As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Christine Park.
Christine Park has been a leader in New York City’s fashion and charitable communities by developing brands such as Time’s Arrow, Steven Alan, Rogan, Loomstate and Housing Works. She served as a mentor for the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) and is a current mentor for XRC Labs. She is currently partner and Chief Product Officer at bespoke venture studio Ready Go Ventures. She is a graduate of New York University and resides in Brooklyn.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
It’s a meandering path…after college, I worked as an options trader and lived in Europe for a few years. I then decided to apply to medical school and while I was doing my pre-med classes, my boyfriend at the time was opening a high-end jewelry store and needed help. I had worked in retail to put myself through school so I offered to help him. Needless to say, I did not end up a doctor and have been in fashion since.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I’m not sure if interesting is the right word but…we were fairly new as a company and then Covid-19 happened. We were all stunned in so many ways — we didn’t say it out loud but we were all wondering, will we make it? We were incredibly fortunate. Our business model is focused almost solely online and our brands have very loyal fans.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Also not sure if funny is the right word here but this actually happened just a few years ago, after years of experience with work and high pressure meetings. We had a meeting with a very big celebrity. I had been in these situations before but somehow this time was different. As I was asked to introduce myself I choked, I didn’t have any words. I took a breath and said, ‘whoa, I’m feeling strangely nervous.’ The celeb and I locked eyes, and she said “don’t look at me!” and everyone laughed. All was fine from that point on and I was reminded that we are all just human! I learned that preparation is important and now I rehearse talking about myself prior to meetings.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Yes…I have a mentor. He was the CEO of a luxury fashion department store and we were connected many years ago through a mutual friend. We would meet once a month, sometimes every few months and go out for spaghetti and meatballs. He kept notes on an unlined sheet of paper and would fold it into a square at the end of our lunch meetings. The next time we met, no matter how much time had passed, he would take out the paper and review with me what we had spoken about last. I learned so much from him, especially grace under pressure and how important follow up and follow through is.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
- Mind — I take notes, I write things down even though I have a very good memory. I rehearse. If you are prepared, it relieves some of the pressure.
- Body — I remind myself to breathe and sometimes will do a few jumping jacks to get the circulation going.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
This is a very large topic and I really don’t want to brush over this conversation. I am a woman of Korean descent, born in Queens, NY and raised in a largely Irish Italian neighborhood. Diversity is who we are and decisions need to be made by who we are. The perspectives we bring to the table from all of our backgrounds lead to more thoughtful design, product and overall business.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
I think the most important thing we can all do is take a good long hard look in the mirror and honestly answer — do I want to make a difference? If yes, then answer — am I doing it? I know this sounds harsh but I really think it starts with one person at a time.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders? What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
I think many people think CEOs are responsible for everything in a company, which is partly true. However, in fact an effective CEO knows how to delegate and manage.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
This has not changed yet, the words we use to describe womens’ behavior, looks, character at the workplace. If a woman calls for excellence, she may be mean, demanding, the b-word. We judge what she wears, we call her crazy if she displays frustration. We may not even comment if a man does the same or he often is commended for the same behavior. Words and semantics matter.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
Fortunately, I’ve been around the block and for the most part knew what to expect. Although, it’s way more fun than I thought!
Do you think everyone is cut out to be an executive? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
I don’t think everyone is cut out to be an executive. It takes a person who is really willing to be accountable and responsible for a bottom line and a team of people. I think a few very important qualities are — being a good listener, willingness to learn, being flexible but also knowing when to draw a line.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Nurture talent, help it grow around you. In turn, they will help you grow and thrive.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I hope I have as I continue to mentor startups as well as fashion students.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
2. Really trust yourself
3. Ask for help
4. Numbers don’t judge
5. Be realistic with time — better to over deliver
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
It’s happening in many ways already. I have come across so many women/girls that say “I can’t do math,” the rarity that I hear a man/boy say the same. Girls do math, girls do everything- that would be the movement!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Actually a friend of mine said this to me years ago…”Don’t be cheap with the dream, it’s free.” I have found that if you allow yourself to dream big, to allow your mind freedom, it’s amazing how much comes to you or how close you get. Dreaming is the foundation of creativity.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Michelle Obama. She is the definition of grace under pressure. If I’m ever in a bind, I try to think, “what would Michelle do?!”