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“Talk with others.” With Patricia J. Royak

If you have a problem share it and talk it over. Do not be ashamed to admit you failed. Take it as lessons learned and do better next time. Taking risks is how we change the world. It seemed odd to some of my friends when I moved to Atlanta and joined a medical device […]

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If you have a problem share it and talk it over. Do not be ashamed to admit you failed. Take it as lessons learned and do better next time. Taking risks is how we change the world. It seemed odd to some of my friends when I moved to Atlanta and joined a medical device company when my background was in retail and fashion and most recent experience in intimate apparel. I was inspired by the company’s mission to help breast cancer patients, Olympic athletes or couples who wanted to heal and transform their bodies so they looked their best and wanted to try new underwear! I ended up leading this company and developed a solid philanthropic mission. Now as Chair of the Board of the nonprofit TurningPoint Breast Cancer Rehabilitation, I believe I am leading a movement with the new executive director, staff and Board; that is changing the world with comprehensive telehealth through healing tools and resources. I never could have imagined that my mom and my childhood best friend would both get breast cancer. I am proud to be involved with this unique organization supporting breast cancer rehabilitation for patients and their families so they may experience a fuller life again.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Patricia J. Royak, CEO of Royak Consulting.

Patricia is a seasoned global executive who has led iconic brands in Asia, Europe and North America. During the past 25 years she has been at the helm of several leading apparel, intimates and health and wellness brands. She currently serves as the Chair of the Board of the Atlanta-based nonprofit TurningPoint Breast Cancer Rehabilitation, a unique national organization in the breast cancer space focused on survivorship services and programs from head to toe for patients of all ethnic, socioeconomic and religious backgrounds.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! 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?

Seldom do the stars align when work, family and community are all in harmony. “My Camelot” occurred in 1993 when I landed a position with Levi Strauss & Co. in Auckland, New Zealand, where I served as general manager for two years. The consumers there could not get enough of those Levi’s® 501® Jeans, so Levi’s brand loyalty made it a very special place. My predecessor as general manager was an industry rock star, so I knew I had to step up and make my own mark. I faced the intellectual challenge of leading a country Profit and Loss for the first time, with a leadership team that welcomed designs that were not their own and embraced my collaborative style and out of the box thinking. We achieved the highest brand share of any affiliate in the world with more than 50 percent and profits soared to 25 percent of revenue. We pioneered new performance metrics and piloted new systems to analyze retail sales performance. This information guided our collaboration with partners around the globe to offer consumers jeans and t-shirts made in New Zealand, while jackets and woven tops came from Europe.

The entire experience, including a warm reception from the expatriate community of New Zealand, was something I’ll never forget. My wonderful husband landed a job at the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, and we established lifelong friendships at the American Club with experienced globetrotters who mentored us. It was in New Zealand where we cut our teeth on our first of many international tours of duty abroad.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Leading and anticipating where the markets will go has always been my passion. One way of doing this is preparing teams for the storm before it hits. That is an approach that disrupts the status quo. My longtime mantra has been to “Zigzag.” While everyone goes to the left, I encourage others to head to the right or take the road less traveled. In a nutshell, that is how I’ve been disruptive in my life and career.

Right out of college it was trendy to go into consumer products, become a teacher, social worker or accountant. I was the only person in my class focused on fashion. After extensive interviewing with technology and consumer products brands: IBM, Xerox, Proctor & Gamble, 3M and Hecht’s, my path led me back to my passion for fashion. Levi’s reached out as the result of my four summers working at a jeans store called The Spot. I was tired of working retail in high school and college, yet I learned about a new way to enter the apparel market as a sales representative. The entrepreneurial nature of running my own territory and planning how to execute a business plan with my retailers was intriguing. So like Mary Tyler Moore, I was off to New York City to kick off my career with Levi Strauss & Co. on 5th Avenue.

There are many other ways I’ve demonstrated disruptive tendencies in my career.

*Well before it became the norm, I was a believer in building teams of diverse people with complementary skill sets. I wanted to hire people who had opposite skill sets, largely because of the different perspectives they brought to a corporate culture.

*I’ve always believed women can have it all and not have to sacrifice to achieve a fulfilled life. I also believed and still believe in leading teams with compassion and putting family first. It was not widely accepted when I was starting out, however.

