“5 Things You Should Do to Become a Thought Leader in Your Industry” With Pat Fiore

If you are a thought leader that has impact, and you use that thought leadership platform to build your personal brand, then you will engage with people who follow you and believe in you, and that will bring you unlimited opportunities. Being consistent in your message, but open to new possibilities, can bring endless new […]

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If you are a thought leader that has impact, and you use that thought leadership platform to build your personal brand, then you will engage with people who follow you and believe in you, and that will bring you unlimited opportunities. Being consistent in your message, but open to new possibilities, can bring endless new conversations, all of which will lead to connections and referrals and business. After recent experiences as a guest on two different podcasts, I had a tremendous response and new business opportunities. The podcasts were quite different, but they clearly had impact that led to new business.

As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Pat Fiore. Pat is the founder and Chief Inspiration Officer of FIORE. Pat is a relationship builder, putting companies together for the benefit of both, bringing opportunities to life and developing “category creators” for new markets. Pat spends time with clients in their fields, groves, factories, laboratories and on the selling floors, searching for authenticity, digging for heritage and working with the people who develop, create and deliver the product promises FIORE will represent. Pat partners with companies outside the US, often working with foreign trade commissions that seek her advice on how to best navigate the American market, and with American companies looking for strategies to help them gain a competitive edge. Pat surrounds herself with talented people who share her highly analytical perspective, challenging the ever-changing communication landscape. Before opening FIORE in 1982, Pat worked with DuPont, BASF, Celanese and Kimberly Clark on woven and non-woven fiber technology. She spearheaded the launch of Lycra and COOLMAX into the swimwear and activewear markets by reshaping consumer brand messaging. Pat set standards for tracking fashion and fiber trends, consumer insights and behaviors in the fashion/home furnishings/lifestyle and new technology fields, developing programs and trend reports for mega-retailers and companies like Levi Strauss & Co. Her creative background includes stints with J. Walter Thompson, WWD and Condé Nast. Pat has a design degree from Fashion Institute of Technology, and has completed advanced studies in marketing, management and communications.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I grew up in a small, poor urban neighborhood in New Jersey to a family that worked in factories. My grandfather worked in the first Stetson Hat factory, my uncle in a Singer Sewing Machine factory, my mom and aunts in a pajama factory, my cousins in textile factories, and my dad in promotions, plastics and metal factories.

I believed it was my destiny to work in the fashion industry. I excelled at creating unique fashion-forward designs starting in junior high school and won every national contest my teachers entered me in, including the national “Singer Sewing Machine” design contest and Threads magazine’s national “Make It With Wool” contest. I designed costumes for high school and college musicals, including “Finian’s Rainbow,” “The Wiz” and “South Pacific,” and was offered a job designing costumes for the Paper Mill Playhouse. While a design major at FIT, I was offered a design opportunity with Levi Strauss and Regal Knitwear, the largest children’s knitwear company in the world, and took that job.

While the fashion world was my passion, I was not prepared for the drama and politics of that industry, so I moved away from design and into writing for a fashion magazine called Ram Report. The mission of the magazine, which was run by a fashion trend research company, was to tease the industry with fashion trend insights. My job was associate publisher, and that involved interviewing the most important designers and influential voices in the industry, writing their stories and analyzing the research information the company collected from all retailers and creating trend insight reports for the big textile companies and fashion companies. The magazine and research base was purchased by NPD, and I was hired by Dupont as its first Trend Forecaster. I traveled the world, observing and writing and reporting about fashion trends for all cultures. I was at the forefront of the launch of Lycra and COOLMAX.

I loved my job and my experiences, but as a young single mother with no support system, I made the important decision to stay close to home to raise my daughter. During that time, I developed my own creative business, helping fashion companies create their brands and make their impact on the world. FIORE was born and our client base stretched quickly from fashion to accessories, to toys and fragrance, then to flavors and food and rare technologies.

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?

I have worked with some of the greatest minds in the world. Writers like Truman Capote, artists like Andy Warhol, designers like Perry Ellis and Giorgio Sant’Angelo and brilliant perfumers, flavorists, inventors and scientists. I know it takes a unique talent and perspective and remarkable passion and purpose to become a thought leader. And most importantly, you need to be dedicated and want to use your voice to influence, impact and make change happen.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Honestly, there are so many incredible stories because I have had so many unique experiences, all over the world. One of the favorite stories is how I got my first really big piece of business — and from the most unlikely client. It taught me a lot about myself and most importantly, it taught me that if you truly perfect your talents, remain authentic and optimistic, anything is possible. I was invited by someone I had met at an industry function, to meet a company from Korea. The purpose of the meeting was to give this company, Jindo Corporation (the largest purchaser and producers of leathers and furs in the world), my perspective on American consumers’ attitudes and behaviors, hoping to help them better understand what to do to build their business in the US. It was to be a 20-minute discussion, and I was not to bring anyone or prepare a formal presentation; they just wanted to speak to me. There wasn’t even an expectation as to what the potential opportunity might be.

