Thursday, Nov. 18, 2010

Maureen Chiquet

What is the best and worst decision you've ever made?
Best decision: hard to boil it down from just one decision but I would say the best decisions I have made in my career have been from taking risks at the right time and following my heart. From the time I was 16, I wanted to live in Paris. When I graduated college and didn't have a job, I went to take the LSAT because I didn't know what else to do. I walked out in the middle of the test and eventually, found an internship in Paris at L'Oreal. That job was the beginning of my career and love affair with the world of beauty and fashion. Later, when I was working at the Gap division, I was offered the opportunity to start a retail concept that consisted of value priced, hip clothes in a new environment. While I thought that I should be in the luxury business, I took a chance because the idea was new and exciting and something that didn't exist. We consequently grew Old Navy to a $5 billion brand and I gained enormous experience in building a team and a new brand. Finally, and probably my most important decision was to leave Banana Republic and my home in California where we had been living for 15 years, to move to Paris and join Chanel, once again, following my heart.

Worst decision: Again, hard to choose one but I would say my worst decisions revolved around hiring the wrong people or even the right people at the wrong time. Often, the pressure of the business and fear of having an open position encourages us to hire people who are either not right for the job or not ready to take on the responsibility. I have often made this mistake and now realize that it is not just the quality of the candidate, but their fit with the brand, the business cycle and the existing teams. I also have learned that even the best candidates need time to acclimate to the new environment so you can't rush the on-boarding process.

What was your dream job as a kid and why?
I just dreamed about living in Paris and being French. I always loved the visual arts: film and theatre and I hoped to be involved in creating beautiful products and images.

What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?
I think that the barrier has to do with familiarity. We are used to seeing men lead and so have an immediate confidence and comfort in what they might do, even if they are less qualified for a job. Men display less self-doubt and lead with what seems always like a sense of force and direction. We are not as familiar with women leaders and so we question their skills. As women, we always need to work harder to prove our competence.

What woman inspires you and why?
I recently met Zainab Salbi, who is the founder of the organization Women for Women. She inspires me because she has had the courage to tell her story to the world and to use her inner strength to help other woman, survivors of war and violence, to gain dignity and independence. She has created a powerful foundation that engages women around the world to help each other.

What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?
I still think that because there are less women leaders than men, we have a preconceived notion that male leadership is more effective than female leadership. That being said, it is a question of time. I believe that as more and more woman gain positions of leadership, it will become easier for generations ahead. The advantages of the feminine style of leadership will begin to outweigh the negative perceptions.