Student Business Leader Kassandra Reyes' interviewed Patricia Royak, SVP and Managing Director of International Business of Donna Karan and Maidenform, for National Business Women's Week 2013 October 21 through 25.
Kassandra: Hello everyone, my name is Kassandra Reyes and I’m a student business leader at the Perdue school of business at Salisbury University and right next to me is Pat Royak, the managing director of international business for Donna Karen and Maiden Form.
Pat: Hi how are you?
Kassandra: Good how are you?
Kassandra: Okay, well this interview’s just basically for our national business women’s week coming up in October 24th, (corrects herself) 21st through the 24th and we’re just going to ask you a few questions not only about your business but just about being a woman in business in general.
Pat: Great! Well, I’m delighted to be here today.
Kassandra: Alright, well let’s start off with your basic; tell us about a little bit about your educational background.
Pat: well, it all started right here in Maryland I attended Salisbury, I was a business major um so you can say I’m sort of home grown. Um (makes sucking noise) Salisbury um (sucking noise) definitely gave me that grounding and a fabulous foundation, I ended up doing a internship with the local T.V. station that was the new kid on the block at the time, and also um was involved with the PanHellenic Association actually helped carve some new rules for the Greek organizations to keep them in check,
Pat: was a resident assistant, the lacrosse team was uh over in Chesapeake; talk about keeping people in check. (Kassandra chuckles) um and also uh started an organization called the “Sea Girls” so it was really a great learning here at Salisbury. I found that the Professors, many of them had work experience as well as um academic experience so it was really fantastic and I found during the interview process I was able to pull back to those team projects that we did, um and really has uh propelled my career forward when working at Levi’s or my current job.
Kassandra: That’s wonderful, yeah it sounds like you were very active and you actually contributed a lot more a lot to Salisbury as well as took a lot from it
Kassandra: Okay, well second question then, how did you break into the fashion industry then?
Pat: Ahh, very good question (Kassandra chuckles). Um well you know my passion has always been for fashion, if you talk to my mom she’d say she was having a fashion show in the basement in our house and outside of D.C. since the age of 5. Uh but basically, when I had summer jobs I worked at a store called the “The Spot in Maryland” and basically went back every summer. Uh my my univers, my college, my high school I’m sorry was having a fashion show and so I ended up helping design the fashion show etcetera and I met someone um and he said “hey you should work for me this summer” and never looked back and 18 years later ended up having a career with Levi Strauss that took me all over the world. Um and that’s sort of how I got into it, was really leveraging uh relationships and people that I knew,
Pat: to parlay um my first job and actually my continuing jobs from there on.
Kassandra: Wonderful. Okay um what was what’s your number one recommendation to successfully balance your work and life schedule you think?
Pat: Well, um not an easy task, men or women. Um and I just find that structure works for me. Whether it’s my vacations that I always have planned, always the same time, every year, around my son’s school so everybody in business and everybody at home knows we holiday at the Christmas time and the fourth of July at our place in Fenwick or um spring break is always at my my in-laws usually down in Florida and then I use the other 4 to 5 days to do things like this (both Pat and Kassandra chuckle) uh during the year to come give back and I find that structure is so important um also at home I ya know have a 19 year old whose getting ready to go away to college, and
Pat: Salis.. Well I don’t know he’s looking, he’s definitely considering this as well, he wants technology and game design.
Pat: Um but basically what I have found is you, I’m a global executive I travel the world so I’m gone at least a third of the time so it’s important when I am home um to have dinner at home so we’re kind of old-fashioned in that respect, many evenings we try ta sit down as a family, have dinner and talk about what’s happened ya know, over the course of the day and my husband is amazing he’s a stay at home dad so truthfully I couldn’t do it without him. So in some ways I’m not the “typical” working woman because I do have extra help um but it’s the structure, it’s being organized and most importantly I do what I love, and when you’re passionate about something it doesn’t even feel like work.
Kassandra: That’s the way it should be I think. Alright, now how have you learned to know what the consumer wants? So like for Calvin Klein I know increased their profits by 15%.
Pat: Well you use that and I think Calvin’s a good example, um basically when I was president of the men’s and women’s jeans division uh Calvin had never had women’s plus size line. And basically if you look at the average size of a woman, it used to be size ya know 8, now it’s size 14. So we embarked on some consumer research and asked women of of larger sizes ya know, what do you want? And interestingly enough they wanted the same thing all the other women wanted and at the time it was the skinny jeans. Um and when you look at patterns and print, yes they want patterns and print but maybe you make the scale a bit smaller so it actually changed the course of some our assumptions we would have had, so we had fewer markdowns, fewer mistakes and actually um launched that business uh very very profitable the first year. Which is usually unheard of. Usually when you launch a new line you have to mark down sizes and colors and styles that don’t work and usually by the next year you’re making money, we made money right out of the ballpark. So I think that one initiative along with really focusing, I believe in a hyper focus strategy, rather than trying to do a lot of things, I like to do a few things very well and that tends to lead to higher profit.
Kassansdra: Okay, so now what examples of cost savings did you find at Maiden Form which resulted in tripling profits?