So, I showed up, entered the factory and stood at a large metal table, surrounded by 10 Korean men. Everyone was very quiet and I was told to speak. I spoke for 15 minutes about American consumers and something I said triggered a profound response from the owner of the company. He stood up, silenced me, and told me that clearly, based on what I was saying, they had truly ?!#*-up in the US. He asked that I stay to further discuss their challenges in more detail. They brought in some McDonalds lunch and we sat for 4 hours together, talking about how to turn their business around. That was October 11th, 1990, and by October 21st, they fired their 8-person in house agency and handed me an $8 million account. Two weeks later, I was on a plane for a 2-week trip to South Korea to meet the rest of the company and to talk to their people and explain what they needed to do to turn the business around. It was a whirlwind experience and one of the most exciting projects we ever worked on. We not only turned the business around, but we moved them in a new direction. As an added “thank you,” they gave everyone in my company (18 people at that time) and their spouses custom-made fur or leather coats or jackets and delivered them the week before Christmas. Mine was mink … and incredible!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Our first clients were from the fashion industry, mostly in the lingerie, swimwear and sleepwear industries. I thought it would be exciting to have the potential models for an important photo and commercial shoot come to our office for a “go-see” and to have my full team involved in the selection for the upcoming campaigns. Typically, I went to New York to choose models. So, for one full day, models came in and out of our office, dressed only in bikinis to be seen. What I didn’t think about was what the other companies in our building would think about the parade of beautiful and scantily clad women coming in and out of our offices well into the evening. It raised lots of eyebrows and questions from all our corporate neighbors about what we were doing that day, and it initiated a few phone calls from the female support staff and wives of our staff to express their objection to what I did. So, while I thought this was a great learning experience for my team, it turned out to be a great distraction and questionable in the eyes of those not involved in the work. This was such a big piece of our work that I never gave a second thought to how it would be viewed by anyone else, especially women. To say the least, the model “go-sees” were always done at the agencies in NYC from that time forward.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a “thought leader” is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?

A thought leader is someone with a mission to clarify and educate and to reinforce his or her truths, and possibly change thinking and make an impact.

Influencers are not leaders as much as they are collectors or herders of like-minded people. They find them, engage them, connect with them and continue to reinforce their common beliefs. I believe that thought leaders likewise can be influential, but they are more about the power of their message than about gathering advocacy.

Can you talk to our readers about the benefits of becoming a thought leader? Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?

If you have purpose and you have a passion and that becomes your mission, then investing in your passion and your purpose makes great sense. We all need a reason to get up in the morning and we all want to make an impact or leave a legacy, and that is good reason to put energy and investment into what you believe in.

Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?

If you are a thought leader that has impact, and you use that thought leadership platform to build your personal brand, then you will engage with people who follow you and believe in you, and that will bring you unlimited opportunities. Being consistent in your message, but open to new possibilities, can bring endless new conversations, all of which will lead to connections and referrals and business. After recent experiences as a guest on two different podcasts, I had a tremendous response and new business opportunities. The podcasts were quite different, but they clearly had impact that led to new business.

OK. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry? Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.

  1. Know your strengths and work with them.
  2. Find what moves you and learn as much as you can about that subject or that industry or movement. Become an authority on the subject and look at who else is in that space so you can separate your message and create your own voice.
  3. Develop your voice and curate your message. Make it unique and keep it authentic, and determine how you want to be seen and heard and by what target audience.
  4. Start writing … and posting and building your personal brand platform. Pay attention to all comments, build your audience and reinforce your opinion and voice.
  5. Open yourself up to possibilities for speaking platforms, podcasts, writing a book and creating channels that support your views and can connect you to an audience that can benefit from your message.

Story: I was trained very early in my career to observe and spot trends. I had the distinct advantage of traveling the world, watching people as their lifestyles changed and they adapted to new life demands and how they influenced and inspired industries to create products they needed and wanted. This “in the moment, on the ground, in the labs, on the farms and in the factories” learning built my instincts and insights and intuitive skills to recognize change well before it had impact on the world. This ability was a gift and gave me the opportunity to work with global companies who needed my perspective, knowledge and experience to help them develop smart, effective and desirable new products in many industries. Consumers had needs but couldn’t find solutions, until companies listened and observed which stimulated new innovations and technologies like: Lycra, COOLMAX, clear candle technology, natural and organic ingredients, natural and organic fertilizers, natural sugar replacements, natural green juices, natural malodor technologies, masking technologies and more.

In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.

I had a remarkable experience while working in East Harlem in the late 60’s and got to see and listen to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He moved me in so many ways. Partially because he was such an incredible orator, he could reach out to the thousands before him and make each person feel like he was speaking only to him or her. That is what he did for me and that ability cannot be taught, it has to be felt in the deepest part of your being. Dr. King was as compassionate as he was passionate, and he was as humble as he was powerful. These are the lessons I learned from my brief but impactful time in his presence that one day.

I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?

I believe that there is confusion about what a thought leader is and what an influencer is. I also think that there are lots of thought leaders who do not have the expert experience needed to lead, but they have the voice and presence and power to do so.

What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

Find joy in what you do and use that joy to propel you through the less joyful and much more challenging times. Optimism is my driver. I believe that if I do good, something good will come from that effort. I have been proven wrong numerous times in business, but those are the times I reach to my family and friends and personal passions to pull me through. There is always a light, you just have to focus on it.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

What I am most passionate about in my life is shaping children into resilient, self-sufficient, brave, kind and considerate adults. I believe that our childhood, early educational foundation and our family beliefs influence our thinking and how we walk through our lives.

Life skills are learned, opinions are influenced, and thinking is shaped by our experiences in life. I wish teachers were as equally experienced in behavioral psychology as they are in required teaching courses. Children are overexposed to so much today and so unprepared.

When I grew up it was the right blend of love and tough love all the way. I believe it prepared me for the unexpected challenges I faced in life. I also believe it made me resourceful and resilient and even more determined.

I believe that children are more capable than most parents realize and that having some level of responsibility and accountability in the formative years is good for children, especially in these times of oversaturation to social media and overexposure to the fears and risks we all face in these strange times.

Can you please give us your favorite “life lesson quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“If you don’t ask, the answer will always be no” This quote helped me push myself to be brave enough to go after the things in life that I wanted and needed to be a strong single parent and run a successful business for 30-plus years.

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Oprah, Tom Selleck, Ada Ignatius, Steve Forbes, Nora Roberts and Jane Goodall.

How can our readers follow you on social media?


Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.

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