My name is Gretchen Saegh-Fleming and I run Digital, eCommerce, and Customer Relationship Marketing for L'Oreal LUXE. Luxury is about scarcity, and the internet is about ubiquity - finding the right equilibrium is a difficult, enjoyable challenge. I love so many things about my role: collaborating with my incredibly smart, passionate and talented colleagues, working on amazing brands such as Lancôme, Yves Saint Laurent Beauty and Urban Decay, et bien sur - the trips to Paris! I balance my digital life with a strong appreciation for historic, tangible craft - in my spare time I reupholster old furniture, print on a letterpress, and do black & white portrait photography on old-school film.
My wife Allison and I just moved from a small apartment in Brooklyn into a formerly grand, 125 year old New Jersey home, which we intend to restore to its previous glory, bit by bit. Our golden doodle Bleecker, Labradoodle Brooklyn, and new puppy Nantucket - "Tucker" for short - are thrilled to have a yard and appear quite pleased with their ability to track much mud into said house.
"Is there anyone else at this table who can go to Beijing to build the ecomagination website for several weeks, starting tomorrow?"
It's January 2006, your boss's boss speaking. The big boss. The one you emulate and adore, who dares to wear electric blue cat eye glasses and a fuschia dress amidst a conference-room sea of buttoned-up navy blue Brooks Brothers blazers. She is president of the American Advertising Association, she has played a major role in the General Electric Company's rebranding effort, "Imagination at Work." She is a creative force, a charismatic leader, a powerhouse. In short, the kind of leader you want to be, and when she will ask you, years from now, to be HER mentor, you will be so humbled! Her ecomagination campaign in the US was an unequivocal success and the company has asked her to replicate that effort in the next big market they have set their eyes on: China.
Your very experienced teammate, Simon, was planning to go. He is a veteran of site launches, has at least a dozen under his belt. But his wife is pregnant with twins, they just learned of a complication, and he can't be half a world away.
You are the newbie on the team, practically an intern, not even a full-fledged contributing member, yet! It's the second of your four, six-month rotation assignments on the GE post-MBA sales and marketing executive training program, you've been there 2 weeks and still just learning. But is another opportunity like this going to fall into your lap anytime soon?
I know what you're thinking: "I've always wanted an international assignment!! I have been to Beijing twice for business school projects... but I've never built a website.... I don't speak or read Mandarin.... but I can project manage. I do thrive in challenge.... I bet I could figure it out?" The last phrase a question, not a statement. You are only a year out of business school and still gaining the confidence in your abilities.
You will come to learn this consideration set by a different a name later in your career: Sheryl Sandberg calls it "taking your place at the table," and argues that only women consider so carefully their strengths and weaknesses before electing themselves "worthy" - or not - of participating; men don't waste that time, even when their Goliath egos dwarf their David's capabilities.
While you don't know it yet, so much of your future rests in this one small moment. It will be your first - addictive!- taste of the web, that will lead you to two eCommerce startups, then further to your role at L'Oreal LUXE. You'll take a detour through risk underwriting (it's necessary to make that mistake: it's equally important to learn what you don't want to do) before the promising whisper of the web will once again call your name. It will also lead you to New York, to dating online, and to your wife: the most kind, funny, intelligent, driven and competent woman and partner you could imagine. She will fill your heart to bursting.
You ask yourself again, only slightly less tentatively: "I bet I can figure it out?"
You can! You will. You'll partner with the Chinese marketing team during the day to get the copy written, and hop on conference calls most of the night, every single night, with your tech team in Connecticut to get the site built. You'll hardly sleep for weeks but you'll survive on the adrenaline. And when no one from the Chinese marketing team is available to conduct a final proofread the night the website is to launch, you'll come up with the idea of tapping the bi-lingual hotel concierge for the job. Because you're a creative problem solver, because necessity is the mother of invention and because failure is not an option. The site will launch, flawlessly.
I met Gretchen last year when she came to the 32nd floor to head up the D2C team for L'Oreal Luxe. She's one straight shooter, forward-thinking, and a great mentor, to say the least. It's not often you meet an executive in her position be so kind, available, and honest - it's truly humbling.