I know that from this blog it may seem that I spend the majority of my days blathering on about fashion and food and indulging my rampant reality TV watching habit, but in real life most of my days are spent at the office (or watching TV, I’ll admit that). I’ve worked in technology in Silicon Valley for the majority of my working life, and most days I think that I’ll spend my entire career in this industry.
Because of that, this week’s interview with the lovely and talented B is very special to me. B not only has a beautiful (and envy inducing closet) and a fascinating background, but also an amazing career in tech. Reading more about women like B gives me inspiration for my own life – and I hope you enjoy meeting her as much as I did!
Who are you? What do you do, and where do you live?
My name is B, and I live near the beach in Santa Monica with my husband and daughter. As a transplanted East Coast person, it never occurred to me living on the West Coast would be so lush. The year I moved, it snowed more than 200 inches and I could not face shoveling one more snow drift off of my car in the morning. Now if I want snow, I fly to get there which works so much better for me!
I have one of the best jobs in the world. I run manufacturing for a start up business inside a Fortune 500 company. When I started there were only two of us. Now there are more than 90 and I have a team of 9 people. We are on a fast path to get to $1B in 5 years and thus far the ride has been fantastic.
I know you started out as a police reporter, which seems like such an unusual and cool job. Can you describe a little more about it? What are some lessons you’ve learned from it?
My first job out of college took me to Fort Worth, Texas. It makes me laugh to think about now – cell phones were these huge things packed in neoprene bags and if I had to file a story from the road, forget about wifi hot spots! I had to find an actual dial up phone that my computer could call or I had to talk my story to my editor.
I wore a voice pager that blared a voice mail when someone called. When a few of the officers learned the number, they would call me and leave semi-obscene messages that always went off in the middle of my talking to someone. You could hear them cackling at the end of the call. This is probably unimaginable for most of your readers who think of pagers as antique technology….
The years I worked in Fort Worth were the early days of the awful crack cocaine epidemic that left whole neighborhoods wasted. It was all eye opening for me – I was a Yankee in the South, an Asian American girl amongst greyed police officers with handle bar mustaches and Lee jeans starched to a razor’s edge. I covered murder and mayhem including stories about a boy who ran from a gas explosion in his house, covered with third degree burns, to get help from his grandparents. Despite his efforts, his father, his mother, his sister died one by one – slowly and agonizingly.
When I did a follow up story months later, it made me cry to watch his young class mates circle him in the hallway to ensure no one caused the boy, who still wore a pressure suit for recovery purposes, more pain by accidentally bumping him. Another memorable story happened on an early morning when I went rushing to the scene of a shootout. A local gambler was having what can only be described as a really bad day. He had brought his body guard and wore a bullet proof vest to the game, but ended up shot in the head.
What did I learn? For one thing, a bullet-proof vest can’t stop a bullet to the head.
You now run manufacturing at a Fortune 500 technology company. What do you think are a few keys to a successful company and its growth?
When I look back at the last few years I am stunned by all we accomplished. We went from 0 to $100M in less than 18 months, and all proverbial shoe string. We had a secret sauce. It started with a strategy that made sense, and our business is critical to the company’s growth. We also had a great set of products; and loyal customers who took a chance when it was untested and then kept buying and telling others to buy.
The final key ingredient was a great company culture where people are willing to try – not just because of an executive decree, but because the culture is to participate. In breaking every process and remaking them to suit our new business model, I had people flocking to meetings to help us solve the problem of how to make decades old processes suit a new business model. This job, growing this business, helping our employees and the partners who work with us feel part of the process of building, is my honor.
Are there a lot of women in your field?
There are not a lot of women in my field, in technology men still dominate and manufacturing, even more so.
I would like to say, gender matters little. I hate the stereotype of strong women being called out as witches. However, a woman in a man’s world has to frame her words and consider her tone and demeanor maybe a little bit more than a man might. One of my sources at the police department used to roll her eyes whenever this one very aggressive female reporter came around, and say to me, “You can catch more flies with honey.” My cross is that I was born with a sharp tongue and often conclude faster than people around me so I struggle to be the honey.
