Every day in June, FN is showcasing female leaders across the industry for our Women in Power series.
After experiencing a resurgence in recent years, Fila North America needed to fill the role of Jon Epstein, the company’s longtime president, who died suddenly in February following heart surgery. And the firm turned to a familiar face in Jennifer Estabrook, who had been with the brand since 2005.
Upon assuming the role, the team veteran became Fila’s first-ever female president. And the company’s chairman, Gene Yoon, was more than confident giving Estrabrook control.
“Jennifer has the industry savvy, financial and operational command, and passion for the brand to guide Fila to its next stage of disciplined, high-octane global growth,” Yoon said of Estabrook in April, after her appointment was announced.
With a couple of months as president under her belt, Estabrook spoke with FN about her career path, dealing with resistance when working with men and finding a fulfilling work-life balance.
Talk about your career path in your own words — what were the biggest tipping points for you that led you to this point?
“The biggest tipping points for me were staying at Fila following the acquisition in 2007. I was told it would ruin my career by staying. Two, working with Gene Yoon and Jon Epstein to restructure Fila globally. Three, restructuring Fila USA and getting it to profitability in 2010, despite the recession. Four, my work on the acquisition of Acushnet Co. in 2011. [And] five, becoming COO of Fila. All of these things built the platform that prepared me to take on my current role.”
What has been your biggest career accomplishment and why?
“I have been able to have a satisfying career while also having a strong marriage and two wonderful daughters.”
What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership in the fashion and footwear industries?
“Our willingness to step away when it is clear to us that the sacrifices are just not worth the prize. I think we are less likely to define ourselves by what we do. That can be seen more as a choice rather than a barrier. But I think we need to structure the work environment so that our female employees don’t get to the either-or decision point. Allowances and flexibility have to be made available when employees need it in order to balance work and life commitments. This applies to all employees, not just women.”
What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you? What are you doing to support them?
“Finding the right work-life balance that is fulfilling for them because now there are so many different possibilities. I am going to do my best to set a good example by having balance in my life and by making sure we give our employees the leeway they need to be parents, children, siblings, caretakers, etc.”
Have you encountered resistance when working under — or leading — men? How did you overcome that?
“At times, yes, there was resistance and mansplaining. I dealt with it by staying focused on the business, not taking things personally and wherever possible, trying to understand where the resistance was coming from and why, and then dealing with the root cause.”
What is a powerful leadership moment you’ve experienced?
“We recently lost our president, Jon Epstein. One of the ways that we dealt with our grief was by sharing stories of Jon with his wife, Carol. I got to read all of them. He touched our employees in both big and small ways. He always seemed to know what was needed by the employee and that is what he gave. He was truly remarkable.”
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