As summer comes to a close and routine is restored, I’m finally sitting down to write about one of my most incredible experiences - being selected as a Tory Burch Fellow. It still feels surreal and I think it’s taken me more than 10 weeks to process the week I spent at the Tory Burch offices with my cohort, the Tory Burch Foundation team, the incredible speakers they curated for us and, of course, Tory herself.
Why the Tory Burch Fellows Program?
Tory Burch started the Tory Burch Foundation in 2009 with the purpose of supporting the empowerment of women entrepreneurs through resources that help them grow and sustain their businesses. The Fellows Program is specifically designed to provide a community of business support, not only within the group of 50 Fellows but also within the Foundation’s network of innovative founders and business experts. I know all that now, but when Holly Hollon tagged me in an Instagram post promoting the Fellows program and encouraged me to apply, I was clueless. I researched the program, basically fell in love with it, and spent several days on the meticulous application. Receiving the acceptance phone call was both exciting and overwhelming. The year-long Fellowship includes a week of workshops at the Tory Burch offices, a $5,000 business education grant and access to the Foundation’s online peer-to-peer network.
My visit to the Tory Burch offices
The visit to the Tory Burch offices was just as exciting and fun as you think it would be! Not really knowing what to expect, I was quickly impressed with all the details that were so thoughtfully considered, the first being that we were greeted on Sunday with a Tory Burch handbag, sunglasses and an #EmbraceAmbition bracelet and t-shirt. I’ve been a longtime Tory brand fan, so I was thrilled!
Our days were packed with Q&As, presentations, site visits and dinners, all while meeting and greeting throughout. It was exhilarating, exciting and exhausting. The level of quality information and opportunity they put in front of us was remarkable. While I won’t attempt to cover everything, I’ll mention a few highlights.
Lunch with Tory Burch
This has to be at the top of the list, because, well….Tory. She is stunning, grounded, approachable, funny and lovely. I was encouraged by her conversation with us, facilitated by Laurie Fabiano, the Foundation’s President, where she offered all sorts of business and personal advice, even letting us in on some challenges she’s faced along the way. It was inspiring to see her realness and learn what she has experienced as an entrepreneur juggling the work-life balance. After lunch, I was able to talk with Tory for a few minutes and she’s genuinely kind and thoughtful. She asked about my company, which I tried to convey briefly, and it made me realize I need to have my “pitch” ready! One of the things emphasized throughout the week was “determine your six-word elevator pitch.” I think that will continue to be a work in progress for me – I may need a few more words – but it’s super important to consider. When you meet Tory Burch, how can you quickly and concisely convey the premise of your company in an engaging way? I think I managed well enough, but a solid pitch is an important takeaway from the week.
Site visit to O Magazine
On Monday afternoon, the Fellows were split into groups and each visited different company headquarters, including Google, Whole Foods, Spotify, Hearst and the New York Stock Exchange. My group headed to Hearst, one of the world’s largest publishers of monthly magazines. Not knowing which magazine we would visit, we speculated on the way and got off the elevator at O Magazine! As it turns out, I was perfectly seated at the end of the conference table where we were meeting with Adam Glassman, the magazine’s Creative Director. Adam and his fellow “Oprah’s Favorite Things” associates, Rae Ann and Raena, spent time talking with each of us about our companies and then discussed general topics like how to best pitch a magazine. Within a few minutes, Gayle King walked in and sat right next to me! She is exactly how you imagine her – delightful! We were told she is the hardest working person at O so after a fun convo, she headed out to one of her many engagements. Adam then gave us a tour of the offices where we hung out in the product closet, saw where they lay out the magazine spreads and the clothing closet where they pull the latest collections to shoot. It was fascinating to get a behind-the-scenes peek! And for those of you interested in pitching a magazine, make sure your email is short, to the point and includes good product photos. Follow up within a few weeks if you do not hear back. And be aware that magazines typically work at least 6 months in advance of issue releases.