Until recently I believed that top performance was the key to success. My first year at my company I received brutal reviews despite moving mountains. Frankly, I was lousy to work with. My company believed in me though and brought me this wonderful wise woman to be my executive coach. She turned me onto a book called Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box. The book takes 30 minutes to read and it literally changed my professional DNA. The book talks about how we create delusions, inflating the other’s faults and it feeds our behavior.
There is a woman at work who I find disruptive, she is always asking questions in meetings that have more to do with her needs than the agenda and then the rest of the time she whacks away loudly at her computer. The self-deception is that her questions are unimportant and justifies the times when I don’t listen. As a result of this impression of this woman, I am more likely to cut her off and less likely to listen, all the while justifying myself because she wastes time. This negates her as a person and the fact that she is trying to contribute in her own way. In the worst case, she sees me as arrogant or intimidating and it affects her ability to work with me. The punch is my interpretation of people reflects more about my weaknesses than theirs.
What would be some advice for women (or men) that would one day want to have a career like yours? Any lessons that you’ve learned over the years that you can share?
Learn about what makes you successful. In our careers we spend a lot of time thinking about the next job or stepping stone. Spend the time deeply considering what makes you succeed at what you do where you are, because those are the building blocks for success anywhere. It might be mundane factors like your office is open plan, and so there are plenty of informal opportunities to work together. It might be that your boss can hear your conversations and yells through the wall so you are always in sync. Mind does!
As a manager, I spend a lot of time considering what each of my staff does really well and steer them toward situations where they can be excellent. Excellence breeds. As an employee I need to question and debate – I would never do well in a hierarchical culture.
Now onto a more frivolous topic. What do you typically wear to work, vs the weekend?
I have a closetful of fabulous clothes acquired over the years… yet most of the time when not working I wear a pair of black Lululemon Groove pants and an oversized, structured Alexander McQueen sweater and my silver Hermes Collier de Chien bracelet. If it is particularly cold, I have a huge grey Victor and Rolf cardigan. The torso could fit a sumo wrestler (snugly) and it has dodo bird arms. It is ridiculous and monumental.
I like clothes that make me laugh. No longer part of my collection are these marvelous grey silk Yohji Yamamoto dropped crotch pants – the crotch fell mid calf – for no apparent reason. That pair of pants was sacrificed to eBay for love (my high drama husband was deeply affronted by them).
Working in high tech tends to be informal and thus bossy, loud brands would be inappropriate. Also I travel a lot so appreciate clothes that can be worn in multiple ways or rolled in a suitcase without wrinkling. For work I recently discovered Donna Karan jersey. The form fitting styles are slimming, sexy and POW-erful! As a short, curvy type, I always feel like I am in a hand me down when wearing a suit.
On weekends I wear flats because my husband moves very fast and I scramble to keep up. At work I am all about the high heel – preferably YSL Tribtoos and Tod’s for the rubber soles. Recently a doctor told me I am an inch shorter (5’) than I believed my whole life so the platforms are important to my illusion of my self.
I know you love Hermes. Can you describe some of your collection? What got you started, and what was your first item?
My first piece of Hermes was a Barenia Kelly double tour bracelet, followed very quickly by a Barenia Kelly Dog bracelet and a Barenia Cape Cod double tour watch – gifts of my sweetheart. I thought he was nuts! Who wanted bits of leather that cost so much? Something chemical happened to my brain though and now I keep my Hermes in kitchen cabinets because I don’t cook. Much better for the hips than snack packs!
I started my bag collection relatively late in life – I used to travel a lot more world wide and with two bag limits and the need to pack only what I could personally throw into an overhead – it was my computer bag and my roller bag. When I started wearing purses, they were Bottega Veneta and Hermes – I was a late bloomer. Like most people I have collected and disgorged many purses in my quest for what works best.
