Women Of The C-Suite: “No one has all the answers” With Christine Currence, CEO of Badgley Mischka

“Be collaborative. No one has all the answers. Your role as a leader is to guide, listen, help curate, and encourage great ideas to be…

“Be collaborative. No one has all the answers. Your role as a leader is to guide, listen, help curate, and encourage great ideas to be shared. My partners and I live by this, which makes our “marriage” so successful. Check your ego at the door.”

I had the pleasure to interview Christine Currence, the CEO of Badgley Mischka. Before spearheading the purchase of the Badgley Mischka brand with her partners, including Mark Badgley and James Mischka, from Iconix Brand Group in 2016, Christine served as President of MJCLK LLC, the Badgley Mischka apparel company since 2008. Prior to this, Christine held the role of Iconix Brand Manager for the label. Her responsibilities have included overseeing the Badgley Mischka P&L and strategic licensing arrangements which ultimately doubled Iconix Brand Group’s royalty revenue and drastically expanded the brand’s product assortment. Prior to Iconix, Christine began her career as a Design Assistant, before transitioning into licensing at Nicole Miller. As Director of Licensing from 2003 to 2006, Christine built Nicole Miller’s licensees from 11 to over 30, including exclusive deals with Bed Bath & Beyond, and the creation of Nicole by Nicole Miller line for JC Penney. Today, Christine utilizes her invaluable expertise in licensing to propel the brand into a global lifestyle designer house. She holds a B.A. from Oregon State University.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Like so many other naive young women, I associated “fashion” only with design and merchandising. At that point in time, I did not understand the business of fashion, so I went to school for apparel design and entered the work force interning and finally securing a position as an assistant designer. It quickly became apparent to me (and my employer) that I was far better suited to weigh in on the business at hand, rather than design, thus I was thrown into the world of licensing. My design background and understanding of the brand’s aesthetic proved to be quite valuable to the companies that licensed their brand name, across dozens of product categories. I was able to work in tandem with retailers and these licensees to grow the brand’s business across various exciting new channels of business. That initial role in licensing started my entire career trajectory almost 20 years ago. I know that if I had not been determined to succeed and engaged with management regarding my enthusiasm, drive, and passion for the business from the outset, I could have rightfully been fired and replaced with far more talented designers in my wake. Luckily, I landed on two feet.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

By far, the most interesting, stressful, rewarding, and exhausting experience was alongside my partners Mark Badgley, James Mischka, Lara Piropato, and Kimberly Lee-Siu, finally accomplishing our goal to acquire the global Badgley Mischka trademarks and all its licensing revenue in 2016. Our partnership was formed 10 years ago to acquire the Badgley Mischka apparel license from then Licensor and the new owner at the time, Iconix Brand Group. From that day forward, especially with the namesake designers as partners, we evaluated all of our decisions through the lens of asset ownership, not as a traditional licensee looking to monetize at every turn despite long-term effects to the brand. With this outlook and a conflicting vision for the brand from both the licensor and some of the other licensees, the partners and I knew we had to own the IP and put it back in the hands of the founders. This process proved to be quite lengthy, lasting several years, because Iconix Brand Group had never sold a brand and was also navigating an SEC investigation and internal management changes. Nevertheless, we worked tirelessly with investment bankers to put together tailored and fiscally sound investment packages for a variety of curated audiences. Even though my partners and I had run this successful apparel business for the past 10 years and clearly understood the ethos of the brand, the scrutiny and difficulty to raise money seemed insurmountable at times. Investment funds were not taking these three “young” women seriously. I can recall one potential investor pushing his pitch meeting back to 6:00 pm. We spent over an hour in our conference room going over the financials, our plan for growth, our due diligence, etc., etc., etc., until finally both my partners, Lara and Kim, had to leave, so I stayed to finish the pitch and answer any questions he had. Thereafter, the “meeting” quickly turned to my personal status rather than the presentation, so I quickly wrapped up the meeting and started to politely escort him out of the office, at which point he made it quite clear he was looking for a date and not an investment. These moments of overtly sexist behavior, that I have had to encounter over the years could fill a library, however they just made me further determined to be triumphant.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Badgley Mischka is led by a partnership comprised of principal designers Mark Badgley and James Mischka, and a female leadership team: Lara Piropato, EVP Sales; Kimberly Lee-Siu, EVP Production; and myself.

First and foremost, it is becoming more and more rare to find the namesake designers, founders, and creative directors, as owners of their brand, which is so unfortunate. This fact alone makes us a standout within the fashion industry.

Secondly, for the brand to be run by a female executive team. Why did CFDA’s study called “The Glass Runway” uncover that only 14 percent of major brands are run by female executives? There is certainly no shortage of young women entering top fashion schools or holding entry level positions, so why do we only account for fourteen percent of management? Could it be that many of these women have encountered some of the same challenges I have faced along the way? The fact that I cannot even count how many times it has been suggested that I hire a CEO, so “HE can take the company to the next level? You know, the type that golfs with store presidents”, as if this is requirement to run a fashion house? These “suggestions” only fuel my drive and passion.