*Throughout my career, I have focused on growing the core, but also found time to identify and build around the next trend. My primary interest involved building new businesses and business models to improve sales and profit. The key here was the successful development of a diverse sales team consisting of those focused on planning and those focused on selling.

*My exceptional husband stayed at home and moved around the world throughout my career, so that’s another example of being disruptive. He assumed the lead role raising our wonderful son, a recent college graduate working in integrated marketing/communications.

*During the .com bubble of the early 2000s, I was living in San Francisco and started consulting for the first time. It was then that I had the opportunity to rub elbows with many of the top innovators in Silicon Valley. It seemed like they were offering money like it was water to anyone who had a great idea. I smile but also cringe reflecting on that time. There’s no question it was exciting and stimulating, but I also felt like it was too good to be true. I saw the writing on the wall that the bubble was going to burst, so I decided to sell my home and move to the East Coast. At that time, I joined Liz Claiborne, a portfolio company poised to weather the storm with an assortment of brands. In the aftermath of 9/11 as markets in the US were shattered, we focused on business development in fewer countries and grew Mexico from $3M to $50M, leveraging what could be done vs. what seemed impossible. This led to gaining greater responsibility for markets in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.

*I have one final example that epitomizes being disruptive. In 2008, as consumers focused on the “must haves” vs. the “nice to haves.” I transitioned over to the intimates business with Donna Karan and Maidenform. I viewed intimates as an absolute necessity during difficult times. While leading Calvin Klein Jeans at Warnaco, I partnered often with CK’s Intimates team. The business intrigued me, so when an opportunity arose to lead Maidenform Brands International, I joined the executive team.

We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

A career highlight early on was having a number of memorable mentors who provided guidance and coached for success. The first person who comes to mind is Lindsay Webbe. At the time he was President of Levi’s Asia Pacific Division. Lindsay had a passion for focusing on one’s strengths and leveraging them to the fullest, versus trying to fix everything that you may not know. He encouraged me into thinking long and hard about my family future prospects just as much as I did about Levi’s New Zealand P&L at the time. Typically, the strength I demonstrated in sales and marketing would have led me on a path to stay in the USA and become a vice president of sales. That was a traditional vertical career path. My career zigzagged sideways often to learn new functions. I took a merchandising position to broaden my experience and better understand product profitability and manufacturing process. A sidestep to merchandising from sales management, enabled me to leapfrog later in my career to a higher position as a general manager in New Zealand. Lindsay inspired and gave me confidence to believe I could have it all: career, family and an amazing quality of balanced life. George Porter was another person in senior management at Levi’s who prepared me to leave the US armed with the Levi’s Sweats experience. That particular experience taught me indispensable merchandising and supply chain skills.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

  • Focus on your strengths, build upon them and accentuate the positives in your teams. Surround yourself and team with those who complement your skills. Do not try to do it all or know it all. Know what you do not know and admit when you need help. Taking a role leading a USA manufacturing company was new to me as most companies had moved offshore. I joined Next Generation Manufacturing and discovered an amazing group of women-led manufacturing companies in Georgia. Those women were exceptional mentors and friends who introduced me to the key players, including politicians, associations and networks. This is an example that mentors may come in many forms and critical to my success. This was essential to maneuver a new market like Atlanta coming from New York.
  • Integrity is the most important attribute of a person, product or business. It must be earned as it cannot be bought or borrowed. When taking over a family-run business, you may discover things that did not surface during your due diligence. It is always better to be direct, share the “news” sooner rather than later and develop full transparency in a collaborative way. You have a much greater chance fixing a problem with more eyes seeing it instead of trying not to uncover what people do not want to know.
  • If you have a problem share it and talk it over. Do not be ashamed to admit you failed. Take it as lessons learned and do better next time. Taking risks is how we change the world. It seemed odd to some of my friends when I moved to Atlanta and joined a medical device company when my background was in retail and fashion and most recent experience in intimate apparel. I was inspired by the company’s mission to help breast cancer patients, Olympic athletes or couples who wanted to heal and transform their bodies so they looked their best and wanted to try new underwear! I ended up leading this company and developed a solid philanthropic mission. Now as Chair of the Board of the nonprofit TurningPoint Breast Cancer Rehabilitation, I believe I am leading a movement with the new executive director, staff and Board; that is changing the world with comprehensive telehealth through healing tools and resources. I never could have imagined that my mom and my childhood best friend would both get breast cancer. I am proud to be involved with this unique organization supporting breast cancer rehabilitation for patients and their families so they may experience a fuller life again.

