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Tory Burch on Male Mentors

In lieu of our usual Girl Friday, we thought we’d share this inspirational interview with Tory Burch. Female designer Tory Burch has built a wildly successful brand over the past ten years, and employs 80% women throughout her company. Read on for career advice and a little on Burch’s male mentors below. –Ashley

After our amazing Office Hours with Warren Buffett, the celebration continued when the massively successful Tory Burch opened up, at the Forbes Power Redefined Women’s Summit, about three men that have helped her in her career: her father, Ira Earl Robinson; her brother, Robert Isen; and Eric Schmidt, the Chairman of Google.

This week we have talked a lot about the importance of male mentors. According to a recent survey from USA TODAY of female CEOs, chairs, and company founders, when asked to identify the one mentor who had the most influence on their careers, 33 of the 34 who responded identified a man. Last year at the International Women’s Forum World Leadership Conference, a panel of female entrepreneurs and investors said having a male mentor is essential to startup success in Silicon Valley.

In less than 10 years, Burch has grown her company from a staff of less than 20 working from her kitchen table to 2,000 employees (80 percent of whom are women) and with revenues over $800 million. Burch is clearly a great designer and businesswoman, but she is the first to admit she had some great guidance.

Burch, who started The Tory Burch Entrepreneurial Foundation in 2009 to support the economic empowerment of women entrepreneurs and their families in the U.S. through microfinance and mentoring, spoke about how important it is for entrepreneurs to have mentors.

Robert Isen serves as President of Tory Burch LLC, and Burch said she would never have been able “to do this” (build her company into a billion dollar empire in less than a decade) without him. Nine years her senior, she said he has been “mentoring me my whole life.”

Burch, who started The Tory Burch Entrepreneurial Foundation in 2009 to support the economic empowerment of women entrepreneurs and their families in the U.S. through microfinance and mentoring, spoke about how important it is for entrepreneurs to have mentors. One of hers is Google billionaire Eric Schmidt.

“He’s on our advisory board,” she said. “He taught me a lot about the importance of repetition and messaging.”

And finally she said that, creatively, her father made a huge impact on her: “My father actually designed every piece in his own closet,” and said he should have been a designer. She also talked about how both her father and mother gave her the very useful advice of “thickening her skin.”

When your name is your brand, it is pretty hard to not feel bad when it takes a hit. Though Burch seems larger than life, she is not immune to this type of pain with her fashion empire.

“Anything negative that happens with the company comes back to me,” she said. Adding that whether there’s a problem with a store in California or her supply chain, she feels personally responsible.

“They told me to thicken my skin,” Burch said. “When I decided to start this company I didn’t talk about it much. I wanted the products to speak for themselves. I did hear—and tried not to listen—to a lot of negativity… Creating this company was an incredible experience. The negativity and the noise was [sic] really just a sidebar.”

“They told me to thicken my skin,” Burch said. “When I decided to start this company I didn’t talk about it much. I wanted the products to speak for themselves. I did hear—and tried not to listen—to a lot of negativity… Creating this company was an incredible experience.

Burch said when you run a company, any of your setbacks are going to have a ripple effect, which is really tough. She said it still stings when you work on a collection for a year and then the runway show is nine minutes long and then the reviews come pouring in.

“But you can’t worry about things like that. I have to compartmentalize.”

Burch was actually reluctant to name the company after her because of those fears that everything would be a reflection on her. Back in April at the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Business Graduation ceremony, she said, “I’m a very private person. I didn’t want to call it [the company] my name. I had no background in business, I hadn’t been to business school, and I hadn’t been to design school. I just wanted to open a shop downtown and be off the radar.”

Burch initially called the clothing company Tory by TRB. As it got to be more popular, everyone said it was confusing and that she should change, it but it wasn’t until a profile on Burch and the company came out in The New York Times that she really realized what notcalling it Tory Burch meant: It meant she was not embracing ambition.

“Women have to embrace ambition if they want to. I had a lot of trouble taking compliments in the beginning, and it’s really important for women to embrace their title.”

Burch’s great mentoring presences in her life have helped her also guide the entrepreneurs in her foundation. Her best advice for them?

“Buckle up and know it’s going to be tremendously hard work, but embrace it. Have a unique vision and the tenacity to follow through.” Just like she did.

Do you have a male mentor? Tell us in the comments!

Photography by: alms119 & Charles Thompson

This article originally published at LEVO LEAGUE
by Meredith Lepore

Author Description

Meredith Lepore

Meredith Lepore is the Careers Editor for Levo League, the first online destination designed to provide Gen Y women with advice, mentorship and career opportunities. She is the former Editor in Chief of TheGrindstone.com and has written for Business Insider, The Jane Dough and Marie Claire.

  • http://www.diamenrose.tumblr.com/ Diamenrose
    love this post! such kind of posts encourage me to go for my dreams :)


Move LifeStyle is an e-zine for the modern working woman created by Autumn Reeser, Jenn Wong and Ashley Fauset.

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