Due to the exorbitant cost of Hermes, I told myself if I could have one bag, just one, I would be done. Of course that has not been true. However, by sticking to the principle of one in and one out, my collection doesn’t grow beyond what’s being used. After decades of spending money, I just have too much stuff (think more than 20 pairs of black pants) and debate myself before anything else is allowed in my closet.
My first H bag was a vintage Courcheval Haut A Courroies (HAC). She was a great starter piece; I still remember unpacking the package and just standing hand in hand with my darling admiring her. Soon, however, I outgrew the HAC and she went to a new home. Today my collection is perfect – mostly perfect – at least for me. I have a battered Barenia toile 35 Birkin that came during the height of the recession and was a relative steal.
My next bag was an Etoupe Birkin 35 – she arrived via Denver to the Charlotte store to me. It took me months to screw up the courage to use her. Briefly I had a grail bag – a Rouge VIF birkin 30 in Fjord. I had bag-dysmorphia and thought the 30 too small so she went to a dear friend. Her new owner could not be more lovely and dear to me. I have benefited from her friendship, her advice and support – and her evolving H collection. A couple years ago, I replaced Ms Rouge VIF (not in my heart) with a 35 Rouge Garrance in clemence. Sales associates follow Big Red around.
My last acquisitions were black, black and black. First there was a Kelly longue with a bent turnlock. The craftsman gave her a nose job and she is perfect now. Then thanks to my dear friend, a perfect jewel of a black Kelly retourne in evergrain is now mine. I wear her with cargo pants, flats and a cropped black sweater otherwise she would be too much for the beach. My workhorse is a black clemence that flops over. She is perfect for my town where sweats and flip flops are the uniform.
What is your favorite “category” of pieces that you wear/collect now at this stage in your life?
Hermes cashmere GM shawls are my favorite pieces now. I collect shawls that pre-date 2008 because I think the quality is better. The shawls give me a pop of color and are so great to have on hand. I always keep one rolled up in my bag to wrap myself with on a plane.
What about the items that you wear the most, that you’ve gotten the best “cost per wear” out of?
My Alexander McQueen sweater which I wear several times a week truth be told.
A pair of Betsey Johnson black leggings that I bought for $98 in 1992! They have been part of my go to travel uniform for years and they are almost ready to retire. Not that I don’t have multiple pairs of black leggings to replace them, but those pants have literally traveled the world and decades with me so it is hard to let go.
What items would you advise somebody to “invest” in that they would get a lot of wear out of, both at work and daily life?
A perfect bra. Buying bras were torture for me, fruitless hours in a fitting room finding something to fit. A couple years ago I walked into MyIntimacy. They found a brand and a fit for me that was, well perfect. My whole life was about incorrect sized bras which resulted in overflow or underflow on the cup, straps falling, etc. MyIntimacy solved all that. You find a perfect fit and brand, all the rest falls into place.
Can you share a lesson/tip/advice about shopping style budgeting that you’ve had to learn over the years?
My daughter loves H&M. I am not against cheap affordable clothing, but when you can buy so cheaply you get out of the habit of considering each purchase. H&M, Zara, Forever21, etc., have spoiled us by allowing us to buy what we want rather than what we need. Then we find ourselves with too much. I love to look, and then force myself to mentally catalog my clothes to ensure I am not buying the same thing again (think my infernal collection of black pants!) I now buy things so that I don’t have to buy again which means I consider longevity and quality. Of course, this may be a warped way to justify buying the most expensive things you can easily afford.
Finally…please share something surprising about yourself!
I am in the middle of my life and I haven’t figured it out yet. The ride has been wonderful though.
B is such an eloquent person and I loved reading all of her answers. How cool is it that she was a police reporter? I could ask her questions about her life and experiences for hours. Thank you B for sharing some of your life learnings and advice with us, as well as your style – and thank you all for reading!