Career Interview

Interview with B

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!

Some of B’s lovely Bottega Veneta and Hermes bags

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.

One of my favorite photos of B

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.

A few of B’s style inspiration photos

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.

Bottega Veneta Cabat

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.

Some classic Hermes accessories

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.

B in a Hermes scarf worn as top

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.

Barenia galore

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.

Barenia/Toile Birkin

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.

Hermes shawls

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.

The photo that inspired B to get a red Birkin – I love this one too!

B’s own red Birkin

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!

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  • helen
    May 30, 2012 at 8:50 am

    I love these interviews! Not even necessarily for the material goods (although those are nice, too), but it’s so great to see strong women who are far along in their careers and the myriad of paths it takes to get there. How did B get from police reporter to tech? Anyway, I am really enjoying these, so please continue!

    • Katherine
      May 30, 2012 at 9:17 am

      Thank you Helen! I’m glad you enjoy – and I agree with you – the eye candy is good but hearing more about their individual stories is what makes me really happy 🙂

  • laura
    May 30, 2012 at 9:33 am

    amazing interview! she sounds like an awesome person.

  • urbanjunglefashion
    May 30, 2012 at 10:51 am

    Thank you so much for this interview. I love reading them all. I love how honest B is with the reader and herself. I’m going to check out the book that she recommended in this interview as well.

    • Katherine
      May 30, 2012 at 3:33 pm

      I am looking up that book too! Glad that you enjoyed it 🙂

  • Michelle
    May 30, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    Great interview Katherine. Thanks for sharing with us. B’s story is very inspiring.

  • Megan
    May 30, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    Really? 0 to 100M in 18 months? What does B manufacture? Processors or chipsets? Just curious. That’s pretty unheard of in the start-up world. Most start-ups I’ve seen grow an average of $15M in 5 years. $1B in 5 years??

    • Katherine
      May 30, 2012 at 9:49 pm

      I think it may be a startup within a larger company – Megan you sound like you are in the tech industry too! 🙂

      • Megan
        May 31, 2012 at 2:09 pm

        lol. We should try to find out what company B works for and invest in their stocks. Manufacturing in the area of Santa Monica isn’t cheap either. Most companies would rather manufacture in “cheaper” areas, i.e. lower state taxes.

        • B
          May 31, 2012 at 8:47 pm

          Hi Megan, I agree our growth is nothing short of amazing. However, we are not a normal start up, our business was built on merely changing the delivery for one of our leading products. We started with a world class brand in our field and my job was ensuring we could build appliance operations to match, and our customers bought into this.

        • B
          May 31, 2012 at 8:48 pm

          We manufacture in US, Europe and China. As we grow this will expand.

  • A
    May 30, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    Amazing woman. What a role model and inspiration. Thank you for this interview.

  • Amy
    May 30, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    Thank you for sharing this interview with us! B sounds like a wonderful person, who truly understands the meaning of quality over quantity. I love her collection of Hermes, and also her philosophy on life. Thumbs up for another wonderful profile!

    Cheers.

  • LTB
    May 30, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    Another great interview with an inspiring professional woman! Love your GM collection and Miss RG!
    Thank you for sharing a part of you with us.

  • Girlie Blogger
    May 30, 2012 at 8:09 pm

    Wonderful interview. Loved hearing about how B grew her business with a secret sauce and tenacity. Love reading about successful women. Thanks for this.

    By the way, Birkins must define powerful women.

    • B
      May 31, 2012 at 8:50 pm

      How sweet to say so! You don’t need anything to make you a powerful woman.

  • Lutz
    May 30, 2012 at 9:31 pm

    I was lucky to meet B when she visited my city last July. She is very warm. 🙂

    • Katherine
      May 30, 2012 at 9:48 pm

      Ahhh, lucky you!! I hope to one day!

  • Jo
    May 30, 2012 at 9:33 pm

    B sounds like an amazing person.

    Your first line sort of caught me there. Sometimes people are just too quick to judge one from the contents of the blog.

    • Katherine
      May 30, 2012 at 9:48 pm

      Aww thanks…though I think any misconceptions that people may have about me are entirely my fault, lol!

  • chocolatecookiesandcandies
    May 31, 2012 at 1:35 am

    Kat, every time I think that wow, that’s the best interview I’ve read and then wham, there appears another that seems to be better. To be honest with you, I have learned so much from them. B is no different – high achiever, frank, humble and inspiring.

  • Samantha
    May 31, 2012 at 4:07 am

    Oooh Oooh, I know who this lovely lady is!!! I love this interview!! She is such a kind person and it is great reading about her companies success! Nice one!

