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C-Suite Moms: Athleta CEO, Nancy Green “Things will rarely go as planned, so get ready to think on your feet, learn quickly and adjust.” with Jessica Abo

Don’t be afraid of imperfection. Things will rarely go as planned, so get ready to think on your feet, learn quickly and adjust. If you guide yourself and others by great values, put your energy into things you truly care about and use good judgement, something great will come of it. I had the pleasure of […]


Don’t be afraid of imperfection. Things will rarely go as planned, so get ready to think on your feet, learn quickly and adjust. If you guide yourself and others by great values, put your energy into things you truly care about and use good judgement, something great will come of it.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Nancy Green, President and CEO of Athleta, leading the brand through a high-growth phase and brand evolution. Throughout her three decades of retail, leading high growth businesses and teams have been her expertise along with creating and developing brand vision, strategy, and breakthrough product and marketing. She is also known as an impactful mentor of talent who has developed strong leaders across the industry. She has worked for Gap Inc. for 26 years over two phases, including her first 16 years in retail and most recent 10 years since rejoining the company in 2009. Prior to joining Athleta in 2013, she served as EVP and Chief Creative Officer at Old Navy, leading the merchandising, design and visual merchandising teams. Under her leadership, the brand focused on balancing innovation in core categories while launching new and expanding businesses. Nancy served as interim co-leader of Old Navy in 2012. Previously, Green served as CEO of Shabby Chic, where she partnered with the founder to create and implement a vision and growth strategy for a multi-channel lifestyle brand. She facilitated its expansion into new categories and distribution channels while overseeing all areas of the company. In addition, she ran the Pottery Barn division of Williams-Sonoma, Inc as executive vice president from 2003–2007 where she led a multi-channel business (online, catalog, stores) through a significant growth phase expanding into new categories and developing the online business into a major channel. She spent 16 years at Gap Inc from 1986–2002 overseeing merchandising in a variety of divisions, including Gap brand both within the US and globally, as well as the kids and baby division for Old Navy. She holds a BA from University of California, Berkeley.


Can you tell us the “backstory” behind what brought you to this point in your career?

It took leaving retail for me to realize I wanted to make it my career. I’d always worked in stores growing up and after college, and I loved working with customers and solving their problems. Then I left retail and became a stylist in New York. I was working on high profile photo shoots with celebrities at twenty-something, and I felt like it should be a dream job, but it wasn’t the right fit for me — I missed retail. I was recruited to Gap Inc. on a plane and coming here — a company with strong values that closely aligned with my personal values, was the best decision I’ve made in my career. I’ve now spent a total of 25 years with the company over two chapters. I started my journey with the Gap and Old Navy brands and returned to Gap Inc. after we acquired Athleta. In fact, when I read about the Athleta acquisition in the news, I immediately reached out to express how exciting I thought the opportunity was, and my interest in the brand. I have always been very passionate about health and wellness and physical fitness. I naturally felt a very strong connection to Athleta’s brand potential. I came back to Gap Inc. and eventually landed leadership of Athleta. This has made the last seven years leading the brand, the absolute highlight of my career. As a purpose driven leader, I show up every day motivated to do my very best because the work we are doing means something — and that is very exciting.

Can you share with us how many children you have?

I have four adult children, two girls and two boys.

Where were you in your career when your child was born/became part of your family?

It’s hard to imagine now, but when I first joined Gap, Inc. in 1986, there were very few women with children in jobs like mine. I wasn’t sure how I could have a child and manage a busy, travel-heavy job. I reached out to a Gap executive who had children. Her advice was pretty simple: make sure you have strong support at home and just give it a try, I would never know if I didn’t try. She encouraged me to stay with my career in retail and realize my potential. I listened to her, and three decades later I have four adult children and my dream job as CEO and President of Athleta.

In turn I have made it my mission to create a work environment where all can realize their full potential. We are all humans, with different motivations that get us through each day. My goal is to develop strong teams who are empowered to be successful and fulfilled both personally and professionally.

Can you tell us a bit about what your day-to-day schedule looks like?

Every day looks different but there are a couple things I try to keep consistent to help keep my own energy balanced. I try to start each day with a 3-minute meditation and intention setting session, as well as some form of exercise. Physical activity sets my body and mind up for the day. And I make it a priority to close my day at home with family dinner. It is very grounding for me to spend time catching up with my husband, and hearing about each other’s days. This has been a priority for our family since our kids were young.

Has being a parent changed your career path? Can you explain?

Throughout my career, I’ve guided myself based on what was right for me at that time. I never forced a path, rather I responded to opportunities where I felt like I could do a good job and be passionate, while also being a great parent. In turn, my career has very much paralleled my personal life. I have always been drawn to brands where I can identify with the customers. When my kids were young, I went to work on the Gap Kids brand and was able to draw on my experience as a parent in the work we were doing every day. Similarly, as a mother who was also an athlete growing up, Athleta was a natural place for me to draw on my own experience. I am very passionate about Athleta being a multigenerational brand where mothers and daughters can shop together based on shared values.

Has being a mother made you better at your job? How so?

Mothers are efficient. We get stuff done. As a parent, I was committed to getting home for dinner with my family, so I made the most out of every moment while I was at the office to ensure I could make this happen every night.

What are the biggest challenges you face being a working mom?

I found being a working mom to be a constant calibration to make sure I didn’t over weight too much on one side of my life or the other when making decision. I really worked to stay in touch with both sides so I was making the right decision for both myself, my family and my team.

Are there any stories you remember from the early days of parenthood that you want to share?

Having your first child is an incredibly humbling experience. It is easy to feel overwhelmed. Eventually you learn to trust your gut. And if you have a second child, or as your baby gets older, you have more confidence; things don’t rattle you quite as much. You’re no longer searching for perfection. This has been something that has carried from parenthood into my career.

Are there any meaningful activities or traditions you’ve made up or implemented that have enhanced your time with your family? Can you share a story or example?

Some of our favorite memories as a family are when we are outside exploring. We have a house in Sun Valley, ID where we gather as a family many times throughout the year to get outside together. I’ve found that we have some of our best conversations when we’re outdoors together. In the winter we love to ski together and in the warmer months, we spend many days hiking in the Sawtooth Wilderness.

How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?

Above all, I want my kids to follow what makes them happy. As a parent, I am always there as a guide to help them uncover what that is, creating an environment where they may have the courage to go out and try things; anything is possible. In our family, the key is always to follow what you love, and you’ll uncover the passion in your life.

One example is when my daughter completed a 90-day NOLS course in Patagonia before she started college. It was a wilderness survival and leadership course in very intense climate conditions — climbing glaciers and experiencing first ascents, as well as kayaking on the windy fjords of Patagonia — all while completely cut off from all communication with us and the world for 90 days. It took a lot of courage for her to do this, and we are extremely proud of her. We supported the experience for her to build her sense of self confidence and independence, and ultimately, she learned lifelong leadership skills that will serve her very well. We have encouraged all of our kids to strive for the best and challenge themselves. Dreaming big is cultivated at a young age, and that was also part of our inspiration to start Athleta Girl. We want to foster confidence in young girls that allows them to dream big — “Dream crazy big” is one of our mantras at Athleta Girl.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you share or plan to share with your kids?

Don’t be afraid of imperfection. Things will rarely go as planned, so get ready to think on your feet, learn quickly and adjust. If you guide yourself and others by great values, put your energy into things you truly care about and use good judgement, something great will come of it.

If you could sit down with every new parent and offer life hacks, must-have products or simple advice, what would be on your list?

Ground your family in good values and good judgement. Live those values every day and share them with your family. This will naturally teach good judgement.

Thank you so much for joining us!

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