Dinner with the Tory Burch Foundation team and Board of Directors
On Monday night, we ate dinner at Pondicheri, an Indian restaurant in the Flatiron district. I was seated at the table next to Gabrielle Raymond McGee, the Chief Operating Officer of the Tory Burch Foundation. When describing Gabrielle, warm, considerate, sincere and genuine come to mind. It was clear she had spent time learning about my company and engaged in a candid and thoughtful conversation with me about Dixie, sharing ideas she felt would be helpful as I move forward. She also made sure I met certain people on the Tory Burch Board who could provide advice or offer support. She was the perfect example of a mentor to me that evening and it made a lasting impression.
And remember that pitch moment I had with Tory? We had to also give our six-word pitch at dinner. Thankfully, it was quick and painless.
Our final morning included a breakfast with industry experts, investors and senior executives from Tory Burch. I was lucky enough to meet Tory's husband and new CEO of Tory Burch, Pierre-Yves Roussel, who was gracious and generous with his time talking with me about Dixie. I was thrilled to then get to visit for a while with Honor Brodie, Creative Director of Tory Burch, chatting about all aspects of my business and her role within such an amazing company. We even share some mutual friends and business associates, so it almost felt like a conversation with an old friend. Overall, I was impressed with the approachability and warmth I felt with each person I encountered throughout the week. The team and network Tory has built is remarkable and it's full of people who care and are fully invested in her mission and brand.
A Couple of Impactful Workshop Moments
“If failure isn’t an option, then most of the time success isn’t either.” – Seth Godin
If you’ve made it this far, I promise it’s worth your while because I’m going to introduce you to quite possibly the most riveting business and marketing expert I’ve ever heard speak. Seth Godin is an author (19 best-selling books!), speaker and entrepreneur. He’s a word magician and can analyze a company and its marketing efforts in mere moments, giving a peek at what that company could be if any one of his suggestions were implemented. You MUST listen to his podcast and read his blog. He’s been writing a blog post per day for over a decade and each post takes only a couple of minutes because he’s the king of getting to the point and doing so with an impact. I wish I had a whole post worth of quotes to give you from his talk but honestly, I was so captivated that I didn’t write one thing down. Thankfully, I found the powerful story Seth told us from his book, Footprints on the Moon, which he used to open and close his presentation:
Snug around a campfire, illuminated by the night sky, Buzz Aldrin recounted the moments leading up to the landing. Buzz paused as the moon rose above his shoulders and remarked, gesturing to the Moon, "I've been there." Not until the moment his foot made contact did the world believe it was possible. So, remember, when you're looking into the night sky feeling hopeless, overwhelmed or fearful of your next step, there are footprints on the moon.
“Stop committing random acts of networking.” – Kelly Hoey, author of Build Your Dream Network
Yet another impressive presenter, Kelly Hoey is passionate about building a thoughtful, strategic network and cultivating connections that propel your success. She encouraged us to trust in the extended power of community and avoid the number #1 networking mistake – lack of follow-up. To demonstrate how powerful networking can be, Kelly used me as an example: “Jennifer, tell the group three of your current “asks” and be specific.’” By the next morning, I had been given the direction and contacts I needed to move forward with each of the items I had mentioned. For the record, I was stuck not knowing how to move forward with those three “asks,” so to receive such valuable information that quickly simply by asking my network for help was super powerful and enlightening. Fun fact, one of the answers was offered within a minute after asking from the girl sitting next to me.
There were four days full of powerful speakers, including Tony Tjan, a New York Times best selling author, venture investor and entrepreneur, Mary Kate McGrath, Editor-in-Chief of PureWow, Kathryn Menshew, Co-founder and CEO of The Muse, Emilie Fife who works for Instagram on their Fashion Partnerships team, among so many others – it’s too much to cover here – but my friend, Rechelle Balanzat, owner of Juliette, wrote a fun and engaging blog post about our time with the Tory Burch Foundation. It’s worth the click through to read and learn more.
Finally, I have to thank the Tory Burch Foundation team for the most thoughtfully planned week where I formed important friendships and gained invaluable insight about how to grow and sustain Dixie. The weeks following have proven that networking works – just like you intended. I especially have to mention Désirée Younge, Vice President of Programs for the Foundation, whose enthusiasm and knowledge are inspiring and who always has me thinking about what's next for Dixie.
Thanks for sticking with me on this journey!
Professional photos by Tiffany Sage Photography