  • agi
    May 31, 2012 at 7:00 am

    Strong strategy, product, customers and culture – what a wise ‘secret sauce’ that makes, B. Still, your hard work and intelligence must have been the key ingredients in moving this project ahead sooooo fast within your company. Your eye for uncompromising quality – in clothes as well as in tech manufacturing – is sure to take you far. Thanks for the inspiring role modeling.

  • Nelah
    May 31, 2012 at 8:31 am

    Kat: Every subject of your interview always brings such refreshing and inspiring perspectives whether on career, life or fashion. I enjoy reading about these ladies who arm herself with confidence and ambition on her way to a success. After having a child, i found myself to be less motivated/ambitious on a career level which is not a good thing. So reading about these ladies throw me back on track.

    ” I am not against cheap affordable clothing, but when you can buy so cheaply you get out of the habit of considering each cheapest. H&M, Zara, Forever21, etc., have spoiled us by allowing us to buy what we want rather than what we need.” -. This must be my most favorite quote of all. So true and boy did i learn.

    • Katherine
      May 31, 2012 at 10:31 am

      Nelah I don’t think being less ambitious on a traditional career after children is a bad thing at all – but I’d love to hear your thoughts on this…do you wish you had focused more on your career?

  • Fashion Blawger
    May 31, 2012 at 8:07 pm

    I love that you feature these beautiful women who are levelheaded and fashionable! When I become a successful IP attorney I hope to grace your page, lol 😉

    Anyway, I totally agree with “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.” –When I started investing in quality timeless pieces I found myself spending less money than when I shopped for trendy pieces!

    A Preponderance of Fashion

    • Katherine
      May 31, 2012 at 9:15 pm

      IP attorney, wow! Yes that sounds like a plan 🙂

  • Alexia
    May 31, 2012 at 11:19 pm

    Another great interview! It’s so fun to see the collections of others, and always gain a new perspective on what to spend and save on. I love how you ask diverse questions, focusing not only on style, but on careers, advice pertaining to the career being talked about, and advice for life in general 🙂

  • Alexia
    May 31, 2012 at 11:21 pm

    I meant to say: “I always gain a new perspective…

  • Diva In me
    June 1, 2012 at 4:11 am

    It amazes me how life changes through the years. It’s so unpredictable and probably that’s the reason why we should treasure what we have now. The present. =)

  • Jamie
    June 1, 2012 at 8:13 am

    What a great read! Thanks for this post 🙂 I graduated a year ago and have been working in the tech field–I still struggle how to properly network in this atmosphere, while still staying true to who I am and my values. So it’s certainly aspiring to read a successful woman’s story to get some perspective! And I’m glad woman such as B share their stories, as it truly benefits others.

  • thebaghag
    June 3, 2012 at 5:06 am

    what an incredible story! Truly inspiring!!!!

  • Revanche
    June 3, 2012 at 3:49 pm

    I love the story and I love the little details like the growth experiences (and the book recommendation). I actually see myself picking up the beginnings of habits like reacting a bit to people as B described above where I didn’t react before and I had been wondering why that was.

    I’m so appreciative of hearing the perspective of women who have been there and worked on their own journeys to be active agents in their own change.

    Also, a company culture that welcomes change and participation to grow a new area of the business, particularly where an old model already existed and actually sees participants, is incredible. Brava!

  • Julide
    June 6, 2012 at 8:24 pm

    Amazing woman!! Her advice was so wise and her outlook on coporate life is inspiring! Thank you for this interview!

  • Vicky
    June 24, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    Amazing interview, Katherine. I think I finally caught up on reading all the interviews and will be reading your travel logs soon. 🙂
    Being in the technology field myself, this interview hits home more than the others for me. And it was a pleasure to meet B through your blog. Hope to get a part 2 soon. lol.

  • Fashion and Beauty News to Use | The Fashionable and The Broke
    July 3, 2012 at 10:52 am

    […] FeatherFactor – FeatherFactor interviews a woman dubbed “B” who tells us of her tech background and manufacturing exploits with a little Hermes thrown into the mix. While this interview isn’t all fashion, it shows us that women from every walk of life has an affair with fashion when time and money allows her to. Ms. B also chats about her love of fast fashion haunts like Zara and Forever 21. […]

  • holly
    December 12, 2012 at 1:45 pm

    Does B have a blog?

    • Katherine
      December 12, 2012 at 3:55 pm

      Unfortunately not yet 🙁 She should though!