Mistakes are OK — It’s never as bad as you think it is. Working in retail, I remember that we don’t have life-or-death responsibilities; we’re not surgeons and nobody is on the table. While we all do our best and ensure error free work, when a mistake is made, it’s a moment to learn from that always has a solution. I think that in the past there could be so much stress in working environments, that teams became so afraid of making a mistake that they didn’t reach their potential because the focus was on the who, not how to solve.
As a part of our series about strong women leaders, we had the pleasure of interviewing Margaret Moraskie.
Margaret Moraskie is Chief Executive Officer of Levenger, the iconic specialty retailer of fine products for home and office, headquartered in Delray Beach, Florida. An active Board Member of the Women in Retail Leadership Circle (WIRLC), Margaret was previously the company’s chief marketing officer. Before joining Levenger, Margaret was senior vice president of consumer analytics and intelligence for Chico’s FAS, a role to which she was appointed after the company’s acquisition of the Boston Proper brand, where she spent 20 years and was responsible for spearheading the retailer’s e-commerce transition to a data-driven, digital-first company.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Thank you so much for having me; it’s a pleasure to be here. I think we may run out of time to tell the whole backstory! I didn’t really select a career path…it found me! I was leaving university and landed a job in the Federated Executive Training program. I learned the art and science of retail along with gaining an understanding that it’s not for the faint of heart. My parents instilled a strong work ethic, and I did just that…worked. Worked the hours, learned the ropes, hit the department and store goals so that I could move to new roles. I kept the same work ethic at different places until I answered a newspaper ad for an assistant merchant at a catalog company based in Boca Raton/Delray Beach. I continued on the merchandising path until it was time to start a family. Then I moved to inventory control and eventually marketing, when believe it or not, I was asked if I had heard of the internet! It was the right place at the right time, and I had the support of leaders who believed we could learn and grow. I was so fortunate to work with and for talented leaders who really cared about the success of others. It was inspiring to be part of the energy of a company, where everyone wants to do a great job for those leaders, who have a clear vision, a sense of fun and dedication to family. I don’t think I would be close to where I am if it wasn’t for that role.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Well, I have only been in my role for a few months, but I would say taking the reins in the midst of the holiday season of 2020 has been a challenge and very interesting. My favorite things are the letters from customers. In these extraordinary times, I am thrilled that people still take the time to write, to tell me how they use the products and how long they have owned them. It is a testament to our extraordinary brand. With all of the technology that is out there, people really enjoy the simplest and oldest form of communication…pens and paper.
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?
I’ve made lots of mistakes, but the funniest was when we were first really getting into marketing emails. At the time, we slowly deployed our messaging to ensure there would be a steady flow of traffic to the website. Well, I forgot to deploy with a meter and instead sent over one million messages announcing a sale event to all one million subscribers. I learned an important lesson from that experience that I still share with others today: we aren’t saving lives…mistakes can be fixed… it’ll all be ok.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I worked for Boston Proper for 20 years, starting as an assistant merchant and over the years, I learned and grew. My direct leader at one point in the journey was our Chief Creative & Brand officer, Skip. After a strategic planning meeting, he called me into his office and told me to speak up; my body language (head down, taking notes) didn’t align with what he believed I could contribute. He gave me the confidence to speak up, share my thoughts and engage in discussions. He and our CEO both believed in me, long before I believed in myself. Their confidence in me was all I needed, and it transformed me.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
I write notes and I collect my thoughts, but not overly so as to allow for spontaneity and flexibility. I keep in mind that I know the subject matter and have been trusted to share it. Each conversation or meeting or decision provides a moment to learn and to improve.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
The definition of diversity is “the state of being different.” If we are all surrounded by people who think or look like us, there is no room for having conversations that spark learning, understanding and ultimately innovation. I want to be part of a team with people who have different ideas, cultures and backgrounds. The difference of perspective reflects the world around us, the consumers who trust us, and we are a better team for it.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
We need to be ever mindful of our responsibility to be the change we want to see in the world. As business leaders, we have the power to drive positive progress both in and outside of the office.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
Your mindset shifts from being in a specialized role to being a generalist. As CEO, I am less involved in my subject matter area expertise which is marketing. I’ve become the conductor of an orchestra comprised of experts and my goal is to set the direction and get out of the way. Let those experts do what they were hired to do, trust them and ensure they have a collaborative environment in which to succeed.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
CEOs are human. We may be experts in our field, but we don’t always have everything figured out and will make some mistakes. It’s valuable to continue to ask questions and always listen to everyone in the organization to gain as much information and insight as possible about their contributions to the success of our endeavor.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Perceptions or pre-conceived notions are thankfully changing. I learned from a leader once, that women are more likely not to apply for a job if they don’t hit all the requirements on the job description, whereas men will see they have even a few and apply. So, perhaps the challenge is our own self-limiting beliefs.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
Too soon to know! At a small company, there is so much detail because we all roll up our sleeves to get the job done. I don’t really know what I expected and every day there are surprises and new challenges, which is what makes life in the C-suite so exciting.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
- The ability to engage others and incorporate ideas — your team knows the answers.
