Jan Singer, Global Consumer Retail Executive and Venture Capital Advisor
Jan Singer is an influential and incredibly accomplished executive leader with over 25 years of experience in footwear, apparel, and cosmetics. She’s served as CEO at Victoria’s Secret, Spanx, and J. Crew. Earlier on, she held key roles at footwear giants like Nike and Reebok. In this episode, Jan shares how these experiences have shaped her successful leadership style, how she evaluates leadership in others, and a few key lessons she’s learned along the way.
Listen to the podcast
HIGHLIGHTS FROM OUR CONVERSATION INCLUDE
- Key takeaways from Jan’s time at Nike (2:53)
- How she adapted her leadership style to Nike’s culture (8:54)
- Building teams during transformational times at companies like Spanx, Victoria’s Secret, and J. Crew (11:49)
- How she evaluated capabilities across different teams and functions (14:19)
- Jan’s approach to recruiting outside talent (16:57)
- What she looks for in leaders (19:48)
- Does the perfect candidate exist? (24:10)
- Why diversity, equity, and inclusion works is key in team success (24:37)
- Jan’s advice for aspiring leaders (28:00)
SHOW TRANSCRIPT – HOW I HIRE PODCAST WITH JAN SINGER
[00:00:00] Roy Notowitz: Hello and welcome to How I Hire. I’m your host Roy Notowitz, founder of an executive recruiting and leadership consulting firm called Noto Group, where my team and I have spent the last decade helping to build iconic consumer brands, one hire at a time. You can find us at NotoGroup.com to learn more. You can also find and share this podcast on your favorite listening platform.
I’m excited today to welcome Jan Singer. She’s an influential and highly experienced CEO, having led top fashion brands, such as Spanx, Victoria’s Secret, and J Crew. And the list goes on, Jan also served in key leadership roles at footwear giants like Nike and Reebok during her incredible career. And her resume also includes the likes of Chanel, Calvin Klein, and Prada Beauty. Throughout all these experiences, Jan and her teams have driven amazing results and excelled in the retail and consumer space. She’s here to share more about her career and leadership journey and her insight into hiring and building great teams.
Jan, thank you so much for being here.
[00:01:12] Jan Singer: Roy, it’s so good to be here with you. And I love this topic and I love that you’re doing this amazing service for everybody. So thanks for having me.
[00:01:19] Roy Notowitz: It’s been really fun and I know that you’ll have lots of great things to share. So let’s dive right in. Let’s talk about your career journey up to this point in your life. What experiences have forged your leadership style and approach to building teams?
[00:01:34] Jan Singer: Well, I think, you know, everything builds on each other, and so it even starts back, you know, where I grew up. As we’ve talked about, you know, one-on-one, Brockton is a city of champions and hard work and family. It goes really deep. And, you know, I think even starting back when I was raised in that amazing city, when high school was 6,000 kids, I think you had to find your way to be a leader or you get lost. It doesn’t matter even who you are, like with 6,000 kids in your high school, you’ve got to find your own leadership identity.
But through my career, I would say every role had different elements that I learned, that I put in kind of my toolbox to be a great leader. And also things to not put in my toolbox, right. So, as many things I witnessed or was a part of that don’t work, were as important as the things that did work. But I would say the most epic part of leadership for me, you know, I had 20 years in New York, which was a deliver or die kind of a time in New York, and there was always somebody waiting in the doorway for your job, and everybody was disposable. I mean, I think I remember the chairman of one company I was at saying that in the media, like, “everybody’s replaceable”. I was, like, terrified. But that was the climate of New York.
And then moving from the east coast to the west coast, to Nike, that was a complete 180. You know, of course Nike would deliver, they had great talent and great leadership and former athletes who knew how to play team. But, what I really focused on there, and was asked to focus on there, was leadership itself. You know, and I didn’t, what do you mean leadership? I’m tall, I have a point of view, I’m a leader. Yeah, no. It meant, like, really understanding the fundamentals of what it was to be selfless and generous in your space and time. To create opportunities for others to develop talent. To identify talent. To organize the teams so people could grow. To embrace the diversity that drove innovation. To be generous in that way. To be an enterprise thinker and not just think about your job and your team. To understand the global impact of everything that we did and said we were going to do. To be a global economist in a leadership way as well, where to invest in materials and products for footwear and apparel.
