meditate within the app. WW has truly made it a one-stop shop that’s easy to use. Of course I can’t forget about my Nordstrom app, too!
- How do you decompress?
Every morning on the way to work I listen to podcasts, mainly inspirational conversations that create a positive mind-set before tackling the day. After work, just a fun chat with my husband and the kids is the best way to end the day. They keep me grounded and happy!
- What barriers have you had to overcome in your career?
I’m extremely lucky that I’ve had a handful of amazing leaders throughout my career. At the same time, I’ve also had a few “challenging personalities” to deal with. I truly believe that I’ve learned as much from those leaders as I did from the great ones. I learned to master “flexibility” and find ways to work with just about every type of personality. I learned the kind of leader I don’t want to be, which is important to recognize as you move up in your career.
- What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?
Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t “have it all,” meaning a successful career and a great life at home with your family. It is absolutely possible; you can climb the ladder and still be a great wife and mother. It’s all about setting boundaries and never feeling guilty about missing something at work or at home.
- If you weren’t working in the retail industry, what do you think you’d be doing?
As mentioned, I really enjoying teaching, mentoring and coaching. I sometimes think about becoming a professor after the corporate life runs its course. Or something in the psychology world.
- How would you describe your leadership style?
I truly believe that my success as a leader has come from being open and honest with my teams. I’m approachable and have a high level of integrity. I believe that it’s much easier and more effective to be kind than any other way. I’ve always had high expectations, but they’re clear. People know where they stand. I believe feedback in the moment is critical (good or bad). I am high level and strategic when I need to be, but I can also get down in it as needed. I manage each and every person differently based on their needs and what makes them “tick.” It’s a journey. Learning from your mistakes is key and holding yourself accountable when you may not be at your best is important. Being a leader is an amazing gift that allows you to influence so many people. Use it in a positive way and good things will come!