- Ability to declare and articulate a clear vision/direction — where are we going and why?
- Willingness to make and own the final decision — when it goes right, it’s the team. When it doesn’t- it’s mine.
- Authenticity. Be yourself. (everyone else is taken!). It builds credibility and trust.
- There’s no such thing as over communication.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Listen, trust, be honest and authentic.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I give back where and when I can as a mentor, a parent and a friend. I try to have a positive impact on at least one person a day.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Mistakes are OK — It’s never as bad as you think it is. Working in retail, I remember that we don’t have life-or-death responsibilities; we’re not surgeons and nobody is on the table. While we all do our best and ensure error free work, when a mistake is made, it’s a moment to learn from that always has a solution. I think that in the past there could be so much stress in working environments, that teams became so afraid of making a mistake that they didn’t reach their potential because the focus was on the who, not how to solve.
- You are only as good as the team you are surrounded by. I learned about the importance of teamwork early on, from the head of the company I was working for. He cited this famous quote: “make sure you’re not the smartest person in the room, because if you are, then you’re in the wrong room.” He had no ego involved and as a result he surrounded himself with very talented people and let them do what they were hired to do. He complemented his strengths and weaknesses with people who were different and as a result, the team was stronger. I’m glad to have learned that early in my career.
- Always try to understand the other person’s perspective. I work hard to “listen first,” which plays into the importance of developing emotional intelligence. A few years ago, I worked for somebody who said, “seek first to understand,” and it’s something I work on consciously. I always try to understand why someone thinks a certain way, and to learn about their how and why. I had a recent incident where members of our team were approaching something with a specific intention, and it wasn’t headed for a good outcome. I asked and listened to their point of view only to learn it was based on hearsay, three people removed, about something I supposedly had said — and it couldn’t have been further from the truth of what I actually thought. If I had asked at the outset where the team’s approach was coming from, I could have headed off the issue. After listening and sharing we ended up in a much better place.
- Take time for yourself — make white space in your day. You are no good to anyone else if you are exhausted, frustrated or burned out. I took a break in my career a few years ago when I was turning fifty and my daughter was going off to college. At that point, my passion had dwindled and I didn’t think I’d ever work full time again, and instead, I did things like volunteer at a dog shelter and putter in the garden. However, during that four months I found a fresh perspective and new energy to commit to returning to my career. I remind myself that as CEO (or in any role for that matter) I can easily work from early morning until evening, every day, but I deliberately stop in the middle of the week to make time for research, learning and spend time the creative area of our office, instead of constantly sitting in front of the computer staring at spreadsheets and emails. This is true of our personal lives as well. We are always “busy”. It’s OK just to be…
- Have fun. When I say to have fun, I mean to find moments where you’re joking around a bit and creating a vibe where you can be a little silly to enjoy being with your team sharing a good laugh. Trying to take things less seriously and setting aside time for those moments creates the kind of camaraderie that contributes to an easy work flow, innovation, productivity and success. I believe if you’re not having fun — on any given day or ever — you might want to find something else to do.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Give teachers the resources and respect they deserve in and out of the classroom. Quality education for all will follow.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The most important decision you will ever make is to be in a good mood” -Voltaire.
This is often easier said than done, but I believe we choose our thoughts, and they can be positive or negative. Life is all about your attitude and how you choose to see the world. Be kind.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.