So my marching orders at Nike from the most amazing leader I ever had was, just make it a great place to work and people will make great products and the consumer will decide in the end, as they say there. So I think that was a really, the most pivotal contribution.
[00:04:19] Roy Notowitz: What were the experiences leading up to Nike? And how did you get into the industry in the first place?
[00:04:25] Jan Singer: I spent the first 20 years actually in beauty, which I love. Because I actually started in the mall when I was 15 to be the demo girl, as they say. I sold, I think it was Revlon Pure Radiance powder that gave you a natural bronzing glow. I was that annoying girl at the escalator who had asked if you wanted to have a little touch of color. And I loved it. But I went from that to, like, the beauty industry, which I love because it gave you kind of hope in a jar, you know. It was, everybody felt better at the beauty counter. And now men are learning, like, how fun that is, and
[00:05:01] Roy Notowitz: Yeah.
[00:05:02] Jan Singer: Right? Everyone loves a little hope in that little bag with a piece of tissue paper. It’s like, nice. So I did that for 20 years. I loved it. Everything from Chanel, which was an amazing experience, to Unilever for Calvin Klein cosmetics, where we rolled out fragrance for the first time in the Asia Pacific market. Just culturally not acceptable to wear fragrance in public, and yet we launched, uh, CK One, which was the first fluid genderless effort. And that was a long time ago, folks. That’s not just a new thing.
Then, I went to work for a small Italian company called Prada. They were at the time just making shoes and bags and a little fashion, and we were charged with launching their beauty company. And they were just the most generous. Working for a founder like Miuccia Prada and her husband Bertelli, who only spoke Italian to us. We had to wear, like, the headphones from the UN, and he yelled a lot, he used to throw a lot of things and, and he would get very dramatic. And it was like a movie all the time in Italian. And then in the middle of, like, his big, like, speeches and the yelling and the throwing, he would look at you and be like, “café? Café? Café?” And everything would stop and we would drink coffee and it was the most incredibly civilized. The guy would come, literally a waiter with, with China and coffee and not like it was crazy. So we did amazing work with them, a creative, creative team, and what a gift, so great.
And then from Prada, 9/11 happened and I wanted to go home. I moved to Boston, I moved home and, and what, we love Boston. And what we love about Boston is what they stand for, is, you know, amazing higher ed, medicine, finance, like the center, really strong industries. They’re probably not so famous for consumer retail fashion. That’s okay. It’s kind of like pilgrims up here, like, I love that part about my background. But it’s not about access. And so I didn’t have a lot of choice. Like, you know, TJ Maxx is great. You know, Dunkin Donuts, I don’t know.
But I knew the Reebok team and I knew, I was teaching spinning and aerobics in New York, sidebar. And I knew that, you know, women, if, I could feel the consumer favoring, you know, women’s businesses starting to really speak that way. And, well, Reebok was one of the original women’s, it started as a women’s sports brand. It was an aerobic shoe, right. So they wanted to get back to that, and I had a good vision for that. I had a strong vision and I had a great team there and I learned how to, it was the first time I learned how to make products. I was always in brand marketing.
[00:07:33] Roy Notowitz: Right.
[00:07:34] Jan Singer: So I got into product creation on footwear and gosh, it was quite a time there. They had the NFL, the NBA. Did you know, they had Jay Z and he had a shoe?
[00:07:42] Roy Notowitz: No.
[00:07:43] Jan Singer: Yup. S Carter, it was called. Shakira was a new act on the scene. And she, we did a shoe for her, and Mary J. Blige, and all these assets. But I became a bit obsessed with like, you know, Nike, because I, Reebok was ahead of Nike maybe when, when you were there Roy, or before you. But there was a moment where Phil Knight had to have a town hall and let people go because they were losing it to Reebok. And you’ve heard that right?
[00:08:10] Roy Notowitz: Yeah.
[00:08:11] Jan Singer: Yeah. So I was like, how did Reebok go from that position to Nike being dominant? And I was really a bit obsessed with that because I knew there was only. There were only three athletic footwear players fundamentally, and so what happened? Anyway, Nike called and I was like, well, now I can go find out what really happened. I was super curious about it. So I got from beauty to athletic, fitness, sport that way.
And then, by the way, beauty is engineered, as we talked about, and shoes are engineered, and that means you have IP and patents, and you are dealing with fit and feel and comfort. And so it’s pretty scientific stuff. And I like that about products. So not everybody can make it.
Went from a director with no reports to people placing bets on me, you know? Okay, we’re going to give her some footwear business. And now we’re going to give her the whole footwear business. And oh, by the way, now we want to win at apparel, can you take the best of what we did in footwear and bring us industry experts in apparel? Like I went into Nike, not as the head of footwear, I went in as a merchant with no direct reports and no budget and a reduction in my title and my salary when I moved out west. But I went in because I was really that curious and passionate about Nike, about how they operated. I was willing to do whatever it took to get in, like I didn’t care. And I think they told me 10 times, “you realize there’s no direct reports to this role”. I’m like, “it’s fine, like I’m moving to Beaverton, Oregon, and I’m going to see if I can even fit in, you know. I don’t know.”
So I thought, number one, start with humility. Number two, along the same lines, as I kept getting more and more responsibility, and even when the first day I was there, I was never going to out footwear these guys. Never. Like, if I was going to go in as the leader, trying to tell these people what to do, that was never going to work. Never going to work. They had been there 25 years, some of these guys. They built the company.
[00:10:13] Roy Notowitz: Very strong culture, very strong way of doing things.
[00:10:17] Jan Singer: Exactly. And by the way, evidence of the size of the business says they were right. Very big business, very successful. So what was I going to do, come in and tell them, like, you know, “this is what you should do different”? Yeah, no. So I think you come in with your hand on your heart and you come in humble knowing you’re, you know, it is an honor and a privilege to be at Nike, taking it all in, and start to ask a lot of questions. “You know, I’m noticing that,” I don’t know, “in women’s footwear, this, this, and this. How do you think about that?” And they, they would educate me, you know. So the art of influence, the art of curiosity, humility, and through listening, finding in this complex machine what they thought their biggest obstacles were and making those a very simple plan, frankly, clearing a path so that they could solve their own problems.
A good leader doesn’t know everything. In fact, it’s impossible to believe anyone can know everything at the pace in which we’re working and the complexity. So I knew the universe was setting me up for a moment of humility because there was no way, I mean, you had footwear guys that were there from day one. Invented air.
[00:11:29] Roy Notowitz: Yeah. So let’s talk about your time at Spanx, Victoria’s Secret, and J. Crew. Those companies were going through various stages of growth, transformation, change while you were at the helm, they were CEO roles.
[00:11:42] Jan Singer: Yeah.
[00:11:43] Roy Notowitz: And I guess I’m curious, what stands out to you when you think about hiring or building teams at each of those companies?
[00:11:49] Jan Singer: All three were going through transformational work, which require a couple of things. One, some deep understanding of where they’ve been and where they are. So listening, and absorbing, and, and that’s not just of your team, of the whole organization. Like being nosy, right. Talking to everybody, like, and listening to what’s happening in it. And then secondly, it requires a deep, thoughtful understanding of consumers. Where they’re going, where you can take them, what they care about. And a vision comes from that, and a plan. I always think about that. And then from there, come how you organize a team to get after that vision. And then last but not ever least is, do you have the talent on the team?
So it kind of is a repeatable model of like you, you are taking in, taking in, taking in, and also watching and listening and dreaming with your team, not alone. And then you ask yourself, are we set up to do this work? You know, do we have the structure and the budget, or how do, how would I do that? And as you’re doing that, you’re getting to know your team and the organization. And you’re asking, are people playing to their strengths? Do they have what they need? Can they develop into what they need to have? Are they in the right situation?
I had a situation of a guy, I knew I needed at Nike, and Nike apparel was also transformative. That was not a plug and play. That was a reset. And I knew there was a great apparel person within Nike, but currently sitting in a role that was more of a, I would say, a planning and allocation role. They were not doing well. I mean, they were frustrated. Business was frustrated. But they were just in the wrong box. So it’s kind of also, when you look at talent across the organization and across the industry, are people in their right lane, you know? And sometimes the person thinks they’re in the right lane and you have to have a real honest conversation about a, maybe a wider, stronger, longer lane with them. And see if they’ll go with you.
[00:13:57] Roy Notowitz: As a leader with so many people reporting in to you, and teams, and functions, how do you get deep enough to really understand the individual and how they’re doing what they’re capable of? And you know, if they are, how do you come to that understanding of whether or not they’re in the right role or being fully utilized?
