EILEEN FISHER Blog #2
Women and Power conference 2005, New York City. Some friends and I had recently created a women’s leadership transformation program called Women in Power. Doing R&D, we headed down to see what the women in NYC were up to. There we found about 1,000 women gathered in a hotel conference hall, the kind with no windows and chairs in neat rows. On the stage were women of some renown, Jane Fonda, Eve Ensler others. But what struck me most from this gathering was the diminutive, white haired woman, dressed stylishly in a black cashmere cape and leggings to match. Eileen Fisher. I knew of Eileen, because as I wrote in last week’s Blog, I’d been wearing her clothes for about two decades by then. What I didn’t know was what was about to happen: 12 women in there 20s from developing countries in Asia where EILEEN FISHER (EF) clothing was made came on the stage. They were EF leadership fellows, women that the company had chosen and given scholarships to come to New York for the powerful woman’s conference. I was impressed by Eileen’s generosity in this and in learning that the company gave a sizable chunk of their revenues to women and girls empowerment programs locally and abroad. Thus lodged deep in my heart-brain: this is a company I like and one to watch. Also impressive was Eileen herself. Humble to the point of self-effacing. Speaking almost inaudibly into the Mic. Later I learned that Eileen is painfully shy by her own admission and a deep introvert. It took a lot for her to get up on that stage. This too was refreshing to me: not your standard massive ego -- “Let me show how great I am” -- CEO.
So I was delighted when I found out that later that year Amy Hall, Eileen’s director of social consciousness (remember her title that I wrote about last week – don’t you want that on your business card too?) had attended the Business Sustainability conference that colleagues and I had hosted at Ford Motor Company. About 300 people representing at least half that many companies were present. Bill Ford, Henry’s grandson then Chairman of Ford welcomed us all. But I digress . . . I don’t remember who called who, but I do remember distinctly sitting outside my office on an unseasonably balmy early spring day talking with Amy Hall about EILEEN FISHER’s sustainability agenda. I told her how impressed I’d been at the Women and Power conference.
“Amy, you must be proud of what your company is doing to mentor young women.”
In what I’ve since learned to be her inimitable humble, yet self-assured style, Amy said, “We’re pretty far along on social issues, supporting women and girls around the globe. Eileen’s always been into that. But we haven’t done too much with the environmental side yet. It’s not so much on our radar screen. We’re just exploring that now. And it takes us a while to build up momentum when we start new things.”
I’ll admit it. I was courting EF. I wanted to work with a company that demonstrated the values they did. Having wrestled with Fortune 500s with mostly men at the top, I wanted to work with a smaller company led by women. Plus – have I told you? – I love their clothes! I’m no fashion maven, but I love their clothes. However at the time the focus at my company and at the Sustainability Consortium that we ran was on environmental issues. I didn’t see much of an opening for our budding relationship.
“Amy, it’s so great to have a chance to hear more about all the amazing things you’re doing at EILEEN FISHER. If and when you do begin to pursue more of a an environmental agenda, I hope you’ll be in touch with us. We’d be honored be part of that journey.”
It’s tough being a consultant sometimes. You want to show that you care, but you don’t want to come off with a hard sell. A delicate line to walk. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, patience pays off.
Seven years later Amy called.