How are you going to shake things up next?

I’d like to help businesses in the fashion and health and wellness industry transform their growth plans to “win” in a post pandemic market. Businesses may decide to build new on-line channels or buy companies as many owners may not make it in these difficult times. Another possibility is helping companies rebuild their strategies to grow and attract consumers who have dramatically changed their purchasing habits.

I want to help entrepreneurs discover authenticity as well as the ability to tell a compelling story. There is a tremendous opportunity as Millennials have the greatest purchasing power of any generation in history. There are enormous changes in consumer purchase behavior related to retail shopping and how much disposable income will be spent on the health and wellness industry. I believe future decisions will weave through a few different filters. What is this brand doing for the environment and for our community? What is their core philanthropic mission? What is a specific brand’s take on social justice? You can’t ignore or pay lip service to these questions. This can take shape in everything from recycled clothing to repurposed trendy thrift shops. Brands and products without a purpose will take a back seat to those with a cause. I’ve always been an advocate of this perspective, but now more so than ever before.

Kathleen Kirkwood, founder of the B.R.A Bra Recycling Agency, a former FORD model and current QVC Intimates and Fashion brand, provides an inspiring case study. For the past decade she has shown exceptional innovation in her efforts to recycle bras into carpet cushion as a green initiative while also donating the metal underwire proceeds to help fund breast cancer research.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

During the initial phase of the global pandemic I went back to listening to Deepak Chopra’s podcasts. His powerful words and teachings about one’s state of mind will change your life. One of his primary teachings states “what you think you are is just what you will become.” He combines a medical and holistic way of influencing thinking. My mind never stops working, so having a way to calm it down, focus and develop game plans is extremely important. This has proved invaluable for me getting through an average day as well as the longer-term challenge of adapting to a new way of life in response to the pandemic.

You are a person of great 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. 🙂

The reality is that the fashion industry is transforming like never before with omni-channel shopping choices, along with an increasing demand for essential products. For the first time in decades, consumers are now asking “where does this product come from?” My prediction is the label “Made in the USA” will have a resurgence like never before. The importance of timing and flow of the supply chain will be more important due to momentum of “Made in the USA” over offshore production.

I want to inspire those leaders in business both fashion and health and wellness to design products that are relevant to the changing lifestyles of consumers. Consumers have always wanted value for money and comfort with easy care features. These motivating factors will be essential as we emerge out of the global pandemic.

We want to get in and out of a store quickly, find what we need and maybe ship it home. We may buy it online and pick up at the store. We may want a product that has more pockets, albeit stylish, as more consumers carry less into a store. Consumers want products that are anti-microbial, lightweight and easy care. Consumers also care about the carbon footprint of products, where they are made and what philanthropic causes are supported by a particular brand. The entire product lifecycle has been turned upside down. The reality is that it is slow, and yet we have known it for years. Now everyone is forced to reinvent their products and processes in order to be profitable.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite life quote is from my father. He was my greatest mentor and since he passed away nine years ago, I have learned it is impossible to fill his shoes. He used to say to me, “There is nothing left now but to go ahead and do it.” To that end, we would discuss my various career choices at length, and I remember I would agonize over each of the many steps. I tended to overthink the pros and cons of life’s major decisions. I came up with all kinds of complex charts and tried to rationalize all the “what-if” scenarios. I have evolved by leadership style over the years from being only metric driven for sales and profits to embrace measuring capabilities too. What is understood about how we operate, enables flawless execution. When filling in the learning gaps from a founder leaving, it’s important to know what is written in the company playbook. Not every step in a process is written down. Often they just instinctively know things others do not. I like working backwards with the end goal in mind. This also reveals capability gaps, helping to modify and set realistic goals. It’s essential to visualize where you want to go with goals, develop a few critical paths, including an alternative plan, and prepare detailed execution plans with benchmarks or stories to help teams learn and remember.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media

@patriciajroyak- Facebook

@Patroyak — Twitter

https://www.linkedin.com/in/patriciajroyak/ — LinkedIn

@patriciajroyak — Instagram

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