A lot can be learned from women in leadership positions about hiring the right type of employees, packaging yourself to become an executive, and having mentors throughout your career.

These topics were discussed at the Women in Retail Leadership Circle On the Road | Los Angeles event during a panel focused on leadership. The panel discussion, moderated by Jennifer DiPasquale, president and co-founder of Women in Retail Leadership Circle, featured women who are founders, CEOs and presidents of their companies. The panel included Allison Samek, CEO, Fred Segal; Suzy Biszantz, president, BCBG, Hervé Léger, and Joe’s Jeans, Centric Brands; Jill Layfield, co-founder and CEO, Tamara Mellon; Katie Warner Johnson, co-founder and CEO, Carbon38; and Farah Merhi, founder and CEO, Inspire Me! Home Decor.

DiPasquale asked the panelists if they have any advice for hiring smart, and what they look for in potential employees. Merhi and Layfield shared hiring strategies that have worked for them in the past.

Merhi explained that she doesn’t hire employees based on how much experience they have because experience can be taught. She hires people based on how much drive and passion they have. “I’ve hired people who have had experience and they’ve come in and only lasted two months at my company because they didn’t bring in what I’m truly looking for,” Merhi said. “And that’s passion, that’s drive, that’s hard work, going above and beyond, and really thinking outside of the box. I want my company to be innovative and continue to grow.”

Layfield shared a hiring strategy she finds herself using inadvertently, but sometimes purposefully, which is introducing some type of stress element into the interview to see if the candidate’s reaction and behavior matches the culture at Tamara Mellon. “In an early stage startup, it’s nuts,” explained Layfield. “I really need to hire people that can thrive in a state of intense motion and change, and be sort of logical, tenacious and really have the sort of will to fight through those times of uncertainty and change. Therefore, I think [by] introducing a little bit of stress, I’m trying to see how they react in that moment.” Layfield went on to say that she isn’t looking for specific behavior in a candidate, but rather just to see if the candidate’s reaction matches the company’s culture. 

DiPasquale also asked the panelists how they packaged themselves at work to climb the corporate ladder and become CEO or president of their companies, and if they had any mentors throughout their careers.

Biszantz shared her story. “I actually didn’t package myself. I wish I could take credit for that, but I was fortunate enough at 31 to have the founder of Reebok really just kind of promote me from a No. 2 position into a president’s role that I was unprepared for.” At the time, Biszantz was vice president of sales, planning and merchandising, and she didn’t take that role thinking she would be president in three months. However, she went into the role with a lot of passion. “I kind of lucked out that someone saw in me something I didn’t know was there.” 

Samek explained that while she didn’t have a mentor in the traditional sense, she did have people in her career whom she looked up to, respected and went to for advice. Two of those people are roommates Samek had in business school 20 years ago, and she still keeps in touch with them. “When we have something going on in our careers, they’re the first people I call,” Samek said. Her former roommates don’t work in retail or even have similar roles, but Samek calls them for support and to run ideas by them.

“They actually helped me negotiate my [CEO employment] package,” noted Samek. Later in the discussion, Samek explained that those two women always have her best interests in mind, but they aren’t afraid to push back on her ideas, instead of just telling her what she wants to hear.

To hear more from the fabulous speakers on the Leadership panel, members can click here to watch the full session from the 2019 Women in Retail Leadership Circle On the Road | Los Angeles event.

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