[00:14:19] Jan Singer: I think there’s many ways to get to that. You have to like people and have a sense for human behavior at number one. Because I think otherwise it becomes very technical or, uh, tactical, which isn’t enough. There has to be a sensing side to this. So one part is, are you a good reader of people and behavior in humans? So question, if you’re not, partner yourself with someone who is by the way. So whether that’s a coach or internally, it doesn’t matter. And then it’s about time and transparency. Not that you have to have forever, but situations that you set up, whether that’s, you know, meetings or dinners or discussions, to enable transparent conversations. And the transparent conversations don’t have to be like, “tell me your deepest secrets”. It can be like, “do you watch Bravo, TV? I dunno. Like, what do you watch? Like, what are you watching? And what are you reading?” just to find some common ground in which to have a very safe conversation. And I think that that’s, some people do that in sports, they play golf together. But it’s like, can you find a safe space, with somebody on common ground in which to have a normal, transparent conversation? And from there, can you build trust or insights about what’s happening? That’s one.
The second is very tactical, which is what are the goals that you’ve both agreed are needed to be done? And if you’ve negotiated, you know how you’re going to get there, is it happening or not? And if it’s not happening, why? Are they miscast? Are they overloaded? Are they missing some skills to develop, versus like, okay, this person’s no good? You really have to think about it from multiple angles. Do I have a different, better role for this person’s talent where I think they would be able to be stronger for us? So you kind of make it your business to find common ground and a safe space in which to have authentic dialogue about whatever. And then you understand what they’ve been asked to do and what they’re doing, and to see if that adds up.
And I do that with my team, but then I trust that my team is doing that with their team. And I firmly also believe in a lot of talent calibration and conversation. You know in calibrating, I will listen and solicit for input, you know, like help me understand. This person has been sitting in this job for 10 years and they’re not advancing. What’s happening?
[00:16:47] Roy Notowitz: Let’s talk a little bit about, you know, bringing talent in from the outside, and,
[00:16:51] Jan Singer: Yeah.
[00:16:51] Roy Notowitz: and what types of experiences or thoughts you have around doing that successfully?
[00:16:57] Jan Singer: Well, I think the first thing to think about is when you’re being recruited, actually, and it’s hard to think this way, but you have to, is that it’s just not all about you in that moment. I know, like, and I go through this, like, “oh gosh, I really hope they’re focused on, you know, what I can do and what I can bring. And I can do this job. And I can have this job”, however, it’s not just like looking for the right talent. It’s also the competency, right? It’s also the chemistry with the team. So sometimes it’s going to be required that the team doesn’t have large enterprise thinking. So bringing somebody in from a large enterprise is going to be valuable, but then it’s your responsibility, if you’re bringing them into small, to onboard them and get them calibrated and understanding what they’re walking into. Same in reverse. Sometimes, you know, a big company requires the fidelity or hands-on or entrepreneurial ship of a smaller company experience. But then you’ve got to get that person prepared and your team prepared.
I always tell my team, and they really mean that, the success or failure of the person joining isn’t the person’s responsibility alone. You know, a high performing team feels authentically responsible for each other’s success or failure. So what are you going to do? Are you going to decide that this person’s going to win? Or have you decided already that they’re out? I look at my team, I’m like, “hey, that’s on you, like, you all make that decision”.
[00:18:26] Roy Notowitz: When you’re thinking about integrating people into your team, are there things that you learned in the interview process or sort of things that you start thinking about to make sure to set them up for success and once they come in?
[00:18:38] Jan Singer: Yeah, I think that’s part of the process, even as I calibrate with others that I’ve interviewed them. What are the development opportunities? That doesn’t mean, like, they have gaps. It just means tools they’re going to need. So what are the development opportunities, are the one big question that we have. And are we willing to take a bet on that question? Do we have the support or skills or tolerance to take that on?
I know some of the team might say, “we can’t take it on right now. We just took on somebody else like this, and it’s a lot of energy to get them up to speed”. Okay. Well then I have to hear my team. I’ve had teams, you know, it’s so foreign that they feel like organ rejection if you brought them in. But I will ask them, “hey, I, I see something here and I really would like to take a bet on it, but I’m going to need your decision that this person’s going to be successful. Do I have your commitment?” And if it’s a yes, then we go and it, and it changes the dynamic. If I have a no, then I have to hear them, you know.” Hey, we can’t do it right now. Here’s all the reasons”. You know, I have to also hear that.
[00:19:41] Roy Notowitz: Right. What do you think makes someone an authentic leader? What do you look for when you’re evaluating leaders?
[00:19:48] Jan Singer: I think that I have a gift, or a curse, to be able to smell when people are dancing, if you will. If people are, kind of, selling me. I can feel it. I don’t like it. I much rather hear, and of course we love good news, and I really love bad news, I don’t like no news and I don’t like fake news. Just don’t, just tell me. You know, again, problem solver. I really can do well with bad news. “Hey, this happened in my last job. It didn’t go well. But here’s, here’s my take on it, and here’s what I learned. Here’s what I’d like to work on in this job.” You know, that’s all okay for me, because I’m not just going to listen to this person who I’m interviewing, I’m also going to talk to my team who’s probably met them. I’m going to talk to people they’ve worked with. I’m going to talk to people they want me to, people, and people they don’t want me to, if it’s a pretty senior person. Just like people do with me. It’s what we do. It’s not just one interview or one meeting that determines a hire. It takes a village of people.
[00:20:47] Roy Notowitz: That’s a great segue to the sequence or method for how you get to know candidates in the hiring process. Do you have a way that you approach interviewing or evaluating candidates in that, in that hiring process when you’re, whether you’re looking internally or externally within the organization?
[00:21:07] Jan Singer: I don’t. I don’t have a formula. I don’t have a formula. I was thinking about that. I don’t. The approach depends on the role, the situation in the company, and the candidate, if there’s a candidate. For instance, if I have to hire a CFO, I don’t know, head of planning, I am going to tap into leaders on my team who have come through that pipeline. Or, if I have access, other people in that pipeline on a senior level at, you know, let’s say it’s an enterprise and there’s other companies, first. Let them take the first cut at this because the functional competency of that role is not my core, is not my core, it’s not how I grew up. So sometimes it’s, let me see if I can get a pool of functionally capable, competent candidates. And then I’ll work the chemistry side with the team myself, you know, the culture. So I leverage the team.
Or it could be where I grew up, product and marketing, and there are certain people on the team who are, there’s always different interviewers, and some people are usually, you will have one or two or three or maybe more interviewers who really get into the nits and dits. Like there’s a few that I know who are more detailed interviewers. And so I balance my kind of general getting to know this person and their history and how I feel about them and what I know about them with some tactical blocking and tackling questions that I know some of my more detailed interviewers will interview. And I’ll also do that with a couple of people so I can triangulate to see if there’s a pattern. Did you say that, did three people, you know what I mean? Not just leave it up to one person in one meeting.
[00:22:53] Roy Notowitz: Okay. That makes sense.
[00:22:54] Jan Singer: It’s a process and it varies depending on the person and the role.
[00:22:58] Roy Notowitz: Is there, like, a favorite question or questions in your arsenal of interview questions?
[00:23:03] Jan Singer: I don’t think so. Not something I go back to the well on all the time. It really depends on what I’m fishing for and what I’m trying to learn. I would say my strength in the process is around more of the leadership identity, the chemistry with the team, the gaps in the competency I know I have on my team that I’m trying to fill. So I, I’m listening for that. And I also, the reason why I don’t have a routine is that it’s interesting even trying to avoid any unconscious bias on my team or with myself to make sure that I do have multiple points of view so that I can triangulate. I do think it’s important. But it’s not formulaic for that reason, because you can get into a rut a bit.
[00:23:53] Roy Notowitz: So do you believe or subscribe to the belief that there’s no such thing as a perfect candidate? That everyone coming in is going to have elements that are going to need to be developed or leadership growth opportunities, and that it’s your responsibility, is what you’re saying to support that?
[00:24:10] Jan Singer: Yeah, there is no perfect candidate and there’s no perfect job, by the way. Let’s talk about that. There’s a tax to pay with every job you interview for. Big tax sometimes. But there’s no perfect job. That’s why I do think, like, it’s timing is so pivotal and you could ask, “so how do you know what’s the right time?” You don’t sometimes know. You don’t know that you’re going to run into a pandemic, or you don’t know that you got to run into a sale of a company. You don’t know.
[00:24:37] Roy Notowitz: I do like how, generally speaking, I think the concept of inclusion and diversity and equity, and also just sort of relocation and remote working, I think it’s opened up companies to a much broader pool of talent and possibilities. Where we’re seeing lots of different profiles, getting more, companies are more open to looking at diversity within the talent pool. You know, because individuals are unique, you know, teams are diverse, so. But they’re looking at, I think more array of unique individuals for each job, which I think is a really good thing.
[00:25:13] Jan Singer: Yeah, and it’s a balance. I mean, I think for the sake of the talent pool, you want them set up for success. And the business has to set up for success. And if you don’t have diversity, my, my son and I were talking about this the other day, you know, it’s so comfortable and fun to be with people just like you, and that’s great because it’s shorthand and it moves fast and maybe you see jokes the same way. But it’s kind of boring after like about five minutes. So, you know, you don’t get to problem solving with people giving the same answer around the table.
[00:25:45] Roy Notowitz: We’ve talked about your belief in driving meaningful growth for brands and, and how that’s tied to innovation. How did this factor into your approach to recruiting and hiring?
[00:25:56] Jan Singer: It’s everything in the recruiting and hiring. It’s a conscious effort. Because again, you know, I, I say this, I was talking again to another friend who was hiring a COO and she said, “oh, I love this woman, we clicked, we get along, we have the same vision, the same chemistry.” And I said, “has she ever operated it? Has she ever, like, literally run the process?” “No, but I love her.” Yeah, well that’s because you’re hiring yourself. So that’s redundant. You have to use a muscle that’s not muscle memory to really push towards what the business needs and the team needs, and not what’s easy.
And so it factors in, because I really, if I’m working with a search firm, it’s an absolute requirement that the slate be diverse. And sometimes I’ll give like numbers, like I want 80% of people of diversity in this space because I’m already balanced over here on this side, I gotta balance this out. Or I have, and sometimes it’s diverse experience. Like I have eight people with footwear experience, give me somebody with apparel on this team so I can balance out. Here’s why, all the competencies. And in design, especially, you know, I think there’s a magic to the mix. It used to be, you know, designers, industrial designers, graphic designers, and apparel designers are not trained the same way. And you know, they would stay and get hired for their competency, but they’re all vision and they’re all creative and they all have incredible inspiration. So if you could make the mix right, I mean, look, we’re seeing mashups in product collaborations for the last 10 years. There’s no difference when you’re hiring teams.
So diversity is not a statistic. It’s not an initiative. It’s not a quota. It’s what you need to make the mix on your team magical and that’s what drives growth. And then amazing conversations, and sometimes the funniest innovation and mistakes and laughter, and makes a great place to work, doesn’t it.
[00:27:57] Roy Notowitz: So what advice do you have for aspiring leaders?
[00:28:00] Jan Singer: I think first of all, you’re already leading. I don’t know about aspiring or not aspiring, but I take your point, you mean on a senior level. But first, assume leadership from day one in whatever job you have. And I don’t mean to assume control. It’s different. Assume leadership, as in the things we talked about, bringing optimism to the table, bringing energy to the table, thinking beyond your job, thinking global, and thinking generously. Assume leadership and selflessness in that way from day one. Doesn’t mean you have to be the boss. Because by the way, even as CEO, you’re not the boss. This just in. News flash. You always have, I have a boss, everybody has a boss. I don’t know who doesn’t have a boss. Maybe Jeff Bezos. He has a boss. He has a board. I don’t know. We all answer to somebody.
So don’t assume leadership means the boss. It just means being that north star of vision, of energy, of optimism, of maybe influence, sometimes answers, engagement, inclusion. Be a leader from the beginning. And when you do that, people gravitate towards which they get answers or energy or recognition. And you’ll see if people are gravitating to follow you, you have reached some sort of traction. If they’re not, take a breath and ask for feedback. Ask for help.
[00:29:29] Roy Notowitz: You know, I’m curious what you’re thinking about post pandemic, the world of work and team culture and norms and leadership and how that’s going to be different moving forward. You know, what are your thoughts about how things are taking shape now?
[00:29:43] Jan Singer: Well, I think about a couple of things about this pandemic. The whole time staring out the window, like everybody with my screen. I wonder what will stick. Like that was always in my head. What will this mean? And I think, you know, what I noticed is, even before COVID, purpose. Like, why do I come here? You know, why do I come to this place? Why should I get out of bed? They come for recognition, achievement. They come to make this place a better world. Like people, used to be you come to work to get paid and you punch your card and I’ll do whatever you tell me to do as long as you pay me. Right? Well, not enough. It has to be about so much more. So that’s going to change, you know, how we work. How, go back, don’t go back, part time, Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m sure glad I don’t have to decide. I’m just going to watch it and then weigh in after and figure out if I were leading, you know, next what we do.
And then you said it, you know, earlier, the most palpable change, prior to COVID and COVID exaggerated, is just listening from the bottom up, versus the top down, versus directing from the top down. Whether it’s at a, a customer or an associate at the most, you know, entry-level, their voice is amplified, it matters, and it better be listened to. And you got to listen to it. So I think that’s really important engagement.
So as a leader, what does it mean? You have to embrace innovation and if you want to grow, this country must innovate their way out of this situation. You know, climate change, whatever we’re facing, social injustice. So that requires, as we said in the beginning, diverse voices, diversity, equity, inclusion. It’s not a fad. It’s not something that just came up. It’s what’s always been the fuel, always behind problem solving and innovation. So that, I can’t emphasize that enough.
And then two other things that I think as leaders, we have to really just realize, I’m grateful for needing to happen, which is one gotta be more heart than head. You really have to put, we as leaders have to put our hands on our heart, and hear, and feel, and be exactly where your team is, especially in this moment. You just have, I had one guy who’s like, “ah, why do we have to talk about this? It’s not political.” This is what they want to talk about, so we’re going to talk about it. Like, let them decide, use your heart. And then last but not least I would say is, while all this technology is happening, information, content, you know, who owns the news, I think it’s super important to be data informed, but not data directed. It can be informed by the data, but if you don’t use your head, your logic, your gut, your intuition, even as product merchant people, if you’re just going to use your algorithm, we’re going to get faster horses, we’re not going to move forward as a company, as a nation, as a civilization. We’re not going to move forward if you’re just going to read the algorithm or let the machine do the work entirely. We’re humans, we must embrace art and the creativity that goes with it, and the risk-taking, or we’re going to have faster horses and that’s not good.
I like change, it energizes me. I, I really do love change. And I find this time, even though, human suffering aside, of course, it’s hideous and horrible and tragic, uh, for any level. And I know that progress is super important for everybody. Like I think when you look at Nike, and I go back to them, because again, just the epitome of delivering, or even Apple, you have to be willing to obsolete yourself. Even as a leader, you gotta be willing to obsolete. You gotta hire people so much smarter than yourself every day. Every day. And hope that they’ll take your job.
[00:33:31] Roy Notowitz: Yeah. How are you thinking about the future? Are there any exciting projects that you have on the horizon?
[00:33:39] Jan Singer: Yeah. It’s been actually a really cool year, I would say almost a year. I’ve been doing a ton of consulting, which I love, with big consumer retail and small VC, late stage VC. It’s interesting to take that time to realize that what you’ve learned has value to those coming up. It’s kind of like this recognition that the sun rises and sets every day and we do age, we get older, so I guess we get wiser. We hopefully get wiser. And there’s another group of people starting. It sounds so obvious, but you kind of get to this place and you’re like, “oh, it continues”. And so these people that are coming up, as you’ve asked me to do this, they ask for ideas and observations and insights and intelligence, and I’m happy to provide it. So that’s been fun. And then I hopefully, knock on wood, I’m on the final mile of a public board seat, which I appreciate because it has formality and governance and, and in the spirit of everybody has a boss, the board works as a collective to represent the shareholder value and to be that strategic sounding board for the CEO. And that’s a great honor, I hope that I’ll have news about that soon, yeah. And then I’ve invested in a couple of things. So will I operate again? Maybe. But it can be something kind of nifty growthy with, again, diverse teams and innovation, and that would be a privilege to do again. And I, I might. So I’m trying to stay loose, Roy, until the dust settles and this crazy moment we’re in, you know.
[00:35:08] Roy Notowitz: Yeah. It’s an interesting, interesting and exciting time right now. It really is. And I think, I’m sure you have endless opportunities coming your way and you will continue to have that and be excited to see, you know, the types of things that you’re involved with moving forward. I really appreciate you being on the podcast today. Thank you so much. And look forward to talking to you soon.
[00:35:29] Jan Singer: Thank you, Roy. Same here.
[00:35:31] Roy Notowitz: Thanks for tuning in to How I Hire. Visit HowIHire.com for more details on the show. How I Hire is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon, and all major listening platforms. How I Hire is created by Noto Group Executive Search. To find out more about Noto Group, visit NotoGroup.com and follow us on LinkedIn. This podcast was produced by AO McClain, LLC. To learn more about their great work visit AOMcClain.com.