And lastly, while Badgley Mischka is kicking off a yearlong celebration recognizing 30 years of timeless glamour, our partnership, and this current ownership structure of the company, is celebrating its 10-year anniversary. The 5 of us, yes five, are like a second family to one another. Most people have questions on how we all work together without stepping on one another toes, however for us, it’s a no brainer. We respect one another’s opinions, and dependent on the subject at hand, you will find us quickly deferring to another for their outlook. Even throughout the acquisition process, prospective investors would weigh in on the relevance of this partner or that partner post-closing, however this is something we never wavered on. Even with suitors offering cash payouts or other incentives, we were for better or worse, a package deal, all bringing different assets to the table for the brand’s next 30 years. I think that level of loyalty is pretty unique, and it is just one example our brand partners, retailers, and employees have also experienced with us over the years, which makes a brand like ours, a lasting one.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now?

Yes, we are thrilled to finally have a sportswear offering for our loyal customer base. Our customers have requested casual glamour for years, which is what Mark Badgley and James Mischka delivered in our extensive sportswear collection. Through their design genius, women can feel their glamorous selves from the boardroom, to the airport, to weekend days with the kids… we have their more casual moments covered. The sportswear collection is available at BadgleyMischka.com, Bloomingdale’s, and Neiman Marcus. Additionally, in celebration of the brand’s 30th anniversary, we launched a signature fragrance which will be available on our site in October and at Dillard’s in December 2018.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

DON’T GIVE UP! You are required to work 10 times harder as a woman, which I pray will actually change one day. I am hopeful that we will have true equality in the workplace in time for my 3 year old daughter to enter the work force, but in the meantime my best advice is to never give up on your dream. If you can see it, it will come true.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Set expectations with concrete deadlines and then meet regularly for progress updates. This consistency keeps everyone focused on the mission and the targeted results you want to achieve from the outset. It is so easy to get derailed from the import daily tasks while getting swept up in e-mails or non-productive meetings that you have to take charge of keeping everyone centered constantly.

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?

My mother. She was such a role model my entire life. She founded and ran a Real Estate Management firm that encountered its own set of almost insurmountable struggles along the way, but she was determined and thus she prevailed. She is definitely the one that taught me this trait, to just stay the course, no matter the outlook.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Shortly after our IP acquisition, we created a short film called “The Storm” .On its face, the women in the film appear to be fighting against varying degrees of wind, sun, rain, snow, thunder and lightning as they make their way forward, however this fight is symbolic to our struggle in reclaiming ownership of the label. This is not unlike so many women having to overcome their struggles to become entrepreneurs, change-makers, and equals in their own right. At Badgley Mischka, we strive daily to support women empowerment and entrepreneurship first by sharing our story to overcome the corporate giants, as well as so many other women’s stories and achievements. Mark Badgley and James Mischka’s designs have been inspired over the past 30 years, by so many confident and successful women from so many walks of life… these women deserve to be celebrated. Currently, we are revamping our entire web platform to create a space for these inspirational stories to be showcased, to inspire the next generation of confident glamorous women. Our mission statement is “Badgley Mischka defines timeless glamour that creates confidence and passion” and I believe we are doing just that.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Confidence. When you look good and feel good, you just perform better. At bedtime, my children each choose bedtime stories, and one that is often picked is called “Fancy Nancy”. In this story, Nancy trying to explain her desire to be fancy all the time and tells her parents that lace trim socks do make her play soccer better. I have to concur!

Forward-thinking always. Through Jim Kouzes extensive studies on this subject, he found that “Exemplary leaders are able to envision the future, to gaze across the horizon of time and imagine the greater opportunities to come. They are able to develop a unique image of the future. This ability, more than any of the other leadership skills, differentiates leaders from individual contributors.” This is something my partners, and the people whom know me best, jokingly poke fun at me for. I always have a vision, no matter how bleak the forecast. Perhaps this comes from the book “The Power of Positive Thinking” by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale being paramount in my childhood home. No matter the occasion, I was always reminded to think positively, which is great lesson for everyone.

Trust your instincts, they know best.

Learn from past mistakes AND successes. All too often, one can find themselves stepping into their comfort zone and repeating past behavior despite the outcome. It is important to reflect upon both the right decisions and the wrong ones to propel forward. Didn’t Albert Einstein say that the definition of insanity was repeating past behavior, but expecting different results?

Be collaborative. No one has all the answers. Your role as a leader is to guide, listen, help curate, and encourage great ideas to be shared. My partners and I live by this, which makes our “marriage” so successful. Check your ego at the door.

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.

Well, I would have to say achieving true women’s equality would be at the top of my list. Can you imagine what our world would look like if that was a reality?

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

“Remember that woman that gave up? Neither does anyone else.” — Unknown
 Never quit. I used to joking call my mom pushy or a broken record, however looking back it was passion. She never quit when something was important to her, despite the thousands of hurdles thrown in her path, thus I strive daily to do the same.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I am personally only on LinkedIn, however Badgley Mischka has all the standard handles.

Originally published at medium.com

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