This month, we are spotlighting female forces across the industry as part of FN’s “Strength of Women” series.
Mary Beech, the new CEO of Sarah Flint and former EVP and CMO at Kate Spade, came on board a month before the coronavirus crisis hit. Since then, the luxury shoe company has remained focused on immediate business preservation. But Beech is determined that the future is where opportunities lie.
While many labels have faced negative impacts due to the current pandemic, Sarah Flint has remained optimistic that switching to a direct-to-consumer business model two years ago will prove beneficial to the company’s success overtime.
“I’m eternally optimistic,” Flint said. “I wouldn’t have started this business and gotten to where I am if I wasn’t. There were so many times I could have thought this was it. We’ve been through challenging times before so I believe these moments can make you make better decisions and force you to be leaner and scrappier. That’s what we are going to see here.”
Beech shares that vision. Here, she opens up about starting her position during a pandemic, plus, how she is leading with empathy.
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What is your own personal mantra as you approach your new role during an unprecedented situation?
Mary Beech: “I wake up every morning thinking about the present and the future. It helps me remember that as much as the present moment needs all of our time and energy, we need to be constantly looking to the future, as uncertain as it is, and laying the pipe now for what can be explosive growth down the road. If we only think about the present, we won’t be ready and able to successfully launch into the new normal.”
What is the most effective way to be an inspirational and empathetic leader during this period, while continuing to push on performance?
MB: “For me, it is acknowledging that things are difficult for each of us, personally and professionally, and for our business, and not trying to sweep that under the rug. But at the same time, remaining relentlessly hopeful and providing the vision of a strong future. While our expectations for our team have never been higher, we also have to give people a break and space knowing that there are extenuating circumstances for every single person. That should start at the top, and will be emulated throughout the organization.”
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far?
MB: “That crisis management is just management — if you’re doing it right. The principles of strong communication, employee empathy and understanding, prioritization, goal setting, rigor in financial planning and cash conversation, flexibility in approach to work and work-life balance, community building with your team, are further amplified and the need [is] more raw during a crisis, but they are important all the time, and shouldn’t disappear when the crisis ends. I think this is being seen and accepted by many. I hope it dramatically alters the workplace and the definition of successful leadership in the future.”
Who are some of the people you’re leaning on professionally and personally during this moment and why?
MB: “I started in this role in February as the CEO for a strong founder who has been building her business for 7 years. The relationship was positive from day one, but I think COVID-19 pushed us to form a bond much more quickly. We boost each other up, complement one another’s skillsets and rely on one another. I am thankful for that. I am also moved by how many of my peers professionally have been willing to do calls, answer emails or texts, or talk over zoom. People are so willing to help if you have the confidence to ask.”