John Sykes, Tommy Hilfiger and a Real-Life Warrior Princess

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1003_mockup.gifAs the faithful readers of this column already know, lunch at Michael’s is never really just about lunch, but it is (usually) a lot of fun. And today was no exception. I was invited to join a ‘girl’s lunch’ for author Mindy Budgor hosted by Jolie Hunt, AOL’s former chief marketing officer. Jolie, who knows practically everyone in New York, told me she decided to get a group of women together for Mindy, who recently moved here from Chicago, and “pop her Michael’s cherry.” Alrighty then. When Mindy asked if she knew “any interesting women in New York,” Jolie sprung into action and gathered The Wall Street Journal‘s media editor Keach Hagey; Kyle Gibson, executive producer of Newsweek The Daily Beast‘s Women in the World; Deborah Needleman, editor of The New Yorks Times T magazine; recently departed Lucky EIC Brandon Holley; Sara Nelson, Amazon editorial director of books and Kindle, Wenda Harris Millard and yours truly to dine and dish at Table One. Mindy brought along former Today show senior producer-turned-media trainer Amy Rosenblum and Andrea Lustig, author and contributing editor for Glamour.

I chatted (OTR, sorry) with newlywed Sara Nelson (Congrats!) and Brandon Holley before we sat down for lunch. Uber chic Brandon, who I first met during her days at Yahoo! Shine, told me she’s planning to spend the summer with her family in Montauk. I can’t say I blame her. When the rest of the gang arrived we sat in rapt attention as guest of honor Mindy told the story behind her new book, Warrior Princess, My Quest to Become the First Female Maasai Warrior (Allen & Unwin). I hadn’t known what to expect when Jolie told me she was hosting this gathering for her friend who was — really — the first ever female Maasai warrior. I certainly didn’t expect her to be the sweet 30-year-old woman sporting a Bulgari pendant I mistook for some tribal gem who regaled the group of tales of slaughtering goats and cows and drinking their blood (so much for my appetite.)

Jolie Hunt, Mindy Budgor and Diane Clehane

It turns out a woman’s magazine has an exclusive on Mindy’s story — the details are very hush-hush — so I’m not allowed to share the jaw-dropping tale she told us over lunch. Before I was advised of the embargo, I asked why this self-described “nice, Jewish girl” decided to quit her job in Chicago and go off to Kenya, and she told me, “I felt my values were out of whack.”

I’m sworn to secrecy on the rest of her story (a first at Michael’s, I know), but I can share what’s on Mindy’s own website. The Santa Barbara native bought a ticket to Kenya and set off to volunteer building schools and hospitals in the Maasai Mara. While she was there, she asked the chief why there were no female warriors. After being told that women “are not strong enough or brave enough,” Mindy and her fellow volunteer, Becca, knew what they had to do. Her journey from bored MBA student to fearless female warrior is definitely inspiring. No doubt there’s plenty of lessons in the book (and some interesting photos from her time in Kenya) for those of us trying to survive in the concrete jungle. I’m starting Warrior Princess tonight. 

Before everyone headed back to work, Jolie asked this impressive assemblage of power gals if they had any parting words of wisdom for Mindy on how to leverage her book and build a successful career here in New York.  I must say, some of the advice was downright brilliant. Wenda recommended that Mindy go into advertising, because “we swim with sharks all the time and you’d do really well” while Kyle advised Mindy to become a modern day female George Plimpton, who infiltrated the worlds of professional football, hockey and golf for his bestselling books. The rest of us chimed in, recommending she brand ‘warrior princess’ any which way she can. If you ask me, her book would make a great movie starring Jennifer Lawrence. “That’s a great idea!” exclaimed Mindy. “I’ll give you a percentage!” You’ve got a deal.

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1. Jolie Hunt, Mindy Budgor, Keach Hagey, Kyle Gibson, Deborah Needleman, Brandon Holley, Sara Nelson, Amy Rosenblum, Andrea Lustig and yours truly

2. Producer John Hart and three young gents we didn’t recognize

3. William Lauder and celebrated divorce attorney Stacy Phillips

4. Sony Music CEO Martin Bandier

5. Allen & Co.’s Stan Shuman

6. Sol Kerzner with, we’re told, “a member of the royal family of Saudi Arabia.” Really.

7. Show stoppers Terry Allen Kramer and Margo Nederlander

8. New York Social Diary‘s David Patrick Columbia and  author Tracey Jackson

9. Fashionista Fern Mallis

11. PR maven Catherine Saxton and Donna Soloway

12. Fox 5 friends Rosanna Scotto, Lynne White and Penny Crone

14. Tommy Hilfiger and Clear Channel Entertainment president John Sykes

15. Alexandre Chemla with his daughter

16. Susan Blond

17. Vanity Fair‘s David Friend

18. Piers Morgan Tonight EP Jonathan Wald (Long time, no see!) and Ed Adler

20. Bettina Zilkha

21. PR powerhouses Leslie Stevens and Andy Morris (Nice to meet you!)

23. Walter Sabo

24. Ad man Martin Puris

25. Tom Goodman and his pal Karl Wexler, whose friendship goes way back to the days when Tom was running the PR department at CBS News and Karl was head of sales for the network

26. Martha Kramer

27. Former Hearst publisher Valerie Salembier, who now helms her own consulting firm. Earlier this year, she told the audience at the Women’s Voice for Change luncheon that she saw the writing on the wall: “When my staff had become younger than my step daughter, I thought, “This is not good.” Her new specialty is heading up anti-counterfeiting initiatives. Well done.

We’ll be off next week for the holiday (Is July 4th really next week already?). See you back in the dining room in two weeks!

Please send comments and corrections to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.