Marrying creative with strategy is something Mary Beech, Kate Spade New York EVP and CMO, takes to heart – quite literally. It’s also something she gravitates to, be it creative storytelling at Disney and Ann Taylor or being married to a designer for film and TV. Looking back, Mary reflects on some important life lessons that shaped her career, and could help yours.
Tell us about what you are doing now.
I’m the Chief Marketing Officer of Kate Spade New York. I oversee the brand across all consumer touchpoints globally. I love this brand and our promise of optimistic femininity. I lead an incredible team, 85 percent of whom are women just like our customers. It is an amazing moment to be working at a brand for women and by women, and I truly adore what I do.
How did you get to where you are today? What pivotal moments did you face along the way?
With the benefit of hindsight, I can see two threads in my career. I’ve always worked for brands that consumers feel passionately about, and that I feel a personal passion for. Ann Taylor, Ralph Lauren, Disney, Kate Spade – they all share that commonality. I’ve also always excelled when I am working with creative individuals and enabling the best possible creative storytelling and output. This started with my love of theatre in college and extends into my personal life where I am married to a designer for film and television. Collaborating with creative leaders and individuals is the highlight of my career, and I love what a great marriage of strategy and creative can do for a brand and a business.
What do you see as the major opportunities and challenges for women today?
I still think women hold themselves back because we wait for perfection before putting ourselves out there. I see it in myself, my colleagues, my teams and even in my two teenage daughters. Confidence and bravado can get you pretty far. Women need to stop aiming for perfection and instead do their best while being strategic about how they get there, as well as highly aware of the innate talents they have that make up for actual proven accomplishments that line up perfectly with an opportunity. We need to reach for the moon more often. More opportunities exist than we are putting ourselves out there for.
"Women need to stop aiming for perfection and instead do their best while being strategic about how they get there."
I’m also personally passionate about the pursuit of federally mandated paid parental leave, and parental leave policies at America’s best brands and businesses that are focused on seeing women progress up the ladder, vs. being forced to opt out. We have a long way to go on this front, but there are companies out there lighting the way, and hopefully, their results will make others take the plunge. But we need to continue to push, as managers and leaders, long after we have a need for parental leave ourselves.
What solutions or advice can you share?
Don’t derive your sense of self-worth and confidence from others. Show up with that on your own every day. Don’t go into settings looking for validation, but rather go in with the intention to make an impact. We waste too much time when we are always seeking vs. being focused on making a difference.
"It is hard enough out there, and we should support one another."
And give back to other women on their way up, regardless of where you are with your career. Madeline Albright once said “there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women” and I am a big believer in that. It is hard enough out there, and we should support one another.
Who helped you in your journey and what advice did they give you that really shaped your thinking?
I had some pretty straight-shooting colleagues at The Walt Disney Company who gave me some tough life lessons that I value to this day. One of the most memorable was about choosing to be a leader vs. a powerhouse individual contributor and the difference. I don’t know if I would have seen it so clearly and early had it not been for some great women and men who believed enough in me to give me the cold, hard truth.
What one thing would you have done differently early in your career, if you had the right bit of advice?
It’s not so much about my career, but when I first had my kids, I wish the world had been more honest with working moms about the painfully hard parts of trying to have “balance,” and that the pursuit of balance can come at a cost. I feel like today we’re talking more about “work-life balance” as a fallacy, but I don’t think my peers and I were as honest about it as we could have been. I try to make up for now that by being brutally honest about the challenges and opportunities of being a working mom, how I’ve figured it out (insomuch as I have), and all the mistakes I’ve made along the way. It’s the least I can do.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, money or talent would be no object, what would you be doing?
I would be working in politics. Not sure what variety, but I believe deeply in questioning the status quo and the need for change in our world, and I would love to be part of it in a different way. I have many acts left in my life, so who knows what will be next!
Hear more from Mary Beech on the CMO Moves podcast: