Be your authentic self, take risks, don’t fear change.
That’s among the career advice offered by Laurie Ann Goldman, the former chief executive of Spanx. Goldman, who has 25 years of experience building global consumer brands, led the Atlanta company’s transformation from a start-up to an international powerhouse that ranked No.1 in the $700 million shapewear industry. “People want to buy products from cool companies, and cool companies want to have cool people working for them. You have to have winners,” said Goldman, 51, who helped make Spanx a household name. “What cool people do you know that don’t take risks?”
A self-professed “positive thinker,” Goldman offered insight and inspiration on Thursday at the Commonwealth Institute’s 11th annual Leadership Luncheon at Miami’s Jungle Island. She was interviewed on stage by Katie Kempner, executive vice president and chief communications officer of global communications at CP+B in Miami, before an audience of more than 300 attendees — virtually all women executives.
Goldman described her career as a series of serendipitous events.
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In fact, the former Coca-Cola executive got her job at Spanx because she was shopping for Spanx fishnet tights for a party, trying to hide her post-baby weight after having her third son. Her local Saks Fifth Avenue in Atlanta was out of the stockings in multiple colors and sizes, so she struck up a conversation with the sales manager about supply chain management and vendor replenishment programs. The founder of Spanx’s boyfriend overheard her conversation, and made a call to his girlfriend on his cellphone.
After 12 years at Spanx, Goldman left the company this past spring, having led initiatives that expanded the company’s product lines (there is even Spanx for men) and distribution channels, both domestically and internationally. She said she realized that when she thought about the next five years, she knew her personal growth would slow and she would lose momentum.
“It’s really about challenging yourself that helps you grow,” said Goldman, who lives in Atlanta and now heads her own firm, LA (short for Laurie Ann) Ventures. She is playing an active role on various boards as she takes time to decide her next step. Though she is married, she likens her current situation to dating after a divorce, where you have fun meeting new people and see what clicks. She is now weighing two options that she is most interested in, but is not yet ready to disclose.
Goldman, looking chic in an Alaia dress — that she bought on eBay — with Manolo Blahnik shoes and a Chanel scarf, acknowledged that though she is often told how confident she appears, she is really “the most insecure confident person.”
“Insecurity is what drives you, and it’s the little engine that says I can do better,” she said.
Helping women deal with insecurities about their tummies and muffin-tops also helped spur Spanx’s success. “It’s about making women feel better — if we could make women feel better about their wardrobe choices, we could make them feel better about themselves,” she said.
Yet being a woman executive was never a hindrance, she said, even when she was at Coca-Cola and often found herself as the only female in a high level meeting.
As far as creativity, Goldman said she has found that most resourcefulness comes when you’re in a bind. “When you’re on a budget, you have a tight time-frame, you have constraints, and you have a noose around your neck, is when the very best creative ideas can happen.”
Goldman relaxes by running, trolling eBay for purchases, and playing with her two white poodles. Finding balance, she said is more about blending her work and her family life together, and making sure life is as happy and fulfilling as it can be.
She recounted a tale about two dogs: a puppy and an older dog. The puppy told the other dog that he has found happiness chasing his tail, and said ‘“I’m going to chase it until happiness is mine.”’ The older dog said he agreed, ‘“But I have found that the more I chase it, the more it disappears.”
“I have learned that if you just live the best life you can,” Goldman said, “happiness is the consequence.”