Pat: Well interestingly there were a few divisions that weren’t making, were not making money and by doing exactly the same thing having a look at the product lines globally and ensuring that we were focused on the right colors and styles for each of the market. Also we engaged in collaborative customer planning, um nowadays a lot of um businesses sell what I call “wholesale” but there’s a new trend toward controlled distribution. So basically it’s kind of like cosmetics when you go up to the cosmetics counter. You’ll find that someone is very knowledgeable about the product and wears the product and to talk to you. Uh that’s basically what we’ve done at um Maiden Form international is we to uh implement a uh new business model that allowed us to be profitable quicker and the same thing with with DKNY.
Kassandra: Right right. So what skills or expertise do you possess that you believe makes you a successful business woman (there is a pause as both women laugh)
Pat: I’m a very passionate person and I try to listen um and learn. Procuring an idea is not easy or sometimes it is easy, it depends on how you want to look at it. Um but really hiring the right team and empowering them and inspiring them to put together a road map and a game plan um communicating it along the way and then executing it. Um it’s it’s pretty much my hallmark, I am a turnaround person, I often go into a business that’s having a bit of trouble or stalled or it’s a start-up. And they need to really look at the team skills, um help the team re-tool, I mean basically what’s happening in business today you have to do more with less.
Pat: So I’ve learned from very large scale organizations, seven billion dollar companies like Levi Strauss or when I was at Liz Claiborne ya know half that size, and then Maiden Form, one of the smaller organizations I’ve worked for um you have to really roll your sleeves up, you have to wear multiple hats even if you’re in one functional area cause you have empathy for the others um and that leads towards enjoying your job more and actually better profits.
Kassandra: Right right. And it’s good that you obviously love fashion cause it just makes you want to go to work every day and come back.
Pat: Yes, even what she’s wearing under there, her underwear.
Kassandra: Yep, (laughs)
Pat: That can be very interesting.
Kassandra: So uh what’s your next step or goal in your career?
Pat: Well that’s a very good question, um my next step will be um doing something that I think gives back to women and really takes it to the next level. Um I think what’s happening right now in the business world is ya know we were talking earlier the statistics are quite small for women
Pat: CEO’s I think it’s like 4%, um and I think that the workplace could be more flexible and dynamic that would be more engaging and exciting for women. A lot of women opt out, it’s not really the guys it’s the just the culture environment
Pat: Perhaps not having the flexibility. And a lot of women enjoy being an entrepreneur. So my next step could go in that direction uh but quite frankly I enjoy large scale corporations and have always been in divisions or in operating roles so ideally that’s what I’d like to continue doing. Uh but along the way I think it’s really important to give something back, I spend a lot of time coaching and mentoring other women cause I think it’s very important. Um it’s not easy because when you’re trying to balance work and family to find that time, but I actually find it’s a huge gift because I learn from them it’s it’s not a one way street.
Kassandra: Yeah. Yeah that’s great.
Pat: So stay tuned we’ve got a lot of exciting things going on so we’ll see.
Kassandra: Wonderful, I’m excited. So what do you think has been your biggest obstacle in your career and what steps have you taken to ensure that you come out on top?
Pat: Mmm good question. Well I am very passionate and sometimes that can be a downside, uh I have a strong personality so
Pat: We talked earlier about ya know being able to read the room read the people and knowing when to pull back and when to lean in. And um I think like anyone else my whole life, my whole career I’ve learned how to coach myself, I’m pretty self-aware but to write notes when I feel like talking um to not respond too quickly. Um often Americans particularly, we walk and talk fast.
Pat: Uh I’ve spent ya know the last 10 years working in the international arena, so when you are speaking to people in a second language you have to slow down because otherwise they can’t understand what you’re saying.
Pat: Um so being very clear uh scripted sometimes you wanna be natural but slowing down actually whether it’s in speaking or in work, makes you go faster. Not my nature (laughs) but definitely something I’ve had to acquire and actually it’s helped me with English speaking people.
Kassandra: there ya go.
Kassandra: That’s great, If there’s one piece of advice you would give women pursuing careers in business what would it be or multiple pieces of advice, what would it be?
Pat: Um, create uh a clear vision and strategy for what you want and what you want your team to do. Um if you can create a story that is memorable that you can discuss with somebody walking down the hall or on an elevator ride um I think it’s really important (phone rings) sorry about that, “modern technology”. Um and it really will um propel them forward, you constantly need to go back to your vision and your goals in order to ensure that your teams have metrics that they can execute to. Um always try to take the high road, uh business can get quite dicey and I have a saying that the high road the horizon is clearer and if you take the low road it’s very muddy, you can’t see as far and um it, people don’t want to be around you. So I think to the extent that you can create a vision, have a positive attitude, um do what you believe in, and really build a strong team and don’t be afraid to pow empower them. Um and and let them go. And um keep that eye on profitability because if you do um chances are you’re gonna have wealth for yourself and your family uh and corporations are going to want you to continue um doing great work for them so it doesn’t matter even if you’re an HR, as my sister is, uh you need to have your eye to the bottom line and particularly in these, these kind of times so I think those are the the key things I would um I would tell people to focus on.
Kassandra: And that sounds like wonderful great advice. That everyone should listen to.
Pat: Thanks. Thanks.
Kassandra: Well thank you so much Pat, this has been very enlightening and just a great time to spend with you.
Pat: No I’ve enjoyed it thank you very much it’s great to be home at Salisbury.
Pat: Thank you.
Kassandra: Well thank you so much.